Author Archives: waterinquiry

Piloting “Inquiry, Inc and the Case of the Flooded Fields”

“It’s science! It’s inquiry! It’s imagination!” Nan Childs, pilot teacher

This October, Nan Childs’ second and third grade class at Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School became the first to pilot a new curriculum designed by the Water Inquiry project. The class, called the Greens, followed Inquiry Inc.’s new adventure in The Case of the Flooded Fields. In the story, soccer player Lee finds their practice field completely flooded right before a big championship game. An open-ended conclusion allows for inquiry-based discussions in which students think and ask questions, brainstorm solutions, and present what they would do to help solve the problem. 

Piloting the Project

Nan Childs spent three lessons over three days facilitating the unit, which she split up into an introduction and story lesson, a siphoning experiment lesson, and a solution-design lesson.  The kids were given a decorated story box– inspired by the national Top Secret YA StoryBox Project— containing the storybook, materials for a siphoning experiment, and materials for presenting a solution. When the story box was unveiled, students were very enthusiastic about its sleek, creative, pizza-box design, which they recognized from the illustrations of the book. 


Story Day

Student researchers Emily Buxengaard, Emily Buck, and Brittany Collins, and project leader Professor Carol Berner, were able to observe the pilot lessons at Hilltown. The students were excited and responsive to having four guests in class. As Nan read the story aloud, the kids immediately connected to the material. They had experience with magic tricks, playing soccer, and even flooding, just like the characters, sparking text-to-self connections. 

Prompted with the questions, “Have you ever seen too much water? Where was it? Where did the water come from and what problems did it cause?” kids turned to each other in a Think and Talk activity and discussed their ideas. 

One student had seen flooding in their kitchen: “Our kitchen sink broke and every time we used it, water would go on the floor.” Another student said she had water flowing into her yard after it storms. “I saw too much water in my tennis court because it was raining really hard the day before,” one student remarked; “I couldn’t play tennis!” another called out; “I had a baseball game and in the middle of the game it started raining so they cancelled the game.” 

Although the book urged asking questions, the students were already thinking of ways to get rid of water. The next Think and Talk prompt was “What questions do you have? What do you think is the problem? What do you need to understand to solve the problem?” The Greens were eager to brainstorm what they would do to get water out of a flooded soccer field. Some of the answers were meant to be funny (i.e. use a “floaty field”) but were encouraged as creative problem-solving. After this encouragement, students became more serious with their ideas, generating questions in response to the prompt. 

Siphon Day

The next day was the highly-anticipated siphoning experiment day. The class opened with Nan revisiting the part of the story in which characters share their problem-solving ideas. Then, the Greens moved into a siphoning experiment which demonstrates a way in which water can move up, rather than down.  The kids were enthralled both by Nan’s demonstration and their own trials, and embraced the “mouth trick” when pipettes stopped providing enough suction. Equipped with this new perspective on how to move water, students started generating more solutions to the flooded field problem. 








Solution Day 

On the final day of the Flooded Fields pilot, students were focused on designing final drafts of their solutions. They had already created first drafts, which received feedback from peers through a gallery walk. Students collaborated in pairs and either combined solutions or submitted two separate ones. They had to draw and explain what their ideas were, given large handouts, a vocabulary word list, and art supplies. Incentivized by the characters’ call for help, the Greens quickly got to work. 

The students seemed engaged and focused on this final step, and spent a lot of time talking and listening to each other. Ideas included:

“We could siphon the water into the pipe!”

“Bubble soccer –– it’s a real sport.”

“Make a stream two feet deep to the river…not too deep so animals won’t get their home ruined.”

Students were excited when Nan told them they would get letters back from Inquiry Inc. As Carol left, there were hushed conversations about whether Inquiry Inc. was real. “It’s the college students,” one student said knowingly. 


Debriefing with Nan

Nan had lots of positive comments about the pilot. She mentioned that the kids loved that their ideas were listened to, and that the letters they received from Inquiry Inc. were a big part of that. Nan also liked how Inquiry Inc. pulled together many different subjects. She remarked in our meeting, “It’s not just reading, it’s science, it’s inquiry, it’s imagination!” 

Nan thought the Flooded Fields story was well-suited to her class and could also hold value for older students, which is certainly something to consider for future pilots . She was interested in returning to the lesson in two years with her next group of students.  Nan provided students with a vocabulary list including words like “siphon” and “absorb,” to aid in the brainstorming process. After talking as a group, the Water Inquiry team has decided to include similar vocabulary lists in the future. 

