Orchard Owls Dive Into Water Studies to Solve Real-World Problems

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Each year in fifth grade, we strive to highlight and problem-solve real-world problems. Teachers have created the town of Riverdale, a role-playing scenario for the course of our water studies. Each student assumed the role of a stakeholder in the use of a hypothetical river that has recently been determined to be polluted. Students played the roles of commercial farmers, paper mill owners, chemical company workers, landfill owners, hydroelectric company CEOs, wastewater treatment facility managers, homeowners, fishermen, and more. 
Throughout the week, the kids examined different types of pollution in the river, where these pollutants come from, how they impact the water, and possible solutions to the problems facing our town. Last week, the students put their new knowledge and skills to the test at Marott Park while testing the rate of flow, pH, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, and temperature. In true Orchard form, we didn't let the cold...or mud...get in the way of our fun!
In the end, we concluded the unit with a town hall in which the kids had to answer questions about the role each of them/their companies played in the pollution as well as viable solutions to the issue. After the town hall, the kids voted for who they felt was most responsible (had to use data in order for their vote to be valid), whether or not they thought that company’s solution was viable, and if not, what they thought should be done about the issue. 
The commercial farmers were found to be the most culpable because of the levels of nitrogen found at the test site that was just south of them as well as low levels of dissolved oxygen. The farmers proposed using organic fertilizer as well as decreasing the amount of fertilizer used. The students found this to be a reasonable solution. Some of them also suggested that farmers plant legumes in the off-season as that helps the soil and provides an additional food source/job when they would otherwise be out of work.
Words by: Fifth grade English teacher Mrs. Allison Housefield
Progressive education tenet: Hands-on, experiential learning
  • Engage the natural curiosity of students in an active, child-centered, and experiential learning environment. 
  • Provide a well-rounded education that includes core academics, visual/performing arts, physical education, outdoor education, service learning, and extracurricular activities to develop the whole child.

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