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Water & ? = Trouble

Water Mysteries

Secondary, Middle


In this ESD lesson, students take the role of an investigative reporter for their school's 'environmental television network' and explore the mystery surrounding an outbreak of water borne illness. As part of their efforts to solve the mystery,  students view a series of videos, complete accompanying activity sheets and participate in directed discussion to learn about the physical properties of water, our dependency on water, the nature and causes of water borne illnesses and strategies for better ensuring clean water.    

A concluding unit, Putting It All Together, requires students apply their newly acquired knowledge and skills to investigate and report on a case that suggests possible links between traces of household chemicals in local wells and a spike in cancer patients.

General Assessment

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

In order to solve the mystery/problem that is the starting point for the resource, students must employ the skills of scientific inquiry - defining the problem; identifying various options; weighing the merits of each option; selecting the most credible option


The strength of the resource is based on

  • the use of a problem/ mystery to engage the students 
  • the detective role assigned to the student
  • the effective use of video segments to advance student inquiry
  • the peer teaching element


Absence of significant action component

Relevant Curriculum Units

The following tool will allow you to explore the relevant curriculum matches for this resource. To start, select a province listed below.

Themes Addressed

  • Food & Agriculture (1)

    • Local Food
  • Human Health & Environment (1)

    • Environmental Contaminants & Health Hazards
  • Waste Management (2)

    • Hazardous Waste
    • Liquid Waste
  • Water (2)

    • Water Quality
    • Water Treatment and Distribution

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Good

The issue is not one  of competing perspectives. Rather it is about the process (scientific inquiry) by which one arrives at the truth. The process outlined is designed to reduce or eliminate the possibility of bias in determining "the answer". 

Consideration of Alternative Perspectives:
  • Satisfactory: absence of bias towards any one point of view
  • Good: students consider different points of view regarding issues, problems discussed
  • Very good: based on the consideration of different views, students form opinions and  take an informed position
Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions Good

The starting point for the inquiry is the health of a community (social dimension). The student inquiry into the cause(s) of the threat to the community's health requires an examination of the environmental factors at play. In determining what may be done to check current and future health threats, students must identify the activities that may have been the source of the environmental contamination and what may be done to reduce future risks (economic component). 

Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions:

Effectively addresses the environmental, economic and social dimensions of the issue(s) being explored.

  • Satisfactory: resource supports the examination of  these dimensions
  • Good:  resource explicitly examines the interplay of these dimensions
  • Very Good:  a systems-thinking approach is encouraged to examine these three dimensions
Respects Complexity Good

In resolving the mystery/problem presented by the resource students learn to adopt a method of inquiry (scientific inquiry) that rejects quick or easy answers and to connect the dots in a manner that reflects system thinking.

Respects Complexity:

The complexity of the problems/issues being discussed is respected.

Acting on Learning Poor/Not considered

Action element is limited to having students "design a poster or write an announcement" that will educate the community with respect to possible contamination of water and what they might do to avoid such contamination.

Acting on Learning:

Learning moves from understanding  issues  to working towards positive change — in personal lifestyle, in school, in the community,  or for the planet

  • Satisfactory: action opportunities are included as extensions 
  • Good: action opportunities are core components of the resource
  • Very Good: action opportunities for students are well supported and intended to result in observable, positive change
Values Education Satisfactory

The resource presents an opportunity but not a requirement for students to discuss individual and collective responsibility with respect to waste disposal and the values underlying particular response. To the extent that it exists in the resource,value judgement is therefore covert rather than overt. 

Values Education:

Students are explicitly provided with opportunities to identify, clarify and express their own beliefs/values.

Empathy & Respect for Humans Poor/Not considered
Empathy & Respect for Humans: Empathy and respect are fostered for diverse groups of humans (including different genders, ethnic groups, sexual preferences, etc.).
Personal Affinity with Earth Poor/Not considered

Activities include a "field trip" that investigates the possible source and destination of water found in the playground and how student actions might affect the quality of that water.

Personal Affinity with Earth:

Encourages a personal affinity with -the natural world.  

  • Satisfactory: connection is made to the natural world
  • Good: fosters appreciation/concern for the natural world
  • Very Good: fosters stewardship though practical and respectful experiences out-of-doors 
Locally-Focused Learning Good

 A local community is the setting for the simulation and therefore the context for the inquiry and learning that follows. A case study also has as its setting a community where a possible link exists between household chemicals and incidents of cancer in that community. Such studies give the resource an authentic ring and lead naturally to a consideration of similar concerns in one's community.

Locally-Focused Learning:

Includes learning experiences that take advantage of issues/elements within the local community. 

  • Satisfactory: learning is made relevant to the lives of the learners
  • Good: learning is made relevant and has a local focus
  • Very Good: learning is made relevant, local and takes place ‘outside’ , in the community 
Past, Present & Future Poor/Not considered
Past, Present & Future: Promotes an understanding of the past, a sense of the present, and a positive vision for the future.