“Siphon the water into a car wash”

In our meeting with Nan, we were especially focused on improvements we could make in our next iteration of the Flooded Fields unit. She mentioned that she wished students had talked more about their solutions before doing their final drawings. Another idea Nan had was conducting experiments with models of  flooded soccer fields in order to test ideas and get kids even more involved in hands-on activities. 

“Put sandbags around the soccer field and siphon the water out.”

We were all excited to hear that Nan had encouraged several students to share their ideas in an all-school assembly. While we weren’t able to attend, Nan tells us the presentation [click to open PDF] was well-received. The kids were proud of their work and received lots of compliments from parents and teachers.

Future Goals

Unfinished story box brings “Flooded Fields” to classrooms

Looking back at the pilot, one of our main takeaways was the extent to which students and their ideas were valued. Nan informed us this is a very rare but very important thing to see in the classroom. Going forward, it’s important for us to keep this in mind. The letters, or “positive notes,” are an integral part of the project. We look forward to integrating into our unit the suggestions for improvement gleaned from Nan and her students and are excited to continue piloting Flooded Fields in other classrooms. If you are interested in bringing the unit to your school, or our premiere story unit, Inquiry Inc. and the Case of the Missing Ducklings (geared toward 1st-3rd graders), please contact Carol Berner at

Written by Emily Buck and Emily Buxengaard

Water Inquiry and The Year on Climate Change

The fall semester is underway, and students are settling into classes. Already, Water Inquiry has a ton of news to share, including a new project we’ve been working on since last year.

But first, it’s our pleasure to introduce some (relatively) new members of our team.

Emily Buck (she/her) is a first year from Iowa City, IA. Although she’s unsure what she wants to major in, literature and the humanities interest her. She decided to work with Water Inquiry because it combines so many things she loves: activism, creativity, problem-solving, and kids. Being new, she’s excited to find out where she fits in the team! Her other interests include playing the bassoon, spending time outdoors, and rock climbing.


Camille Butterfield (she/her) is a studio art major and landscape studies minor who’s well-acquainted with the New England wilderness despite growing up in Mamaroneck, NY. She’s fascinated by the intersection and combination of art and science, hoping to use her creative abilities to spread awareness of climate change. As such, Water Inquiry is a perfect fit for these interests, and she looks forward to making art that will excite and encourage students to further research current pressing environmental issues. Camille also runs for Smith’s cross country and track teams, reads, writes, bikes, hikes, and attempts to make music. 

Returning members include: Kat Van Green, Emily Buxengaard, Anna Wysocki, Abigail Moon, Brittany Collins, and faculty facilitator Carol Berner.

Camille’s sketch for journal

This September also marked the beginning of Smith’s Year On Climate Change, a campus-wide initiative proposed by the Study Group on Climate Change, a group of staff, faculty, students, alumnae, and trustees created in 2015 by Smith College President Kathy McCartney to determine the ways in which the College can effectively combat climate change. For this academic year, the school invites members of the Smith community to critically consider climate change both in and out of the classroom as a serious and complex issue. As part of that initiative, Smith hosted the Climate Equity and Justice: Solutions in Action conference from October 4-6, during which participants attended relevant lectures and conferences featuring a wide range of speakers, on topics such as coral reefs and environmental mindfulness, to the Farm to School movement and solar power overseas.

Stella Bowles portrait by Abby Moon

For our own part, Water Inquiry’s newest project seeks to empower kids to take action against climate change in their own communities. We’re creating a set of interactive journal prompts designed to provoke creative and critical thinking about water activism in middle school students. These prompts are inspired by young water activists around the world, such as Stella Bowles from Nova Scotia, who tested for fecal bacteria in her river and shared the shocking results on social media to pressure lawmakers into action! From water quality testing to political lobbying, there are many ways students can make a difference, and this project sets out to show just that.

Unfinished Story Box: pilots this week!

We’ll provide updates on all our projects, new and old, as the semester continues, so keep your eyes open for more. Thank you for reading, and if you are a classroom teacher interested in bringing Water Inquiry curricula to your school, or a Smith student interested in joining our project, please contact Carol Berner, Professor of Education & Child Study, at to find out more!

Written by Kat Van Green


April showers bring… May storm drains?!

Wonder why first graders were peering intently down storm drains in an April downpour? They were figuring out how to rescue ducklings, prompted by the problem-solving story Inquiry, Inc. and the Case of the Missing Ducklings. This spring, Campus School first grade teachers Eva Jaffe and Emma Pascarella piloted the first in a series of interactive science inquiry stories created by Smith student researchers from the Water Inquiry Story Project. Eva Jaffe reflected about the storytelling pedagogy: “It gave their problem-solving work a purpose. Why bother thinking about storm drains? Because we could come up with a way for Inquiry Inc. to save some lost ducklings!”

