SpectrUM Engages Students with Computational Groundwater Science Project

May 31, 2017

MISSOULA – Ensuring clean water availability for humans and the environment has become an interest for many in the science community. Now, the University of Montana’s spectrUM Discovery Area is working with six Montana high school teachers and their students to learn how students understand groundwater science and computational modeling.

The “Comp Hydro” project engages four teams of six teachers who work during two academic years with educators and scientists at diverse sites in Arizona, Colorado, Maryland and Montana. The project is sponsored by Colorado State University and extends from October 2015 through September 2018. About 2,400 students will be involved with and benefit from the project.

The “Comp Hydro” team developed units specific to each region that integrate hydrologic science and computational modeling. The units, currently piloted in high school earth and environmental science classes, provide a classroom context to investigate student understanding of how computation is used in earth systems sciences.

In Montana, the “Comp Hydro” team examines learning in a three-week unit, during which students are trained as hydrologists. The unit culminates with students developing a remediation plan for the East Helena Superfund site, home to a former lead smelter that has contaminated area groundwater with arsenic and selenium.

During the project, students learn to analyze and manipulate data from multiple sources and use computational modeling tools to construct scientific explanations and predictions regarding hydrologic systems. The reasoning gained from these experiences helps prepare students for real-world situations, such as predicting the movement of groundwater contaminants or the impacts of different remediation approaches.

“‘Comp Hydro’ teachers and students are excited about learning science through using the same types of instruments, data and computational models that scientists use when they address real-world problems like groundwater contamination in our state,” said Beth Covitt, Montana project lead and spectrUM head of science education research and evaluation.

Through studying student learning, “Comp Hydro” will improve instruction for building water-science literacy in classrooms and meet the aims of new science standards at the high-school level.

Inspiring a culture of learning and discovery for all, UM’s spectrUM Discovery Area serves more than 55,000 Montanans annually through in-museum and mobile programs. Since 2006, spectrUM has traveled exhibits and educators to 73 schools and four public libraries in 31 Montana counties and on all seven American Indian reservations statewide. Thirty percent of the people spectrUM serves are Native American, and more than 75 percent live in rural communities.

“Comp Hydro” is supported through a STEM + Computing grant from the National Science Foundation. For more information on the project, call Covitt at 406-243-4828 or email beth.covitt@umontana.edu.

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Contact: Beth Covitt, head of science education research and evaluation, UM spectrUM Discovery Area, 406-243-4828, beth.covitt@umontana.edu.