Pedagogy in Action > Library > Role Playing > Role-Playing Scenarios > Science in the Courtroom: The Woburn Toxic Trial

Science in the Courtroom: The Woburn Toxic Trial

Teaching Materials by Scott Bair - Starting Point page by R.E. Teed (SERC).
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This material was originally created for Starting Point:Introductory Geology
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.

Summary

In this exercise, hydrology students role-play expert witnesses in a mock trial dealing with contamination of groundwater. Student prepare for the role-play by studying the movement of groundwater and the transport of contaminants through computational and map exercises and field trips. For the role-play, the hydrology students work with law students. The hydrologists divide up and serve as expert witnesses for the plaintiffs and the defendants; the law students are the attorneys. This exercise teaches hydrology students the value of integrating computational and communications skills in order to present and defend their understanding of a situation.

Learning Goals

The exercise teaches students:

Context for Use

The mock trial is the finale of a ten-week hydrology course and takes a full period. The material in the previous nine weeks prepares the students and includes field trips to leukemia research lab, a municipal wellfield, an aggregate quarry, a county landfill, and a wetland, numerous lectures and problem sets to teach students about the rate of groundwater movement and the transport of contaminants.

Description and Teaching Materials

The web site for Woburn Toxic Trial - Ohio State University's Mock Trial Course contains:

Teaching Notes and Tips

The designer recommends restricting the class to 12 students (never more than 15).

Assessment

The students must each write a term paper and a professional opinion expose. The two assignments are very different. The term paper should be as objective and complete as possible, and all information must be carefully cited, while the expose needs to be brief and supportive of one side of the case.

References and Resources

This role-playing exercise is described and analyzed in Bair, 2000 . Journal of Geoscience Education v. 48 no. 4 (September 2000) p. 450-454.

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