Where does water go?
When I sat down with a small group of first graders to hear their reactions to the Case of the Missing Ducklings, they were eager to share their ideas. After a picture-walk through the book, they lingered on the final page, still wondering about the pencil that fell down the drain earlier in the story. Where did it go?

  • “To other drains downhill on the Smith campus and neighborhood.”
  • “Maybe to a filter and the ocean.”
  • “I think it goes to a river before the ocean.”
  • “It’s kind of cool that you think about if it might go to a different country.”

Their dialogue captures the spirit of the Water Inquiry project, which works to improve understandings of water as a topic that stimulates curiosity, as well as a medium for inquiry with which to explore the development of ideas. Classroom tools for making thinking visible help students track evolving ideas, including a collaborative diagram exploring: “Where does water come from? Where does it go?” Connecting to a classmate’s idea about rivers, one girl shared excitedly, “I live near the Connecticut River! I fish in it! I went on a long kayak trip all the way down to the ocean and we had to bring a LOT OF STUFF!!.”

Inquiry and collaboration
In the Inquiry, Inc. story series, plucky young characters bring a sense of humor to problem solving, welcoming idea diversity and encouraging imagination. First graders told me their favorite part of the story was when Carlos suggested there might be a “little pirate ship” in the underground pipes. Brainstorming appreciates all ideas, no matter how far-fetched!

When I asked first graders, “why does it help to talk about ideas?” they built on each other’s responses:

  • “You can think about them more to see if they work.”
  • “You may not agree, you talk so you can agree.”
  • “Other people add onto your idea and you can come up with a big idea.”

Ideas into action
For the story’s culminating challenge — to design a better storm drain — students told me they “copied” each other’s ideas; “changed them a lot;” and came up with their own “new” ideas. Design innovations included levers to sweep off leaves, latticework to keep ducklings safe above ground, and a cone-shaped drain to shed debris. Students showcased their innovative storm drain designs at a Family and Friends Friday event in early May.

Explaining their rationale for an upside-down-ice-cream-cone shaped storm drain, one group elaborated: “If leaves fall down, the water couldn’t get through, so we used popsicle sticks and screens and made it tall so leaves would fall off.” Eva was right when she told me, “their storm drain designs are amazing.”

“What suggestions do you have for our story project?” I asked the first graders, so I could bring their ideas back to the Water Inquiry team. “More stories!” they quickly agreed. “Another mission for Inquiry, Inc.”  Good news for this eager audience:  Inquiry Inc. has a new problem that they need help solving. The new story, Inquiry  Inc. and  the  Case  of  the  Flooded  Fields, is  designed as an “unfinished story box,” so students will get to create their own solutions, mail them in a Priority Envelope, and  hear  back  from  Inquiry, Inc. If you’re curious to learn more about Water Inquiry, or would like to pilot one of our stories in your classroom, please check out our website or e-mail Carol Berner

written by Carol Berner
May, 2019






If you’re curious to learn more about Water Inquiry or would like to find out how to participate, please check out our website or e-mail Carol Berner















How do rivers stay clean? Current events coming our way

Over the next two weeks, several local water-related events may spark your curiosity: whether you’re interested in how water gets clean; how public artwork impacts water policy; or how you and your class might participate in a river clean-up. Water seems a crucial topic given the devastation caused by recent hurricanes; supplementing conversations about extreme weather with opportunities to learn about local water allows students and educators to learn more about this natural resource, whose everyday intricacies are equally astounding as its sheer power in the midst of a storm.

What discourses and projects are you and your students tackling? What are your students’ curiosities, concerns, and questions? As the Water Inquiry team gets back to work this fall, please keep us posted on your interests so that we can stay current, too.

Documentary: HERE’S TO FLINT
September 13, 2017
Forbes Library, 20 West St, Northampton
6:30 pm to 8:30 pm
“Here’s to Flint,”
a documentary by the ACLU Michigan, examines what led up to the poisoning of the largely African American city, and, on a larger scale, how lack of funding in infrastructure poses risks to the entire country. Speakers to kick off the post-film discussion include: Mary Ann Babinski, Westfield City Councilor, who will talk about water safety problems closer to home with activists from Westfield Residents Advocating for Themselves (WRAFT); and David Ahlfeld, Prof. of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UMass Amherst. A link to the Facebook event page: More…

Connecticut River Conservancy invites you to three events that address the question, “How do our rivers stay clean and healthy?” Science and engineering practices, community art, and an annual river clean-up afford insight into the multidisciplinary approaches community members use when tackling this unifying problem.

