Northeastern Section–41st Annual Meeting (20–22 March 2006)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 1:05 PM


MANGO, Helen1, MACH, Diane2 and LEA, Patty2, (1)Natural Sciences, Castleton State College, 233 South Street, Castleton, VT 05735, (2)Mettawee Community School, Route 153, West Pawlet, VT 05775,

Sixth grade students at the Mettawee Community School in West Pawlet, Vermont, are engaged in a service-learning project designed to help them understand how science research is done while providing a valuable community service in the form of groundwater analysis. Preliminary work in the Pawlet-Rupert region of southwestern Vermont indicates that some groundwater, including that used by the Mettawee Community School, contains naturally-occurring arsenic in concentrations above the state (and EPA) drinking water standard of 0.01 mg/L. One sixth-grade teacher (Mach) sampled forty wells in the region in 2004. Preliminary hypotheses about the source and transport of arsenic were developed based on these data. The two current sixth grade classes have sampled more wells in an effort to better define the nature of arsenic occurrence in the region.

The scientific research aspect of this project has each student sample two groundwater wells: one from the student's house, and one from a relative or friend in the area. To do this, each student has learned the protocol on groundwater sampling, and also how to use field analytical tools to measure pH, temperature, oxidation-reduction potential, total dissolved solids and conductivity. They have also located each well using GPS. They have entered all the data into spreadsheets and have analyzed it, looking for trends and developing questions and hypotheses. The water samples have been sent to a commercial laboratory for geochemical analysis.

The community service aspect of the project is that the students have learned about groundwater contamination as a public health issue. They have described their project to the Select Boards of the two towns, and also to the School Board. These presentations have included the scientific background as well as demonstrations on using the analytical equipment. They have also requested town funds to help pay for the geochemical analyses. When the project is complete, the students will report back to the towns with their results. While learning how science research is done, they are also learning about local government, politics, and the value of civic involvement, and are bringing meaningful scientific information to their communities.