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Testing the Waters

School: Genesee Community Charter School

City/State: Rochester, NY

Grade(s): 5

Format(s): Report: Science

Subject(s): English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science and Technology

Project Overview

This scientific report was created by 5th graders at the Genesee Community Charter School, in Rochester, New York, as part of a three-month learning expedition on water quality and the risks of pollution. Inspired in part by a similar study done by 5th/6th grade students in Massachusetts (see project #270), this class added additional levels of professionalism and depth to produce an adult-level scientific report.

The following questions guided the students’ investigation: How do scientists establish water quality? How do humans affect water?

Students conducted water tests at several sites on Round Pond Creek, a tributary of Lake Ontario, for which people had concerns about the water quality. Students worked with experts from the University of Rochester to learn how to use the water testing equipment.

Students studied different aspects of water quality including dissolved oxygen, pH, and alkalinity. They also used the percent model affinity method to sample macroinvertebrates.

At the end of their study, students presented their findings to the City of Rochester. Their results included a mixed review of the water quality.

Students chose a scientific paper as the format for their report. They read scientific papers and learned how to write in that format. Students really learned how to write in this style, as scientists, more than simply using parallel sections. Their paper includes an abstract, introduction, methods, results and discussion, with embedded recommendations for “taking action to help keep our environment clean”, as well as references.

Students included images from Google Earth maps to show their sites for sampling.

This book, and many others like it, are available for purchase on the schools’ website.

How This Project Can Be Useful

  • Shows a powerful means of engaging 5th graders in adult-level science
  • Incredible depth and sophistication of work by elementary students – truly adult-quality science done by young students; highlights the untapped capacity of students
  • Highlights an authentic research project with a real purpose and a real audience
  • Exemplary service learning project
  • Highlights an example of elementary students writing in an adult-format and with a specialized, scientific voice
  • Shows the possibility and power of using the standard scientific paper structure as a written format for students
  • Shows an example of small groups of students writing different sections of a paper
  • Students use digital photographs, Google Earth maps and graphic displays of data to accompany their text
  • Shows an example of careful writing by 5th graders which has gone through multiple rounds of critiquing and editing

Relevant Resources

Common Core State Standards

Standard Long Term Learning Target
  • I can accurately synthesize information from multiple texts on the same topic.
  • I can produce clear and coherent writing that is appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • I can use several sources to build my knowledge about a topic.
  • I can provide a list of sources I used to gather information.
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