Springfield Wastewater Treatment Tour, Agawam, MA
Thursday, September 14
5:45 – 7:45pm
What happens to water when it goes down the drain? How does it get cleaned? We’ll join SUEZ Water Environmental Services, Inc. and Springfield Water and Sewer Commission for an informative tour of the Springfield Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility and learn about the process of cleaning wastewater for public health. RSVP REQUIRED

The Power of Water / The Power of Words Reception
Saturday, September 16, 1 – 3pm
Great Falls Discovery Center
2 Avenue A 
Turners Falls, MA

Join us for a celebratory reception of the powerful, collective art installation of The Power of Water / The Power of Words at the Great Falls Discovery Center. This beautiful art sculpture serves a powerful public policy purpose.

Source to Sea Cleanup

Friday & Saturday, September 22 & 23 
This annual trash cleanup allows us to connect with our community members and rivers– in 4 states! Learn more or sign up at





Back-to-School with Water Inquiry

Welcome to a new school year! Students are trickling onto the Smith campus, and we are excited to resume our Water Inquiry meetings in September. Inquiry Inc. characters spent the summer relaxing after their hard work saving ducklings in our first interactive storybook and are ready for their next adventure; this fall, they will set to work solving a brand-new water problem, and we can’t wait to share their happenings with you!

The summer months allowed us to give the Water Inquiry website some “TLC.” We hope that you will investigate our updated resources, including:

  1. Our “About” page featuring teachers’ and children’s insights about “Why Water?” and how we work to improve ideas.  
  2. An “Interactive Stories” page comprising a slideshow of local classrooms piloting our interactive story (see below); followed by downloadable PDF’s of Inquiry Inc. and the Case of the Missing Ducklings illustrated story and Educator Toolkit; a link to Pedro’s Coral Reef Adventures, a water conservation tale created by children in Belize working with Smith college students this summer; and a review of literature that informs our storytelling work. **Keep an eye on this page! We hope to offer a flippable, digital version of  Inquiry Inc and the Case of the Missing Ducklings for projection in your classrooms!** 
  3. A “Schoolyard Investigations” page with downloadable PDFs of our learning adventures, as well as teacher resources for teaching and learning about water in the classroom (mapping, thinking strategies, water vocabulary, etc.)

As always, the Water Inquiry team invites all forms of collaboration; please contact Carol Berner at to let us know what additional resources you would like to see on this platform, to join our Water Inquiry efforts, or to pilot our story and unit in your classroom.

We are heartened by the energy of teachers, students, and community members engaged in Water Inquiry and are excited by all that the coming year will bring. Best wishes to you all as you welcome new students into your classrooms– may you enjoy a year of growth and inquiry.

Brittany Collins on behalf of the Water Inquiry team

Reflections on Water Inquiry, July 2015-June 2016


Water Inquiry group observing pond in botanic garden

Water Inquiry group observing pond at Botanic Garden

What can you do with 100 hours?  Ask any of the eleven K-3 teachers who collaborated with Smith students and faculty on the 2015-16 Water Inquiry project, or read on to see what we discovered about inquiry-based learning, water as a topic and outdoor exploration. At our final meeting in May, we asked teachers to reflect on what they learned not only in the hundred hours they invested in group discussion, but also in countless water investigations at Jackson Street, Leeds Elementary and the Campus School. Jan Szymaszek, third grade teacher, summed up what the collaboration offered: “Time and space to come together… to pursue vexing issues of teaching, learning and instructing in a way that supports and sustains rich and rigorous learning in science and overall.”  We want to thank Smith’s Center for the Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability for providing us with the time, space and tea to sustain our year-long inquiry.

Maria Garcia, K teacher, Jackson Street

What did we learn?

One way to think about what we learned is to check in on three goals we set at the beginning of the year:

  1. Learn in and from outdoor surroundings, especially school yards.
  2. Explore “water” as a topic that offers promising questions and problems of understanding.
  3. Improve our understanding of how to spark and sustain scientific inquiry.



First graders map storm drains on the Jackson Street school grounds.

First graders map storm drains at Jackson Street

Outdoor investigations were highlights of the water inquiry project, both for teachers and kids.  Going out in a downpour, looking up at clouds, peering down storm drains and watching the river after a storm, were moments that stood out for teachers because their students were deeply engaged in trying to explain phenomena in their world.  Like their students, teachers’ curiosity and sense of wonder were inspired by exploring the Botanic Garden and following water downstream from the MacLeish Field Station.  As third grade teacher Amanda Newton reflected, “Exploring the garden and bouncing half-formed ideas was helpful and inspiring.” Most recently, first graders in Katy Butler’s class have been mapping drains on their school grounds and discovering that there are actually three different kinds of water moving through underground pipes:  clean, dirty and in-between.

