Educator Spotlight: Exploring Challenges of Water Quality and Access

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Lisa Abramovitz, this week’s Educator of the Week, guided her third-grade students through a multifaceted investigation of water quality and access. Students completed a visual water usage survey, read picture books about clean water, conducted background research, and took part in a water walk to understand the difficulties of traveling long distances to obtain water. Their learning culminated in working with a nonprofit to construct water filters for those in need.

Lisa Abramovitz
Lisa Abramovitz is a third-grade teacher at Indian Mills School in Shamong, New Jersey. Photo courtesy Lisa Abramovitz

Tell us about your Nat Geo Educator Certification capstone. How did you engage your students in learning about water issues?

Through a grant from the Shamong Township Foundation for Educational Excellence, I had the opportunity to partner with Water Works, an Australian nonprofit organization, to create and donate water filtration systems to citizens in Uganda. As an added dimension, we matched students with pen-pals in Uganda through another organization, so they got to know their third-grade peers from another country.

With a social action project like this, I believe it is really important to start by exploring the problem in depth. I used ideas from a National Geographic activity entitled “Water Treatment for Human Consumption” to develop an experience for eight-year-old learners. We took a visual survey of the students’ water usage using blue pom-poms and plastic cups. They transferred pom-poms into cups for each scenario in which they depended upon water: showering, drinking, cleaning clothes, etc. After students gained a solid understanding of their dependency on water, we discussed how we get water.

Next, we read and discussed two picture books: Clean Water for Elirose by Ariah Fine and You Wouldn’t Want to Live without Clean Water by Roger Canavan. I then prepared an activity that allowed students to research questions about global clean water statistics and share their findings with classmates. We talked about the dangers of drinking contaminated water.

Educators: Download full lesson plan here.

What inspired the water walk activity you organized, and what did the walk involve?

 I wanted students to experience the concept of having to travel for clean water. They were truly astonished to learn that millions of people (including children their age and younger) have to travel vast distances just to gather water, which then may not be potable. Luckily, my school community has a lake that is a two-mile walk from the school building. We asked all of our third-grade students to bring buckets to school and we walked all the way to the lake, filled our buckets, and walked back. We put lake water they’d collected through a filter so they could witness how the systems created potable water.

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Students learned how water filters make water potable by adding dirt and food coloring to local lake water and then pouring it through a filter. Photo by Lisa Abramovitz

What role did students play in creating water filters? 

We discussed possible solutions to water access challenges such as desalinization, bottled water, and water filtration systems. Since we had the opportunity to ship water filters to Uganda, we focused our discussion there, using a map to help us see why filters would be the most logical choice in this scenario. With the help of parent volunteers, students worked together and followed simple directions to build water filtration systems. They felt an incredible sense of purpose as they worked on these. They also created artwork related to clean water that was transferred onto stickers for the filters.

How did this project impact your students?

I’ve been teaching for 20 years and, until now, I’d never heard a student say they’re thankful for the clean water that their community provides. It broadens their horizons to see that there’s a problem in the world that they never knew about.

Throughout the project, it was really fun to see all of my students contributing in their own way. Artistic kids did a beautiful job designing the canvas, those who were savvy at following a manual did a nice job putting the filters together, and good communicators were able to effectively present research to the class. We got to see a lot of students shine in a lot of different ways.

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Lisa Abramovitz assists a student in filling a bucket of lake water during a water walk activity. Photo courtesy Lisa Abramovitz


This interview has been edited and condensed.

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

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