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Victoria L. McPeak

A Master’s Report submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the

Requirements for the degree of


Michigan Technological University

Copyright © Victoria L. McPeak 2009 This report, “Improving High School Students’ Knowledge of and Attitudes About Water Quality, Treatment and Conservation,” is hereby approved in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of MASTER OF



Cognitive and Learning Services


Thesis Advisor ________________________________

Dr. Brad Baltensperger Department Chair ________________________________

Dr. Brad Baltensperger Date ________________________________

ii ABSTRACT By Victoria L. McPeak The research that was done for this project was based on the idea that students’ knowledge of and attitudes about topics related to water would improve with a new curriculum unit. The students were exposed to topics that will impact their lives in the future because the demand for water is becoming an increasing problem, not only through out the United States, but also across the globe.

The teacher created a week long unit about topics related to water quality, treatment and conservation as it related to Geoscience. The material for this unit was something that was not previously taught in Geoscience.

The book that this class uses does not having any information related to this topic. Therefore, the curriculum came from varying sources and was adapted by the teacher to meet the classroom needs of the students.

The students were given a pre test prior to instruction during the unit.

After the unit, students were given a post test. The information gathered from these tests will be used for data to compare if students knowledge and attitudes changed related to water quality, treatment and conservation. Once the unit was complete, the students were taken to the local waste water treatment plant and then given a survey about the value of the trip as it related to the unit on water.



A special thank you is extended to the Midland Waste Water Treatment Plant and all who work there. Especially, Ed Klopf, whose willingness to help meet the needs of my internship will not be forgotten.

I would also like to thank my husband who encouraged me while working at my internship and writing this paper. You gave me the inspiration to keep on going throughout this very long endeavor.









CHAPTER ONE -Introduction

CHAPTER TWO - Research Questions

CHAPTER THREE - Literature Review

CHAPTER FOUR - Methodology

CHAPTER FIVE - Analysis and Summary of Data

CHAPTER SIX - Conclusions

APPENDIX A-1 - Michigan Merit Content Expections

APPENDIX A-2 - Learner Outcomes for Midland Public Schools...........48 APPENDIX A-3 - Proposed Curriculum OUtline

APPENDIX B-1 - Pre Survey

APPENDIX B-2 - Post Survey


APPENDIX C 1-8 – Student Handouts

APPENDIX D – Student Example


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Table 1 – Comparison of Pre and Post Survey Attitude Scale Answers……30 Table 2 – Correct Answer Responses from Pre and Post Surveys…………34 Table 3 – Post Survey Attitude Scale Answers……………………….……….36

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WWTP……………………………………………....Waste Water Treatment Plant H.H. Dow High School………………………….Herbert Henry Dow High School AAAS…………………American Association for the Advancement of Sciences NSTA……………………………………National Science Teachers Association

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In the last twenty years, the United States of America has developed an education reform policy that is composed of strategies and standards. In 1989, state governments began to support these standards. By 1994, the National Science Education Standards were established and distributed to educators throughout the United States. When designing these standards, the National Research Council’s main goal was that all students should achieve scientific literacy, which is defined as the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity. Scientific literacy is important because the understanding of science concepts offers fulfillment and excitement about the natural world.

Another advantage of having a scientifically literate population is the ability to make difficult decisions about the environment. These decisions can be made because Americans will have the scientific knowledge to determine what is best for the environment that we live in (National Research Council, 1996).

The desire to have my students become more scientifically literate was ignited by my internship at the Midland Waste Water Treatment Plant. This plant is a Michigan Class A Sewage Treatment Plant. Wastewater operations are separated into the following areas: Plant Operations, Plant Maintenance, Pump Station Maintenance, Sanitary Sewer Maintenance and Storm Sewer Maintenance. During the internship I worked in the areas of plant operations, plant maintenance and pump station maintenance. The plant has six operators whose primary function is to ensure compliance with the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System Permit. The water is analyzed for carbonaceous biological oxygen demand (CBOD), Total Suspended Solids (TSS), Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), Ammonia Nitrogen (N), Total Phosphorus (P), Total Residual Chlorine, Total Mercury, Fecal Coliform, pH and Dissolved Oxygen. Chemicals are added at various stages of treatment to reduce concentrations of CBOD, TSS, P and also for disinfection of discharged water (City of Midland Wastewater Treatment Plant Annual Report, 2005 – 2006). Working with the plant operators, I performed analytical tasks in the laboratory of the plant. I was also shown some of the pumping stations through out the city, one of which was forty feet below ground. If it were not for this internship, I never would have been able to have this experience.

After this internship experience I decided to make my students more scientifically literate about issues related to water. I felt that it was important for my students to have an understanding of the current environment and natural resource issues. These issues are of on-going importance to consider with regards to the future of the earth and its inhabitants. Water is critical for students to understand because we all share the need for this resource.