Questions and diagrams by first graders, Jackson Street

Questions and diagrams by first graders, Jackson Street

“There is something compelling about water.”
Everyone echoed this teacher’s comment. Building on initial ideas about “why water?” – it’s everywhere, it keeps changing forms, it sustains life, we have to improve how we manage it as a resource – teachers were struck by the vigor and persistence with which their students developed water questions, theories and explanations.  A third grader wrote in her
Nature Notes journal, “I love studying water.”  

Teachers intend to continue working with overarching questions about water that emerge from children’s discussions, experiments, diagrams and outdoor investigations.  We identified key ideas that raise promising problems of understanding, including: movement, cleanliness, human interactions, changing states and ownership.

  • Where does water come from? Where does water go?
  • What does water do? What do we do to water?
  • What do we mean by clean/dirty water? How/why/where does water get clean or dirty?  
  • Who does water belong to?

One teacher reflected that water questions are “still alive” even when the classroom focus shifts to another topic: children bring new questions; revise their theories; and construct new explanations based on something that happens outside of school, like flying through clouds on an airplane (“Why is it bumpy inside the cloud but not outside the cloud?”)

Chart from Natural Curiosity, Dr. Eric Jackman Institute, University of Toronto

Chart from Natural Curiosity, University of Toronto

What are we learning about how to spark and sustain scientific inquiry?
Teachers identified strategies, or “teacher moves,” from the water inquiry project that they found most helpful in supporting and advancing inquiry-based learning:

  • Start with a question to create a problem of understanding and “disturb thinking.
  • Draw (and revise) diagrams to imagine and map water flow (e.g. cloud-to-faucet).
  • Question each other’s work, using post-it notes to develop and classify group ideas.  
  • Be on the lookout for teachable moments.
  • Design experiments to investigate problems of understanding.
  • Be a co—learner (in collaboration/communication with students and colleagues).

The role of teacher as facilitator of idea-building, rather than transmitter of knowledge, was an important discussion throughout the year.  As Kindergarten teacher Mary Ellen Reed reflected, “It is okay to let children/adults develop their own ideas over time through more observations, conversations, exploration.”  Re-framing the role of the teacher raised lingering questions, including when and how to introduce authoritative sources.  Teachers agreed unanimously that they want to continue with this collaborative approach to learning. They conclude that it is “fun and provocative,” gets them “engaged and involved in deep thinking about practice,” and “it’s refreshing to collaborate on how to move ideas forward.”

What were our favorite parts of working on the project this year?

Hannah and Ruth analyzing student diagrams

Ruth Neils is a rising sophomore at Smith College and is double majoring in Education and Environmental Science and Policy:
Throughout this year, what I found to be the most compelling, and also the most challenging, aspect of the project involved working with the water inquiry group to find ways to develop  and foster student thinking. Looking at student work during classroom visits and roundtable discussions provided opportunities to focus on ideas and concepts that children were working to understand. It was challenging  to uncover ways to guide students’ thinking while ensuring that questions and ideas about these topics were not just answered but discovered and understood. While this aspect of the project was difficult, I also found it incredibly valuable because it involved collaboration and problem solving using every member of the water inquiry group, which allowed ideas and half formed thoughts to develop into possible solutions and actions that could become an aid for all of the members of the group when they encountered a similar dilemma.

Hannah Searles is a rising junior at Smith College and is double majoring in Education and Psychology:
What I found most compelling this year was thinking about how to begin and continue inquiry. There are so many intriguing questions and mysteries to be found in the world around us, and the genuine curiosity that it inspires is a perfect starting point. One of the things we talked about at the roundtables was how the teacher can be a co-learner. During the year, I realized how many gaps I had in my own knowledge about water! Using real questions inspired by natural curiosity seems to be a key to sustaining inquiry. One question that I found both compelling and challenging was how to balance natural inquiry and the introduction of authoritative sources. When should they be introduced? Should they? One of the things that I took away from this year is that it’s okay not to know the answers – inquiry can be messy, non-linear, and branch out in many different directions! The process is just as important, if not more, than the end product.

