Geography is an inherently multifarious discipline in that it connects both physical and social sciences. The introductory classes used in this study are both general education courses: physical geography satisfies a science requirement while the other two satisfy social science requirements. The lesson plan we designed offers an intriguing way for students to link human behaviors to consequences in the natural world surrounding them, thus giving them a way to understand the complex role of Geography as a discipline. Ultimately, these students will be given a chance to think critically about the world around them and will be exposed to a real world application of the part of the discipline that hopefully will inspire some to choose Geography as their major.
Although we conducted the lesson plan as an experiment in several introductory courses, for this report we focus our efforts on data from the Physical Geography course. Physical Geography is an introductory (100) level course that examines the patterns and processes in the atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere, as well as Earth and sun relationships and the relationships between humans and the Earth. The course fulfills a natural science general education requirement and generally enrolls 60-85 students, the majority of which are freshmen and sophomores. The classes used in this experiment met twice a week for 75 minutes each class period. The lesson was taught in two sections during the final week of each semester. These sessions provided an opportunity for the students to discuss the relationship between humans and the natural world in a local context, after having learned throughout the semester relevant terms and concepts.
Learning Goals: Students will gain a deeper understanding of water resource issues, the importance of conservation, and the impact of individual actions on this global issue. This lesson study will provide students an opportunity to engage in critical thinking and the knowledge of daily water conservation practices that they can incorporate into their lives toward the cumulative effort of long-term resource conservation. .
Instructional Design: At the beginning of the class period, the students were given an overview of water resources and the geographic relationship between water and human uses of water. This presentation was followed by an online demonstration of an interactive exercise in which the class as a whole participated. This activity gave the students a way to quantify individual water usage in the domestic setting, as well as n overview of cumulative water consumption habits. Students then engaged in small groups to discuss innovative water conservation methods. Each group was required to summarize their results as well as write short responses to specific questions about individual water conservation.
Major Findings: Students gained an appreciation for the relationship between local action and global consequences, an awareness of their individual domestic water consumption, and an understanding of conservation actions in which they can use in their daily lives. After reading their responses, it appeared that the students took from the lesson an intention to reduce their water consumption by (1) reducing the time engaged in certain activities and (2) investigating technological solutions for water conservation.
How to Teach the Lesson:
Step 1 (15 minutes)
Lecture on global water supply, distribution of water via drainage basins, U.S. water supply, and water
Step 2 (10 minutes)
Introduce students to an online water use calculator to quantify individual water usage. There are several versions of water use calculators available online. Students were asked to estimate average water usage according to their own individual use. We used this one that is localized in Florida:
As a result, a follow-up discussion could be how water use for people in Florida might differ from their own water use in Wisconsin.
Step 3 (2 minutes)
Quantify the amount of water is takes to produce various everyday things. We used food products for our examples. Students were alarmed to discover the amount of water it took to produce everyday food products.
Step 4 (3 minutes)
Provide students with an overview of the global water supply.
Step 5 (10 minutes)
Provide each group 10 minutes to address the following Question: Discuss innovative (not practical) ways that you can conserve water starting today. After discussing your ideas as a group submit a list of the top three. This activity provides an opportunity for students to share ideas and discuss the issue in a small group setting. Students are encouraged to express their opinions and to develop innovative solutions for water conservation.
Step 6 (5 minutes)
Individual Question: How will you actively participate in water conservation once you leave this room? Consider how it will affect you, your environment, and your community. You will have three minutes to write down your thoughts. This activity brings the focus back to the individual student. Each student must formulate their own ideas on practical (not innovative) ways in which they can begin conserving water today.
Step 7 (5 minutes)
Summarize domestic water usage and discuss conservation methods based on the class written responses.
Student Learning Goals: Students will gain a deeper understanding of water resources and the importance of conservation through critical thinking. This lesson study will provide students the knowledge to engage in long-term water conservation as a vital part of their daily lives.
How the Lesson is Intended to Work: The relationship between humans and the environment is a foundation of Geography. Introductory Geography classes provide an opportunity for students to foster a deeper understanding of this relationship and to develop an appreciation for the environment by strengthening their own environmental ethic that is centered on conserving and protecting the natural world. Our lesson study focused on water resources and the impacts of human choices and activities on the natural environment. This is one of the most significant and critical issues currently facing our global society. At a time when policies are being advocated that create competition for access to Great Lakes water, it is vitally important to understand the role of water resources in Wisconsin and the need to keep our ecosystems that depend on it intact, . It is important that our students understand the relationship between their individual actions and the resulting cumulative impacts on our water resources. In fact, while many of our students live within the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence River drainage basin in the eastern portion of Kenosha and Racine Counties, and thus get their domestic water from Lake Michigan, a large number of our students live in the western portion of these counties which is in the Mississippi River drainage basin and thus get their domestic water from ground water sources via wells. Working as a team on this lesson study, we can instill in our students an environmental ethic through the development of learning skills and critical thinking, while engaging our students in active learning.
