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Water-Related Environmental Issues

This material was originally created for On the Cutting Edge: Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.
Donna Wolcott, North Carolina State University
Course: Environmental Science-Water Issues
12-20 students
Connecting course topics to students' lives is a very effective strategy to motivate their learning.

The Activity

I have my students brainstorm water-related environmental issues in three categories: local, regional, and non-US (global). I summarize the list into two major categories: too much water or too little water (quantity or quality). Next, I have them brainstorm on the major contributing factors to the listed problems. Class discussion settles on increased demand, especially population growth, as the main driver. We also discuss current strategies for reducing demand.

Many students enter this class with only a general interest in water issues (maybe only because they like to fish!), and haven't spent time thinking about the central role of water and water problems to ecosystem function and society's requirements. Brainstorming allows even the least aware students to come up with some obvious issues, and the list gets fleshed out eventually. The students get into making connections. My role is to prompt links that don't get made readily, and to help students make connections from the abstract to the personal as appropriate (bringing in examples from current events and everyday life).