Images from Bob's third grade water study in art

Images from Bob Hepner’s art studio, third grade water study, Campus School

Thank you to all of the teachers and children, and Smith students and faculty, who make this work exciting and productive. We look forward to collaborating next year and hope you and your students will help us rescue ducklings from a storm drain in our upcoming teaching-as-storytelling adventure (in the works this summer).

by Carol Berner, Ruth Neils and Hannah Searles on behalf of the Water Inquiry Group.

Investigating and Using Community Resources

Follow up to the Questioning Activity
by Katy Butler, First Grade Teacher, Jackson Street School

Katy Butler sorting questions

Katy Butler sorting questions

At our last round table discussion, Renee presented work she had done with her class.
Each student was given an image of a cloud and a faucet and asked to show how the water got from one to the other (just as we did this summer). Then she had her students look closely at the representations and ask questions they had or that would push their friends’ thinking. We tried this activity ourselves, organizing and categorizing our questions.

I tried this questioning activity with my first graders (they had just recently made their own cloud to faucet representations so I could see how their thinking had evolved since the fall). I collected and typed up their questions, and noticed a couple common themes. I am planning to organize the questions with them when we return from spring vacation, but I wanted to tap into a few more resources in the meantime. After searching the Northampton Public Works website, I emailed the directors of stormwater and wastewater treatment. They sent me two resources that I wanted to share with everyone!

Here is a section of the email I sent Northampton Public Works
We came up with many questions, but most centered around gutters, drains, sewers, pipes and cleanliness. Here are some examples:

Does it fall in the sewer? Where does the water land? Does all water go in the sewer?
Does water always go in the gutter? Where does it go after the rain? Where does it go in the pipes? Where does it get transported? How does it go in the sewer? How does it get to the home?
Which house does it go to? How does the pipe go to everyones house with one pipe?
Why is there only one pipe? Which drain does it go in? How does the water get to the faucet?
Where is the cleaner? How does it get clean?

Up until now, much of our inquiry has been investigated with experiments or observable phenomenon. Now I am unsure how to help students follow these questions without being able to “see” all the pipes. I also see a misconception about waste water and drinking water that is very interesting. I am writing to see if either of you might be able to help with our inquiry. Are there maps of the water pipe lines in Northampton? Is there a location where we could visit and see the gutter connecting to a pipe or series of pipes?

I heard back immediately, and here is part of one response that may be helpful to others:
“I know the most about the stormwater system in the City of Northampton and I would be happy to help explain how the City’s different utilities work. There are three separate systems in the City:

  1. Water (clean drinking water)
  2. Sanitary Sewer (waste water from houses and buildings)
  3. Stormwater (rain water and snow melt)

I made a map of the three sets of pipes that are around Jackson Street School.

Detail from JSS map of three pipe systems

Detail from JSS map of three pipe systems

Solid blue is drinking water, red is sewer and green is stormwater with green squares for catch basins which are the grates in the roadways where rain water goes in.  I believe there are more catch basins at Jackson Street School in the parking lot and around the property that are not on the map. The students could look for these and help us add them to the map. The dashed blue lines are brooks. I know maps may be difficult for the kids to understand so I’ll look for some pictures or diagrams that might help explain all these hidden systems and where water comes from and where it goes.

Here’s a quick description. The drinking water in Northampton comes from reservoirs in Whately and Williamsburg and runs through a water filtration plant in Williamsburg before flowing through pipes to everybody’s faucet. The waste water (toilets and drains inside buildings) from houses and buildings all flows through sanitary sewer pipes to the waste water treatment plant located off of Hockanum Road. The waste water treatment plant cleans up the waste water and then sends clean water to the Connecticut River. The stormwater that is collected in roads and parking lots flows through separate pipes to the nearest brook, wetland or river and does not go through any treatment plant. That’s why we need to be careful that we don’t put anything in the storm drains except clean water.”

Perhaps we could all help fill in catch basin maps!
The map of Jackson Street School’s surrounding pipelines is especially exciting, and I plan to find more catch basins with the kids next week. I am working to plan a field trip to “see” this system in action, and may invite one of the water directors to our classroom once we have completed the storm drain map. I would be happy to help others get in contact with wastewater and stormwater departments if they are interested – perhaps we could all help fill in catch basin maps!

written by Katy & posted by Carol

Questions about Water: Cloud to Faucet Student Drawings


Questions about Water: Cloud to Faucet Student Drawings
Water Inquiry Teacher Roundtable

Renee Bachman shows a student drawing

How does water travel?
On the sunny afternoon of March 31, teachers from three elementary schools joined Smith students and faculty to investigate children’s maps tracing the journey of water from cloud to faucet. Renee Bachman brought student work from Leeds Elementary School, where her third graders have been exploring rain, water droplets and the river as part of a year-long water inquiry.  Children’s diagrams stimulated a flurry of questions about how water travels and about advancing inquiry.