This research study focuses on how students learn about water quality, treatment and conservation. In order for students to learn about these topics, I created a curriculum unit, the goals of which came from the Michigan Content Expectations for Earth Science (Appendix A-1). The learner outcomes (Appendix A-2) established by Midland Public Schools were also centered in the study’s focus.

The water quality unit was taught in a class called Geoscience. It is an accelerated (.3) earth science class taught at Herbert Henry Dow High School in Midland, Michigan. The accelerated courses are designed to challenge academically talented students. An accelerated course is given a.3 designation. It earns six tenths (.6) of an additional honor point per credit hour. An A on a 4 point scale equals a 4.6, for instance. During the year in which this unit was taught, there were 138 students enrolled in Geoscience out of a total population of 1543. Of the 138 Geoscience students, I taught 85 in three different sections. Another Geoscience teacher had the remaining 53 students. Each section had approximately 30 students. This course is only offered to sophomores, juniors and seniors and is two semesters long.

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Water quality is an important aspect of everybody’s life. The water that we drink must be treated before we can use it and many people do not realize the many steps and processes that are involved to treat water. Prior to my internship at the Midland WWTP, I took for granted the quality of the water that I use. After the internship, I realized that the water that I use did not come automatically, but had undergone many steps and treatments to make it safe for use. I sensed that my students might have the same misconceptions that I had. Since the students live in Michigan, they have always had access to large bodies of fresh water— the Great Lakes. There are many people who live in the United States that do not have this luxury. I wanted my students to become aware that they are extremely fortunate to be surrounded by such a large supply of fresh water.

The purpose of this study is to determine how students’ attitudes and knowledge about water quality, treatment and conservation issues change as a result of being taught a week-long unit, which included both classroom and field experiences. The attitudes of the students were evaluated before and after the unit. Student knowledge gained from the unit was evaluated by using a pre and post test.

Three key research questions are examined in this study. The main research question is: does environmental science education improve students’ understanding of environmental issues? H.H. Dow High School does not offer an environmental science class. In most science classes, environmental issues are infused into the curriculum. Since there are a growing number of environmental issues that our nation is facing, there is a need for environmental science classes. Environmental issues that students face include: global climate change, polluted water supplies, alternative energy resources, overpopulation, waste management and a depletion of natural resources. With the problems we face today, we are requiring our youth to be able to make difficult decisions about these issues in the future.

Education about the earth and the issues related to it must begin at the K-12 level with an increased emphasis and higher standards at the middle and high school level (Bralower, Feiss, & Manduca, 2008).

The second research question is: how do field trips related to the topic of study effect the students’ learning about the environment? Courses that teach about the environment often utilize field experiences to help students observe and fully comprehend natural processes and human impacts on those processes. Is this an effective route to successful student learning?

Currently, and in the past, the Geoscience classes at H.H. Dow High School have not had field trips. Research has shown the value of field trips as an educational experience, in part because field trips provide students with a multi-sensory learning environment that promotes the engagement of the student (Farmer, Knapp & Benton, 2007). It has also been established, that students’ attitude about the environment become more positive as they are exposed to environmental field trips (Ignatiuk, 1978).

The third research question is: how can teachers increase students’ understanding of water-related issues and help them develop an awareness of the importance of environmental issues? A related area of concern is students’ attitudes about water quality, treatment and conservation. If students care and become more informed about this area of the environment, they might be less likely to cause harm to it. In order to effectively answer this research question, the successfulness of water-related units must be determined.

My research is based on an educational belief that students should be able to transfer what they learn in the classroom to their everyday lives.

Issues related to the environment are popular topics that we hear about in the media. Many editorials have been written about water pollution, water rights and access to water. Much of the world’s political agenda focuses on ecological issues (Brody, 1993). This research must address whether or not students’ knowledge and attitudes about the environmental issues related to water change as a result of instructional intervention. My goal is that students, at the end of this unit, will have the ability to connect what they have learned and apply it to their everyday lives, allowing them to become better educated citizens.

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There are three main areas that will be discussed in this chapter in order to explore how to improve students’ knowledge and attitude about water quality, treatment and conservation. Those areas are: environmental education, the importance of field trips, and improving student understanding and attitude about water issues.

–  –  –

Environmental education can be divided into two main areas-environmental literacy and environmental science education. There have been many efforts made to create a more environmentally educated population due to the environmental issues that our world is currently facing.

These efforts will be discussed in the following sections.

Environmental Literacy The Campaign for Environmental Literacy states, “the test of environmental literacy is the capacity of an individual to act successfully in daily life on a broad understanding of how people and societies relate to each other and to natural systems, and how they might do so sustainably. This requires sufficient awareness, knowledge, skills, and attitudes in order to incorporate appropriate environmental considerations into daily decisions about consumption, lifestyle, career, and civics, and to engage in individual and collective action” (“Campaign for Environmental Literacy,” 2007).

Environmental literacy requires that the public become educated about the state of our nation and world and this needs to begin in the classroom.

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