Educator Spotlight: Using Water to Connect to the World

Lindsay Smith, our Educator of the Week, teaches science at Mooresville High School in Mooresville, North Carolina. Her students tested the water in local streams, lakes, and ponds and compared them to bodies of water in their region and around the world using the EarthEcho Water Challenge database.

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Lindsay Smith teaches science at Mooresville High School in Mooresville, North Carolina.
Photograph courtesy Lindsay Smith

Tell us about your capstone project for the Nat Geo Educator Certification Program. How did the experience influence your lesson plan?

My capstone project involved students looking at three bodies of water in our community and examining their water quality parameters. Then, they compared those parameters to the other bodies of water throughout the world. The parameters we looked at were pH, nitrates, phosphates, turbidity, coliform, and dissolved oxygen.

I’ve done similar labs in the past where we looked at one body of water near the school, but we had never compared multiple bodies of water in our community to look at how they were similar or different. My goal was to show students how water moves from one area to another, starting with a creek near our school and then following the water to a local lake and pond. Looking at the connections between different sites helped them see how their actions could impact water in the entire ecosystem.

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A student prepares samples of local lake water to test for pH, turbidity, and other water quality indicators. Photograph courtesy Lindsay Smith

Did you use any interesting tools or resources in your lesson, and did those tools have any effect on your students’ experiences?

I incorporated the EarthEcho Water Challenge, and through that, we submitted our data to a worldwide database. My students could see how our community compared to other places in the world. They were inspired to see that other kids all over the world were doing the same kinds of data collection that we were doing, and they loved that there were millions of different data points in the database. They could see they were part of something bigger than just our class.

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A student checks the pH of a water sample by adding an indicator solution and comparing the color of the sample against a pH indicator chart.
Photograph courtesy Lindsay Smith

This global connection had a real effect on their behavior, too. Usually, when we do a lab that’s just shared in class, they’re thinking, “OK, maybe I don’t need to try so much.” But my students were trying super hard during the water challenge. They wanted to make sure their data was collected correctly because they knew it was going somewhere that meant something. They learned that they can really make a difference. And that’s the most important part of teaching: helping students feel empowered to make a difference in the world around them.

What is your teaching philosophy, and why did you choose teaching as a profession?

I never thought that I would ever want to be a teacher, but through my experiences as a wildlife biologist and camp counselor, I found that education really encompasses what I like most about working with kids and communicating science. This is my fifteenth year as a teacher now, and I absolutely love it. You never know what’s going to happen day-to-day. Every day is different.

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Lindsay Smith holds up a jelly caught by researchers on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration vessel in the Pacific Ocean.
Photograph courtesy Lindsay Smith

I love that I get to inspire kids by teaching the subject I love and showing them my enthusiasm for it. I want kids to be scientists, I want them to be explorers, and I want them to want to make a difference in the world around them. Fortunately, my job allows me to do that every day, and it’s pretty awesome!

This interview has been edited and condensed.

blue nominateDo you know a great educator who teaches about our world? Nominate a colleague or yourself as the next Educator of the Week!

Our Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing to connect students to the world in bold and exciting ways.

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