Introduction: Our lesson study focused on water resources and the impacts of human choices and activities on the natural environment. This is one of the most significant issues currently facing our global society. It is vitally important in Wisconsin, as policies are being advocated that create increased competition for access to Great Lakes water resources. This issue is of particular relevance to our students since the UW-Parkside campus is located in close proximity to the divide between the Great Lakes watershed and the Mississippi River watershed and draws students from both sides of this divide. A recent informal survey indicated that the Physical Geography class is nearly evenly divided between students that live within the Great Lakes watershed and students that live within the Mississippi River watershed. Thus future Physical Geography classes could constitute a microcosm of the real world as it pertains to Great Lakes watershed issues.
Because it is a general education course, the majority of students in Physical Geography are non-science majors and thus typically approach the class material from a non-science point of view, The design of this study purposefully focuses on familiarity as a structure for student understanding (Swan 1995). Students may find it difficult to connect the material to their own lives or to conceptualize the relationship of one system (e.g. climate) to another (e.g. landforms). We find that students easily become disconnected from the material if they are not actively learning about a problem that is directly related to their own life, such as the relationship between competition for water resources and water use in their daily activities. By developing critical thinking skills, the goal is for students to develop a learning style more akin to problem-based learning (Cerbin 1992). In order to develop a connection between course content and the daily lives of our students our lesson study focused on activities that allowed the students to relate some very personal aspects of their daily lives (such as the time spent taking a shower) to issues surrounding the use of water resources in Wisconsin, the U.S., and around the globe.
Approach: We divided our team into two groups (lecturers and observers). Joy Wolf delivered the lesson (Step 1) during one Physical Geography class. John Ward then led the interactive online water use calculator, overview of global water supply, group work, and individual paper portions (Step 2-6). Joy Wolf then quickly reviewed the student responses, summarized their ideas, and delivered the summary lecture on water resource conservation (Step 7). Richard Walasek, Scott Spiker, and Melissa Gray served as observers. The entire group observed the students during the group and individual activities (Step 5 and 6). We noted our observations on a standard form for the first iteration. The form provided a template for note taking under three lecture categories (student participation, student reaction, and overall effectiveness) and two group activity categories (group dynamics and other thoughts). During the second iteration the observers simply took notes. In addition to observations, student responses to the individual questions portion of the lesson (Step 6) were collected and analyzed for content.
Findings: Through our observations and our analysis of the students written responses we found:
1. Students in general had a hard time conceiving that their individual water use had cumulative regional and global effects. While they were aware of the concept they had not thought about it in quantitative terms.
2. Students became animated and engaged in the lesson during the interactive water calculator portion.
3. Student engagement seemed to increase as we allowed a bit of self-deprecating humor and joking amongst students in regard to their personal water use.
4. A group size of 3-4 students seemed to both maximize contribution from all members of the group and provide for a more animated discussion compared to smaller and larger groups
5. Students tended to underestimate their overall per capita water consumption both daily and annually.
6. Many students tended to overestimate their actual water consumption per activity (for example one student claimed to take a 45 minute shower, daily).
7. The students generally had a positive experience with the lesson and it fostered an increased interest and awareness of their personal water usage.
8. Students left the lesson with the intention of making changes in their daily water usage.
9. In general these changes involved decreasing water consumption by shortening the amount of time they are engaged in certain activities (e.g. they will cut their shower time from 10 minutes to 5 minutes).
10. Several students discussed technological methods for reducing water supply (e.g. rain barrels, low-flow faucets, in-home gray water recycling, etc.).
Our findings indicate that students are generally unaware of their actual domestic water consumption in quantitative terms, and do not realize the relationship between drainage basins and domestic water supply. Our observations revealed that by participating in the online interactive lesson, small group discussion, and individual writing assignment , students seemed to gain a deeper understanding of the core concepts related to water resources.
By conducting this study as a collaborative effort, we were able to discuss our own experiences and address ways to strengthen the lesson plan. For instance, in the future we could make the water usage portion more accurate by introducing the subject of water resources the week before the lesson and then ask students to actually quantify their water usage for a week. Such monitoring activities would include timing their showers and counting the number of times they washed dishes, turned on a faucet, flushed the toilet, etc.
The lesson was difficult to cover during a 50-minute class. One suggestion that emerged in our discussions was to introduce global and U.S. water supply and the relationship between drainage basins and water resources during one class period and assign the students the task of quantifying their domestic water usage for one week. During the second lesson the following week the topics covered would include water issues, water consumption for various activities, water use calculations, group and individual discussion, and a summary lecture.
Other ways to improve the efficiency of this lesson plan concerned the timing of introducing baseline watershed concepts. Our team discussed the fact that while we taught the lesson during the human and Earth relationships portion of the class (the final quarter of the semester) the lesson would be equally effective taught during the hydrosphere portion of the class (the second quarter of the semester). This would also potentially allow the suggested first portion of the lesson to be taught early on if an instructor desired to assign student the task of quantifying domestic water usage during a much longer portion of the semester and then conduct the second portion of the lesson near the end of the semester.
We believe this lesson is appropriate for introductory Geography courses, as well as any course related to human-environmental relationships.