A Civil Action - The Woburn Toxic Trial > Learning Modules

Student Learning Modules

The modules listed below can be used sequentially to create a course that culminates in a mock trial. Each module provides insight into the Woburn Toxic Trial and requires one or more activities that create a product that can be used in the mock trial. Alternatively, individual modules or groups of modules can be used within the context of an existing course. The Assignment Overviews listed below provide links to the objectives and learning goals of each module. Links to Overarching Societal Questions, Key Issues in the Trial, and other helpful references are accessed from the Overview section in each module.

Background on Health Issues

Module Description Assignments
1 Introduction to "A Civil Action", provide a timeline of important trial issues to familiarize users with trial issues. Assignment Overview Read and discuss book, identify key scientific issues, construct timeline of important events.
2 Background on cancers, causes and treatments. Define cancer clusters and the importance of clusters to environmental causes. Assignment Overview Cancer clusters as random events, state-of-the-art medical understanding of cancer causes and effects then and now.

Assembling the Evidence

Module Description Assignments
3 Principles of geologic interpretations. Looking at information on different map formats, introduction to cross sections. Assignment Overview View historic aerial photographs of Woburn, review geologic maps. Complete contouring and cross-section exercises.
4 Introduction to groundwater flow characteristics. Use Darcy's Law to predict flow directions and rates. Assignment OverviewComplete exercises using applications of Darcy's Law. Complete contouring and cross-section exercises related to groundwater flow.
5 Drawdown caused by pumping municipal wells G and H. Understand how well pumping could draw contaminants to the wells. Assignment Overview Assess flow with no wells pumping. Contour the cones of depression created by pumping, draw flow paths from Beatrice and W.R. Grace source areas.
6 The connection between Aberjona River flooding and re-distribution of contaminants across the wetland and the history of waste disposal in the Aberjona River valley.Assignment Overview Stream gaging to assess flood levels and flood frequency.Assignment Overview Evaluate sediment and debris re-distribution during flood events.
7 Assess the effect of induced infiltration of river water to wells G and H during pumping. Discussion of the conflicting approaches of the opposing experts. Assignment Overview Use historic discharge data from Aberjona River to measure and predict induced infiltration. Research other means to measure streamflow loss related to groundwater pumping.
8 Contaminant migration through the subsurface and prediction TCE and PCE movement to Wells G and H from the Beatrice and W.R. Grace properties. Assignment Overview Calculate TCE and PCE arrival times based on site-specific data.

Prepare and Perform Mock Trial

Module Description Assignments
9 What qualifies one as an expert. Presenting expert testimony as a written opinion during discovery, opining during deposition, and presenting testimony in trial. Assignment Overview Read excerpts from trial attorneys as to testimony. Discuss effective methods to present difficult scientific concepts to a jury.
10 Learn how an expert's evidence is discovered during depositions. Review the legal procedures for deposing experts. Assignment Overview Read transcripts of trial depositions to determine the approach of each hydrogeologic expert. Coach mock trial attorneys to extract testimony to the advantage of their clients and conduct mock depositions
11 Review typical courtroom set-up and trial procedures. Evaluate effective design and preparation of trial exhibits. Assignment Overview Familiarize students with the characters from "A Civil Action". Rehearse trial testimony, prepare exhibits for trial exhibits. Interact with plaintiff and defense teams as they prepare for trial.
12 Enactment the mock trial. Following the trial conduct a post-audit with jury and judge to understand how the experts were perceived. Assignment Overview Identify locations where the role- playing can be conducted. Consider using a county courthouse on Saturday. Conduct the trial using the information provided in the preceding modules.


Module Description Assignments
13 What happened after the Woburn Toxic Trial. Learn about remediation activities at the Wells G & H Superfund Site, recent health assessments, and research related to flow caused by pumping Wells G & H. Become a Woburn "Monday Morning Quarterback". Assignment Overview Research the current status of "A Civil Action". Discuss role of science in the courtroom and the role of the public. Discuss the trials effect on society regarding stewardship of wastes and resources. Read research papers, view animations of how contaminants likely traveled from sources to the public wells.