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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere: Cross-Curricular Approaches to Studying Water

Happy GIS DAY!

Geography is never discipline-specific!  Even a theme like “fresh water” should not be narrowed just to the science community.  Embrace the cross-curricular ties that exist within your curriculum.  You don’t have to teach something new, just teach what you already do in a different way.  This type of integration has great powers to teach your students to think, a skill we often expect rather than teach.  Before you decide I’m crazy and reaching for my magic wand, let’s explore the possibilities.  Let’s analyze how studying water can connect with all four core curricular areas.  I have a real-world...already tried great with real kids... example!

Here’s what happened...I was teaching 7th grade English on a middle school team of four teachers.  One afternoon we’re discussing upcoming classroom content.  As the math teacher starts sharing about her water project, the science teacher chimes in, “Hey, I could move things around and do pH studies then.  We can test their home water and compare with school water.”  Not to be left out, the social studies teacher and I start thinking too.  In short fashion, we created a team-wide water unit.  The results were fantastic.  Our students could see the connections across the curriculum, and it prompted them to think about similar connections in the future.  This collaboration led to many other collaborative projects among the four subjects.  The proof was in the test scores at the end of the year!

Math: statistics of home water use
Students collected data in their homes for a week on water usage. Then they used spreadsheet software to organize and calculate statistics.  Then the data was merged with the science data to be analyzed in GIS software.

Science: pH testing
Students collected samples of water around the school and from their homes.  They analyzed the water samples and drew conclusions.  Then the data was merged with the math data to be analyzed in GIS software (more on this below).

English: water art and literature
I had a collection of old calendar art.  I pulled every picture that had water in the art.  Students had to answer a series of questions about the art. Keeping within the confines of my school’s literature texts, students read “The Wreck of the Hesperus” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and “Hurricanes” by Patricia Lauber.  Then students had to relate the text to the art.  Which piece of art best illuminates these selections?  Explain.

What if you don’t have water literature in your curriculum or available art?  If you don’t have art on hand, utilize a resource like the Smithsonian.  Their art collection online is extensive! (  Just search by keyword “water.”
This lesson gives context to Walden Pond along with other English Language Arts topics: (   It’s part of a great educational resource by GIS leader Esri, the Education Community at Esri:

Articles on water related to literature:

Social Studies: how water affects communities around the globe
Because her “location” of study from year to year changed, the social studies teacher focused on the importance of water to the area of the world – her students were studying.  One year that country was India.  The students looked at available fresh water resources and why people lived where they did. (See We even explored the cultural implications of the Ganges River in both Social Studies and English with a part-research, part-creative writing assignment, “Journey to the Ganges.”  (

Geography and GIS: visualizing our water resources
Students took the collected data from math and science class and merged it with census and zip-code data.  Then they performed analysis to determine where the best water was. What factors might influence water quality?  You could perform similar activities with some pre-crafted lesson plans at the National Center for Rural STEM Education Outreach-Geospatial Technology ( – drinking water, aquifers and watersheds are just a few of the 14 lesson collection.  Whether you use a Mac or PC, AEJEE, My World GIS or ArcGIS 9, you can use these activities!  Another good online resource is National Atlas MapMaker (  Quick and easy internet mapping on any data that they keep at the National Atlas.
Remember to teach cross-curricular topics to your students with geography!  Use technology whenever it’s’s a language today’s teenagers understand well.  Students who are connected to their content in a purposeful way are more successful.  Help them discover that their world is connected in many ways.


Barbaree Ash Duke said...

Special thanks to my teammates at Martin Middle School: Angela (Slate) Brustad, Kris Thomasson and Sahar El Shafie! It was a great ride!

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