Hannah Searles writes questions

Questioning as a Tool for Deepening Inquiry
Teachers spent several minutes looking closely at each drawing and crafting questions on sticky notes in response to the prompt:  What questions does this student work stimulate for you?
Questions included:

“How are those pipes connected to the faucet?”

“It says clean water goes in, but how does the water get cleaned?”

“How does the cloud know to let the rain go?”


Sorting Questions
Participants sorted their questions into clusters of ideas by taking turns reading aloud a question and deciding if and how it connected to other questions.  The biggest cluster focused on the overarching question,  “How does water get clean?” One child’s drawing and explanation of the “water mill” provoked follow-up questions about where, why and how water gets clean (and what makes it dirty).

Water mill detail from 3rd grade drawing

Water mill detail from 3rd grade drawings

Katy Butler and Al Rudnitsky sort questions

Katy Butler and Al Rudnitsky sort questions

Identifying Overarching Questions
Teachers worked in pairs with clusters of questions to look for overarching questions and think about next steps for student inquiry:
What makes water dirty?
How does water get cleaned?
What do pipes do?
How do clouds work?
One teacher discovered an overarching theme, “What does water do by itself, and what do we control?”


Maria Garcia pointing to questions about "dirty" water

Maria Garcia examines “dirty water” questions

Where do we go from here?
Teachers exchanged ideas about adapting questioning strategies for K-3 classrooms. Marcia Garcia highlighted the importance of students asking their own questions and thought her Kindergarteners would want to investigate what makes water dirty. Bob Hepner had the idea of exploring how pipes work by building marble mazes. Katy Butler brainstormed ways to help first graders write and sort questions. Al Rudnitsky discovered a cycle of questions in the “cloud” cluster and  Hannah Searles was curious about the “creatures” living in the “dirty” ocean water pictured in one child’s drawing.

Sneak Peek! Water Story for Classrooms
Ruth Neils and Hannah Searles read aloud their working draft of a water inquiry adventure story designed to engage children in asking questions and solving problems to rescue ducklings from a storm drain. Al connected the water story to his research using story-telling as a tool for teaching first grade math Investigations. Participating teachers gave valuable feedback about the story, which students are eager to revise and pilot in classrooms.  Stay tuned for more!

Written by Carol Berner on behalf of the Water Inquiry Team
Ruth Neils (’19)  Hannah Searles (’18) and Al Rudnitsky
(with Pinn Janvatanavit contributing images and ideas)

Meet the Students on the Water Inquiry Team

Welcome back to school! We are very excited for the year ahead and to see what directions the Water Inquiry project takes. This year’s plans for the project will be discussed in a later post, but before getting started, we would like to take this opportunity to introduce the student members of the Water Inquiry team. We look forward to visiting your classrooms and sharing water resources throughout the year.

Catherine Bradley is a juniorBradley,Catherine at Smith College majoring in history and minoring in education. She has a strong interest in informal learning experiences and making educational resources such as museums, libraries, and archives accessible to all. Catherine spent her summer literally surrounded by water on the island of Nantucket, where she enjoyed swimming, biking, and exploring the island’s natural beauty while also interning at a historic house museum.


IMG_7958Allyson Ciccarone also attends Smith College and began her work with the Water Inquiry Project during the summer of her first year. Now a junior, she continues with student-centered engagements in settings both inside and outside of the classroom, including after school programs and tutoring. Allyson plans on teaching  history after gaining her certification. While passionate about her major, she is also interested in English Language Learners, shaping learning opportunities outside the classroom and developing creative methods of teaching. Over the summer, she worked two jobs while indulging in semi-regular hiking trips and days at the beach.


Hannah Searles is a sophomore at Smith College majoring in education and psychology. She plans to pursue licensure to become an elementary school teac10357111_759677080761412_1354870593472191533_nher and is particularly interested in exploring science with young children. She spends her summers as a camp counselor working with preschoolers and kindergartners and finds herself constantly inspired by them to wonder “why?” about the world. During the year, she is a diver on the Smith swim team and spends most of her time immersed in water.


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Ruth Neils is a freshman at Smith College planning on majoring in Environmental Science and Policy and minoring in Education. She is interested in environmental elementary education and spent this summer interning at a nature center helping to develop and lead environmental education programs for children between four and ten years old. In her free time Ruth enjoys biking, swimming, and reading.


