InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Water Science and Society > Section 3: Social Science of Water > Module 7: What Is in Your Water?
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Module 7: What Is in Your Water?

Michael Arthur and Demian Saffer, Pennsylvania State University
Initial Publication Date: March 28, 2017 | Reviewed: January 20, 2015

Summary

In this module, we will explore some of the science and issues related to drinking water quality, the chemistry of natural waters, and the regulations that help ensure a satisfactory drinking water supply for the U.S. populace. In addition, we will outline some water quality issues that affect other parts of the globe.

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Learning Goals

The goal of Module 7, What Is in Your Water?, is to lead students to a better but basic understanding of freshwater chemistry, natural and human contaminants, and impacts of certain practices on human and ecosystem health. After completing the module, students will be able to:

  • calculate the concentration of contaminant in a reservoir;
  • apply government drinking water regulatory standards to identify contaminant levels that might be harmful to human health;
  • analyze concentration vs. time data for various dissolved components of river water and groundwater;
  • infer the processes responsible for seasonal trends in compounds of natural and human origin;
  • propose and evaluate methods for mitigating human impacts on water quality;
  • evaluate the trade-off between agricultural productivity and water quality as a result of fertilizer usage and runoff.

Context for Use

Overall, this one-week module is intended for use as a stand-alone lesson or as part of an online or blended general education or introductory-level course that would satisfy a science distribution requirement. The module would be appropriate for non-majors and undeclared students looking for a major. There are two formats: (1) blended where the students meet at least once to perform the activities in teams; and (2) 100% online. As a general guideline, the delivery of content and assessment of learning goals/objectives have been designed to accommodate the logistics of large class sizes where students are expected to work approximately three hours per week covering lecture content with an additional six hours per week of additional reading and work on assessments. Note that some students will require more or less time to meet the goals and objectives of the module.

Description and Teaching Materials

All materials for students are available online using the Student Materials link below. These can be implemented entirely in the context of distance learning, with students completing any discussion questions in the form of a blog or discussion group. In a traditional or blended classroom setting, students can complete the online unit as homework, using class time to address the discussion questions and for the Summative Assessment.

Teachers can find documentation of the activities as well as rubrics for students at this location. Rubrics for teachers are compiled under Assessment on this site. Suggestions for teaching and a list of the assessments are found below.

Teaching Notes and Tips

What works best for the module?

Module 7 primarily deals with the chemistry of natural waters. Most students are unfamiliar with modes of expressing concentration, so we begin this module with a brief exposé of concentration equivalences and calculations and an "Activate Your Learning" exercise. Most students successfully performed the unit conversions and calculations and were able to use this skill in Module 7 Formative Assessments. Students seemed to have no trouble with either of the two Formative Assessments and responded well to Formative Assessment 2 in particular. They provided mostly very thoughtful responses in that formative assessment regarding balancing agricultural production in the Midwest against fisheries health and production in the Gulf Coast region—not everyone agreed on solutions, which was of interest to us.

What students found difficult
One challenge was helping students relate the general material presented in the module to specific water bodies and understand how water quality information is used in practice. Case studies in the formative assessments help with this, but instructors may choose to present (or have students research) TMDLs for local water bodies. TMDL reports are fairly easy to find from the relevant state agencies and/or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website. Reflections
To provide additional context, instructors may choose to go into detail about the history and evolution of the Clean Water Act. Also, useful and up-to-date information can be gleaned from the EPA National Water Quality Inventory Report to Congress (305b) or the EPA webpage on TMDLs.

The Module 7 Summative Assessment requires access to computers, and the instructor should ask students to bring theirs to class. A list of contaminants for "fact sheet" construction is provided, and students are divided into groups of two to work on them (see References and Resources section below). They are required to cite peer-reviewed literature and/or government websites in support of their "facts." Students were given access to all fact sheets and asked to study them for a brief discussion. As an alternative, instructors may choose to ask students to prepare the contaminant fact sheets prior to coming to class and use class time to present/discuss findings. For larger classes, it may be helpful to expand the list of contaminants.


Assessment

Formative Assessments

Summative Assessment

The Summative assessment for this module involves Constructing a Contaminant Fact Sheet.

References and Resources

Student readings:

Fact Sheets and other examples for students:

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »