Science students investigate water pollution problems, solutions

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published January 11, 2019

 Warren Consolidated Schools Middle School Mathematics  Science Technology Center student Nathan Livingston works on his team’s project about watersheds and stormwater runoff Jan. 10.

Warren Consolidated Schools Middle School Mathematics Science Technology Center student Nathan Livingston works on his team’s project about watersheds and stormwater runoff Jan. 10.

Photo by Deb Jacques

WARREN — Seventh-grade students in the Warren Consolidated Schools Middle School Mathematics Science Technology Center program at the Butcher Educational Center recently had the opportunity to operate their own city and fight water pollution.

On Jan. 8 and 10, the budding scientists participated in an education outreach program at the Cranbrook Institute of Science, located in Bloomfield Hills. The watershed investigation program, grant-funded by the Bosch Community Fund, was designed to teach students about watersheds and how stormwater runoff can affect the health of watersheds.

A watershed is an area or ridge of land that separates waters flowing to different rivers, basins, lakes or seas. The watershed investigation exercise encouraged the students — who study ecology and life science — to design solutions to stop the pollution of watersheds from runoff. In class, the students often talk about the importance of protecting the Great Lakes as a freshwater source.

“The students are learning to be good stewards of the Great Lakes,” science teacher Tuyen Duddles said.

Michele Arquette-Palermo, head of the freshwater forum for Cranbrook, and Lizz Parkinson, coordinator of freshwater education at Cranbook, oversaw the program with the students.

“We received some funding from Bosch, and this was one of our target communities,” Arquette-Palermo said.

Duddles has worked with the Clinton River Watershed Council, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect, enhance and celebrate the Clinton River, its watershed and Lake St. Clair. Duddles knows Arquette-Palermo from the CRWC, and that’s how the two connected for the watershed investigation pilot program.

Last Tuesday, the students formed teams and — with various materials — made their own cities, which they named. The students used boxes, aluminum foil, water, moss, cotton, sponges and pebbles to create roads, houses, parks and other entities to create their mini-communities.

By applying their design, engineering and environmental knowledge, the students on Jan. 10 then had to find scientific ways in which to keep water pollution out of their watersheds. According to Arquette-Palermo, when items like fertilizer, pesticides, oil drippings and pet waste are rained on, they end up with runoff that drains into bodies of water, polluting them.

“It ends up at our lowest point, which is our lakes, rivers and streams,” Arquette-Palermo said. “We want the students to design a solution to this problem and how to fix it. Before the water gets to the lowest point, they’ll want to clean it up, slow it down and cool it. They need to clean it up before it goes into the lake.”

As part of the assignment, the students discovered that if they tried to stop the polluted water from reaching a lake, stream or river, the water would back up into their makeshift cities.

The team of Ujvesa Blakaj, Breanna Reynhout, Aria Sayajon and Renee Marsack discovered that the crease of the aluminum foil of the project slowed down the water.

“I think they’re doing a really good job,” Duddles said.

The students enjoyed the watershed lesson.

“It was fun because we got to clean the water,” Reynhout said.

The WCS Middle School Mathematics Science Technology Center program follows the Next Generation Science Standards.

“It’s a new way of looking at science education,” Duddles said. “It’s more about inquiry. It’s more about problem solving and student-driven work.”