GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 249-10
Presentation Time: 10:35 AM


WHITE, Holly, LALLY, Diane and FORBES, Cory, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska, 3310 Holdrege St, Lincoln, NE 68583

Groundwater is a vital water resource which provides water for both agricultural production and human consumption. However, our groundwater resources are increasingly at risk of overconsumption and contamination due to human activities. This makes groundwater a critical component of the global water cycle and topic within geoscience education. However, students hold many alternative ideas about groundwater or limited awareness of groundwater systems. One way to support students’ learning about groundwater is through the use of modeling tools. To advance this objective, we designed and implemented a professional development program for middle and high school teachers focused on innovative, data-driven approaches to teaching and learning about water systems in grades 6-12 classrooms. Here, we report findings from a study conducted in 7th-grade classrooms during a 3-week curriculum module designed around the Hydrogeology Challenge (HGC), a data-driven, computer-based groundwater modeling tool that allows students to learn about groundwater characteristics through basic calculations. As a part of the curriculum module, students completed a series of tasks using the HGC to explore, reason about, and problem-solve real-world, scenario-based water challenges. Here, we focus on how students understand and interpret elements of the HGC as they relate to components of the real-world water-related phenomena they investigate. To answer this question, we conducted quantitative and qualitative analyses on student assignments (n=209) and interviews (n=15) conducted with a subsample of students at the end of the module. Findings suggest that 7th-grade students could more easily identify water processes and human components of water systems than they could natural components of water systems. Specifically, students struggle to interpret contour lines, which is an important concept to understand when learning about groundwater flow. Results of qualitative analysis of student interviews suggests that students struggle to understand water processes such as flow direction, even though they can interpret its representation within the model. These findings provide important insights into students’ model-based reasoning about groundwater and teaching and learning about coupled human-hydrological systems.