Amy H. Durden
, Department of Earth Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL 36688. E-mail: madurden_2000@yahoo.com.

Children are often overlooked as being too young to understand environmental problems, but they are one of our greatest resources. Education is the key to a better future, and it needs to start in our elementary schools. Most children do not know the definition of a watershed. This project will help the third graders at Mary B. Austin understand what a watershed is, how it works, and how it affects their everyday lives. I  administered a pre and post test to the students to gauge the effectiveness of my project. Handouts, overheads and a model of a watershed helped the students understand the concept of a watershed and, in particular, the Dog River watershed. By the end of the lesson, they were able to name watersheds nationally as well as locally. Pollution and erosion were addressed as well as ways that they could contribute to make the watershed a healthier place for everyone. An educational CD about water was given to the teachers for a classroom tool. 

            Keywords: watershed, pollution, education, Dog River.


            Today’s youth are more environmentally conscience, but lack more than a basic knowledge of water. An in-depth lesson in watersheds and water pollution is needed to give children an understanding of their important role in water quality and conservation. Most eight and nine year olds are aware of the water cycle but do not know the function or the meaning of a watershed. Pollution, from trash to chemical agents, is a problem that everyone needs to address (Donnelly,1999). Children should know the different ways pollution enters our waterways and how it can be prevented.

            Even many adults in our society are not aware of the consequences of over fertilizing their lawns or of pouring motor oil and paint down storm drains. Most adults also do not know the definition of a watershed. By addressing the problem with children, we educate the up and coming generation. The added benefit is that we also educate the parents on the environmental dangers of our actions.

            The EPA’s report, Protecting and Restoring America’s Watersheds, addresses the needs of a healthy watershed. It outlines the significance of watersheds not only for human consumption and recreation but also as habitat for aquatic and land-based wildlife. The National Geographic Society’s booklet, Geography: Reflections on Water, has lesson plans to help with identifying types of pollution from erosion runoff to lawn fertilizers. The EPA’s website, www.epa.gov/owow is the Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. This site is a good resource for watershed information. There is also a children’s page called the Explorer Club. It has many different ways for parents, kids, and educators to explore environmental issues with several online activities. With the involvement of parents and teachers, the whole community reaps the benefits of children who are concerned and knowledgeable about our environment.

Research Question:

            Do third graders at Mary B. Austin Elementary School in Mobile, Alabama have any knowledge of watersheds?  I plan on educating them on watersheds, particularly the ones in Mobile, Alabama. Additionally, I will discuss pollution, water quality and wetlands. I intend to show that after implementing my module, the third grades have a greater understanding and appreciation of watersheds.



             A pre-test of ten multiple choice questions was given to the children to evaluate their knowledge of the subject matter. Then, we discussed watersheds and pollution. I talked about the definition of a watershed and of wetlands (Dobson, 1999). I showed several overheads. The first was of the Dog River Watershed sign (Fig. 1) . Next, I showed an overhead of Bolton Branch at Azalea Road (Fig. 2) . I then showed an overhead of a gabion behind Davidson High School (Fig. 3) . The children and teachers all recognized the sign and both places in the overheads, but no one knew the  correct name of the gabion.  My helper, Erin Durden passed out handouts. The first handout was a map of Mobile and Baldwin Counties with the local watersheds marked clearly. I used a poster of the Mobile Bay Watershed to help show that watersheds can be very large or very small. I talked about the Mississippi River Watershed and its size.

             A model of a watershed made out of flour dough mixture was used to demonstrate how water flows (Fig.4) . I put crushed Styrofoam on the model to represent trash and “rained” on it so the children could see how trash gets washed into the waterways. I painted the model with oil based paints so it would last longer. It also illustrated how important wetlands are as a filtration system to eliminate pollutants and sediments from reaching the main body of water by using a sponge in the flour dough


             I discussed pollution and talked about the different types as well as how it enters the waterways. Every class wanted to talk about grease and the dangers of putting it into the drainage system. I ended the class by asking for questions. Afterwards, they retook the test. Then, we handed out goodies for all the students. Pencils, bookmarks, and dot-to-dot coloring pages were given to each student for their participation. Custom word search puzzles were also passed out to the children (Puzzlemaker, 2003).  The teachers received posters for their classrooms, an educational CD (Ribbit’s Big Splash) made by Dr. Brenda Litchfield of the Education Department, as well as pencils and copies of all the materials given to the students. The gifts were donated by the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program.


            I had four classes with a total of 64 students. The scores of the pre-tests were added up and averaged. The scores ranged from 90 to zero. The average score was 48. The post-test scores ranged from 100 to zero. The average score was 59. I performed a  z-test and found that my results were significant with a mean difference of 11 pts (Fig 5) .



             Water education is a very vital subject in the world. This educational module is a great tool to teach children about watersheds, pollution, and the importance

of keeping our environment healthy. One of the biggest problems with my project was that I only had 30 minutes in each class. Those 30 minutes included the passing out and taking of both the pre test and the post tests. This was not enough time to effectively teach this lesson. I needed at least an hour or more to do this properly. The teachers at Mary B. Austin are wonderful but I could tell the difference in the teachers that have talked to their students about environmental issues. One teacher in particular, Mrs. Sullivan, lives on Dog River and is very aware of what is going on in the area. She asked a lot of questions and pointed out different aspects that I was talking about to her students. All of the teachers were very helpful and said that they learned from my lesson as well. One teacher confessed that she was not aware of what a watershed was before the lesson.

            I was disappointed that there was not a bigger variance between the averages of the pre- and post- tests. There was an 11 point gap in favor of the post-tests. I would take this to mean that my project was a success. There were 4 perfect scores which is 6% of the total number of tests taken. Although the over all mean on both were failing grades, I am confident that I had an impact on the third graders and that they know more about watersheds now than before.  This also could have more effectively gauged success if I had assigned numbers to the students so I could have compared the before and after results of each child. Names could not be put on the tests due to confidentiality of live subjects.

             Another problem that I encountered with my lesson was with one of the questions on the test. All of the students knew not to put grease down the drain and wanted to talk about it. I discussed that more than the other ways to help the watershed. I noticed on grading the post tests that almost everyone had marked that answer on the test. I decided to adjust the answer for question 10 and accept either the grease answer or all of the above. I felt that it was more my error than the children’s because of their interest and my willingness to talk about it.

             Because of the versatility of this lesson, it can be geared toward any elementary age. It provides visual hands-on experience as well as handouts and maps. It can be scaled toward younger children by simplifying the lesson. Older children could take walks in the watershed and learn how to monitor water quality at a given stream site. Environmental education at an early age is essential in ensuring a future for our earth.  All children have a willingness to learn and most honestly want to help the environment.


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Dr. Gahan Bailey, Instructor of Curriculum and Instruction. Mobile, Alabama: University of South Alabama. March, 2003.

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Donnelly, Andrew. Water Pollution. Avon, Massachusetts: A Child’s World 1999.

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Environmental Protection Agency. 2003.Office of Water. Accessed on 27 February 2003. http://www.epa.gov/ow .

Environmental Protection Agency. Protecting and Restoring America’s Watersheds. Washington, D.C. 2001.

Mobile Bay National Estuary Program. Our Water, Our Future Mobile, Alabama: Mobile Bay Estuary Program, 1999.

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