Using Integrated Problem-based Curriculum

Lisa Troy, an 8th grade science teacher at The Sage School in Foxboro, Massachusetts chose the NIEHS-funded Hydroville Curriculum as a way to give her students a real-world problem to solve, teach them collaboration and teamwork skills, and expand their understanding of “doing” science. She was also very interested in environmental issues and once worked as an environmental consultant on EPA’s Superfund/RCRA Hotline.

Teacher Lisa Troy shares instructions for the team building activity (toxic popcorn).
Teacher Lisa Troy shares instructions for the team building activity (Toxic Popcorn). Photo credit: The Sage School

In the Hydroville Pesticide Scenario, students work in teams to examine and clean-up a large accidental spill of metam sodium near a river. In this scenario students take on roles of an environmental chemist, environmental toxicologist, soil scientist, and mechanical engineer. It creates a valuable experience to learn about these careers and how they work together to solve problems.

I was very pleased with how involved my students were in their roles. Since they were responsible for their own area of expertise, they took ownership of the skills and information that they learned. The students also enjoyed fitting their solution into the constraints of a budget, as well as considering stakeholders’ varying viewpoints. Their parents attended the presentations and took on roles as stakeholders when asking questions. Their presence increased the feeling of a real town meeting, and it was fun to see the students dressed up! ~ Lisa Troy

Students divide up into expert groups of Soil Scientist, Environmental Toxicologist, Mechanical Engineer and Analytic Chemist.
Students do a number of background activities to learn about the science needed to solve the problem. Topics include reading labels, toxicity testing, analyzing pumps, soil texture and permeability, and decision analysis. Photo credit: The Sage School

Communicating with a Scientist

The students were learning about toxicity, LD50, and NOEL (No Observable Effect Level) through a seed germination lab. Lisa Troy had read about Dr. Tanguay in the recent YALEe360 article, and she shared his research with the students. The students were very excited to speak to a “real” scientist who is engaged in meaningful work and making a difference. A highlight for the students was when they Skyped with Dr. Robert Tanguay.

Students were especially interested to learn how zebrafish are being used as models of human response to chemicals in research all over the world. They shared a long list of questions with Dr. Tanguay in preparation for the Skype event.

The students were intrigued by the idea that, through research such as Dr. Tanguay’s, chemical manufacturers will know much more about the effects of individual chemicals and the possible synergistic effects of mixing chemicals. They were reassured to learn of the human treatment of the fish, as well.

Dr. Robert Tanguay uses Skype to answer questions from 8th grade students across the country.
Dr. Robert Tanguay (EHSC Investigator) used Skype to answer questions directly from the students. Photo credit: The Sage School

Not only was Dr. Tanguay’s interview incredibly valuable, it taught my students an important lesson about research: that you can contact scientists and experts in their fields and obtain information directly from the source. Science is not just in a textbook. ~Lisa Troy

To increase career connections, Lisa Troy asked the parents, teachers, and administrators to identify any skills that were important to them in their work or life experience from a list she generated of all the skills the students learned or used during the course of Hydroville. They checked nearly all of the skills!

As the year progresses and we study other topics, I will continue to reinforce the concepts and skills the students acquired during Hydroville and know that they will be well prepared for the future. ~Lisa Troy

[This post was written in collaboration with Lisa Troy. We truly appreciate her sharing her experience with us. If you are an educator and want more information or have a story to share, please contact us.]

From 2000-2007, NIEHS awarded the Environmental Health Science Center a grant entitled: “Learning Through Environmental Health Science Scenarios”.  The final project was named The Hydroville Curriculum Project (HCP).  The project was based on a framework that reflects how scientists and experts solve problems.

07 hydroville timesThe curricula are structured to help high school students understand the complexity of environmental issues that impact human health and to emphasize that many real-world problems have multiple solutions. These nine-week scenarios take place in the town of Hydroville, which could be any town in America. Hydroville experiences three environmental health problems that require remediation plans: a pesticide spill, an indoor air quality problem, and a water quality problem.

Scenario Descriptions

Each scenario is based on a real-life occurrence that has been modified by experts and pilot tested by teachers in high school classrooms.

  PSweb PESTICIDE SPILL: A tanker truck carrying a pesticide overturns near Beaver Creek which supplies drinking water to the town of Hydroville. Student teams, representing an environmental clean-up firm, assess the spill site, develop a remediation plan for the site, and present their findings at a town meeting.
 IAQWeb INDOOR AIR QUALITY PROBLEM: Occupants in a newly remodeled school building report illnesses and complain of odors. Students take on the role of air quality professionals on a consulting team who identify an indoor air problem in the school and develop an action plan. Students then present their recommendations to the school board.
 WQBinderWeb WATER QUALITY PROBLEM: The rapidly growing town of Hydroville has reported an increase in contaminants in the town’s water supply. Students represent experts from an environmental consulting firm hired by the town to investigate the problem. Teams develop various remediation plans and present their recommendations to the city council.