Pedagogical Approaches

Principle Rating Explanation
Open-Ended Instruction Good

Although there is a villain in this case-the source of the illness- the answer is not foreordained. Students must apply the skills of critical analysis to explore the possible causes and thereby determine that villain. Part of the strength of the resource is that it helps students recognize that "the answer" is not always obvious.   

Open-Ended Instruction :

Lessons are structured so that multiple/complex answers are possible; students are not steered toward one 'right' answer.

Integrated Learning Good

In exploring the cause of the illness, students must become acquainted with the properties of water (Science), the body's dependence on water and the nature of water borne diseases (Health, Biology), strategies for cleaning water (Chemistry, Biology), the impact of water borne disease in the developing world (Health,Social Studies), waste disposal (Environmental Studies) 

Integrated Learning:

Learning brings together content and skills  from more than one  subject area

  • Satisfactory: content from a number of different  subject areas is readily identifiable
  • Good:  resource is appropriate for use in more than one subject area
  • Very Good:  the lines between subjects are blurred 
Inquiry Learning Good

Students are presented with a question/problem - What is the cause of a cholera outbreak? Students view and discuss a series of videos that chronicle the efforts of fellow students to resolve the problem. An analytical approach allows both the students and their video counterparts to reject various possibilities and the "ah-hah" moment occurs when the real villain is identified.

Inquiry Learning:

Learning is directed by questions, problems, or challenges that students work to address.   

  • Satisfactory: Students are provided with questions/problems to solve and some direction on how to arrive at solutions.
  • Good: students, assisted by the teacher clarify the question(s) to ask and the process to follow to arrive at solutions.  Sometimes referred to as Guided Inquiry
  • Very Good:  students generate the questions and assume much of the responsibility for how to solve them.  . Sometimes referred to as self-directed learning.


Differentiated Instruction Good

As students progress through the resource they encounter a variety of learning situations;

  • critical viewing (videos)
  • answering questions and recording information (activy sheets)
  • open ended questioning (teacher-directed discussion)
  • research (Internet investigation)
  • field study (Rainy Day activity)
  • lab demonstration (contamination activity)
  • research and community advocacy (Putting It All Together)
Differentiated Instruction:

Activities address a range of student learning styles, abilities and readiness.

  • Satisfactory:  includes a variety of instructional approaches
  • Good: addresses  the needs of visual, auditory &  kinesthetic learners
  • Very Good: also includes strategies for learners with difficulties
Experiential Learning Satisfactory

The core of the resource is a simulation designed to have students consider possible causes of a cholera outbreak. The concluding exercise, Putting It Altogether, presents the students with another case study that requires that they apply the scientific inquiry skills learned in original simulation.

Experiential Learning:

Authentic learning experiences are provided

  • Satisfactory: learning takes place through ‘hands-on’ experience or simulation
  • Good: learning involves direct experience in a ‘real world context’
  • Very good: learning involves ‘real world experiences’ taking place’ beyond the school walls.
Cooperative Learning Poor/Not considered
Cooperative Learning:

Group and cooperative learning strategies are a priority.

  • Satisfactory:  students work in groups
  • Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught and practiced
  • Very Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught, practiced and assessed
Assessment & Evaluation Good

Formative and summative assessment of student progress can be determined in part by a series of activity sheets that indicate their understanding of the videos viewed, their responses to the open discussion questions that follow the viewing, and the results of their Internet research. The concluding activity, Putting It Altogether, provide an opportunity for summative evaluation.

Assessment & Evaluation: Tools are provided that help students and teachers to capture formative and summative information about students' learning and performance. These tools may include reflection questions, checklists, rubrics, etc.
Peer Teaching Good

The four videos that serve to provide necessary background and to move "the story" along feature students who are members of a team of environmental reporters. Students may be expected to catch something of the concern and enthusiasm represented by the reporters.

Peer Teaching:

Provides opportunities for students to actively present their knowledge and skills to peers and/or act as teachers and mentors.

  • Satisfactory: incidental teaching that arises from cooperative learning, presentations, etc.
  • Good or Very Good: an opportunity is intentionally created to empower students to teach other students/community members. The audience is somehow reliant on the students' teaching (students are not simply ‘presenting')
Case Studies Good

Two case studies are central to the resource. The first introduces a situation in which some of the  participants at a community gathering become ill with cholera. The second asks student to investigate the possible link between chemicals found in a landfill and a nearby river and a disproportionate number of incidents of cancer in the community involved.

Case Studies:

Relevant case studies are included.  Case studies are thorough descriptions of real events from real situations that students use to explore  concepts in an authentic context.

Locus of Control Satisfactory

Students move through the resource as a group, whether the activity involves viewing and discussing videos, conducting a demonstration lab, or participating in a field study. Internet research and reporting provide students with an opportunity to pursue selected topics in greater depth 

Locus of Control: Meaningful opportunities are provided for students to choose elements of program content, the medium in which they wish to work, and/or to go deeper into a chosen issue.