Promoting environmental health literacy through science communication and intergenerational learning in a K-12 safe drinking water citizen science project (Communicating Data)

  • Project Description

    The long-range goal of the “Communicating Data” project is to create a replicable model of STEM education that engages teachers and students as citizen scientists in collecting data on drinking water in collaboration with community partners; this will lead to improved public health and increased student competency and interest in science. The project is focused on local issues of toxic metal contamination of drinking water in Maine and New Hampshire, including arsenic, uranium, and lead, and will have broad applicability to other water contamination issues across the nation. Teachers and students will partner with local scientists to analyze and communicate their data to the public in order to translate their findings into local action; students will engage in planned activities with their families at home to increase the likelihood of action at the household level.

  • Abstract

    The “Communicating Data” project engages secondary school teachers and students from both rural and urban areas in Maine and New Hampshire as citizen scientists in collecting both private and public drinking water samples for heavy metal analysis and communicating their findings with the goal of improving public health in their communities. This new project will build on our previous SEPA project, which had a focus on arsenic in private well water in rural communities. Based on what we learned in our first project, that nearly all communities have a mix of some public water systems as well as private wells, we will provide a more inclusive experience for students by having them collect home drinking water samples for analysis, no matter what the source. We will provide a curriculum on drinking water systems so that students can identify their source of drinking water. While our first project focused on arsenic in wells, many schools found that uranium, lead, and other contaminants were also issues that required attention. So, we will develop a curriculum that addresses multiple drinking water contaminants and provide training for teachers in these areas. We have already developed data literacy tools and a curriculum that will serve teachers and students in this new project. With these supports in place, our new SEPA project will focus on helping students create data visualizations so that they can more effectively communicate their findings to diverse audiences. We know from surveys of homeowners who contributed well water samples in the first years of our first SEPA project that the likelihood of mitigating arsenic in drinking water was related to the extent of parent-child interactions in the home. To further support these interactions, we will also focus on intergenerational learning. In guided focus sessions with parents, we will get their input on developing appropriate at-home conversation prompts and sink-side activities to engage families more actively in understanding the importance of healthy drinking water. We anticipate that this approach, combined with our expanded focus on multiple contaminants in drinking water from homes dependent on either private or public drinking water sources in either urban or rural environments, will enable us to more broadly disseminate our project and facilitate its replicability in other geographic areas.

  • Dissemination Strategies

    We are using a multi-pronged approach to nationwide dissemination of the “Communicating Data” Project. The project will be shared with the 23 IDeA states at the National IDeA Symposium for Biomedical Research Excellence (NISBRE) and with New England IDeA states at the NEW England Region IDeA Conference (NERIC). Maine and New Hampshire INBRE programs will provide a link on their websites to the “All About Arsenic+” project website and will include news items related to the project. MDI Biological Laboratory will also provide a link to the project website, where the project will reach a diverse audience. We attend the Citizen Science Association Conference biennially, and there we will present the project to encourage replication, promote the use of resources and tools on our project website, and encourage the adoption of our science communication modules in school-based citizen science and other projects at the local, state and national levels. We will attend the annual SEPA SciEd conference to share with other SEPA project leaders from around the nation. We plan to publish papers in peer-reviewed journals as well.

Project Audience

Maine and New Hampshire secondary school teachers, students, and their communities.

Subjects Addressed

Citizen Science
Data Literacy
Science Communication
Intergenerational Learning
Data to Action
Safe Drinking Water