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That means science, technology, engineering and math. It turns out those pipes in your hands and that soil under your feet will do both of those educational jobs. Connecticut teacher Laura Poidomani saw this, too, as she worked to meet science instruction guidelines set out by the state of Connecticut.
Her use of wastewater systems for teaching sixth-graders earned a Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators from the Environmental Protection Agency in The awards recognize teachers who use hands-on approaches to educate students about the environment.
Pumper talked to Poidomani about her ideas and why her classroom features models of wastewater treatment systems. How did you decide to use septic systems as a tool for teaching? Many years ago, the state of Connecticut adopted a rule requiring a common framework so students would have similar experiences no matter where they attended school, and one of those common experiences was experimenting with a variety of different soils.
What kids did over the years seemed very random. Under the new guidelines, science is no longer a step-by-step process. Everything has to have a context, and that gave me the ability to link the state standard to septics.
Now the kids have a purpose for what they learn because they have to design and construct a leaching field. It sounds really easy to them, but when they start putting it together, they start respecting the process.
And the use of wastewater also illustrates human impacts on the planet? The new standards also require us to look at human impacts on the environment. And septic systems have an impact on our local watershed and the greater watershed.
How much experience have your students had with septic systems? What do your students use to build the model systems?
We use plastic tubing, three sizes of deli cups, funnels, screens and wood blocks to give structure. The kids have to figure out what materials they can use to slow down the energy of the water. We use lots of water bottles. Unfortunately we also use a lot of duct tape and electrical tape because of the leaks.
We talk about the difference between their models and the real world. What do you use to test the systems? That can mean some pencil shavings and minced toilet paper.
The kids test six different soils. They have potting soil, topsoil from outside, clay, gravel, fine sand, and beach sand. Most kids realize quickly they want to use the clay and topsoil for slow drainage. What success do they have in cleaning the water?
It really depends on the kids.
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