Teacher inquiry: From rain drop to faucet

Water inquirers welcome New England weather

elena sketchingThunderstorms on the morning of July 1 invigorated an intrepid group of elementary school teachers meeting at the MacLeish Field Station to launch the 2015-16 Water Inquiry Teacher Group. The Water Inquiry Group is a professional learning community working to improve children’s understanding of water as a natural and cultural resource.

Participating teachers from Jackson Street, Leeds, and Smith College Campus School welcomed the downpour as an auspicious prelude to water investigations facilitated by Carol Berner and Al Rudnitsky (Department of Education and Child Study) with Reid Bertone-Johnson (Landscape Studies and Field Station Manager). In the spirit of Archibald MacLeish’s poem New England Weather, the “changing sky” provided participants with warm sun in time for a picnic lunch.

Water as a medium for inquiry 

In his introduction to the workshop and inquiry group, Professor Al Rudnitsky emphasized the goal of helping children become the kinds of thinkers they need to be in order to function effectively in the 21st century. Connecting inquiry group approaches with the Next Generation Science Standards, Rudnitsky highlighted NGSS scientific and engineering practices including: “Asking questions, constructing explanations, and planning and carrying out investigations.”
He framed a question to guide the group’s collaborative research: How do we design learning environments where this kind of thinking can take place?

rsz_brainstormingTeachers responded with examples of  “setting up conditions kids need to let their curiosity blossom,” and “getting kids to think deeply about something they thought they knew well.” Bob Hepner, Art Teacher at Smith Campus School, concluded “I wish every subject were like water. Kids like everything about it and it’s probably the most ubiquitous and magical substance around us.”

Rain cloud to faucet? Mapping group ideas

Where does Northampton drinking water come from? Giggles punctuated quiet concentration as teachers embarked on the day’s water inquiry, sketching the journey from rain to faucet.

1 sketching

Knowledge gaps became clear when the group co-constructed a diagram of shared understanding, skillfully rendered by Elena Betke-Brunswick (Smith M.A.T. ’15).  Mapping water’s path revealed shared understandings and questions. In almost all of the drawings rain fell from clouds in the upper left corner of the page, flowed down mountains in little streams, then gathered in a reservoir before entering a tangle of question marks leading to faucets.

“How do reservoirs work? What changes in a water treatment plant? Where do pumps happen? Who determines flow?” The group recorded questions about sources of drinking water and different ideas about how watersheds work: “Does some of it come from Vermont? From the Connecticut River? From groundwater? What’s the role of farms and irrigation? Does it get dirty along the way?”


Where does rain go from here? What is water doing?

3 woods al

After examining topographical maps, teachers set out in teams to investigate what happens when rain flows downhill (northeast) from the field station. Summer Interns Laura Krok-Horton (Smith ’18) and Liz Nagy (Smith ’18) documented teachers’ responses to the question: What is water doing?

“Dripping on leaves, soaking into the ground, making sounds, rising from mountains (how?), running into the stream (why?), running along ground paths, pooling atop mushrooms, making a slippery environment, making trees fall over, nourishing plants, aiding with decomposition, mixing with soil, flowing through rocks, collecting in pools.”
Reflecting back on the group diagram, participants wondered what portion of the water goes to the reservoir — anticipating the next stage in the investigation.

Insider view of water treatment:  “We make the flow”  

4 plant with dunn

Visiting the reservoirs and water treatment plant raised new questions and revealed surprising discoveries about land ownership, infrastructure, and supply and demand (Coca Cola #1 and Smith #2!).  Andrew Dunn, Chief Plant Operator, gave a lively tour that helped teachers visualize what happens to water between reservoirs and faucets.  One big surprise was that water distribution is gravity-fed. As Dunn explained, “We make the flow.”

Reflecting on Learning

6 final sketch

“Add trees!” was the first revision that teachers made to the diagram of water’s journey from rain cloud to faucet. They were eager to learn more about the relationship between forests and drinking water and wondered how to model and help children discover this connection. “Erase the pumps,” was another important modification to reflect the discovery that drinking water and fire hydrants are gravity-fed. Everyone agreed “the Connecticut River is too low” to flow into Northampton’s drinking water supply, so the river was moved to the bottom of the drawing.

In addition to new findings about water, teachers reflected on the impact of engaging in “multi-layered inquiry” over the course of the day. Katy Butler (First Grade Teacher at Jackson Street School) observed, “I liked being a learner myself. Starting with a question and tracing new learning is something I want to do more of with my students.” Stephanie Flinker (Alternative Learning Program Teacher at Jackson Street) said the day “reaffirmed that good questions lead to more questions.” The group seemed excited to collaborate over the coming year in designing learning environments to spark and sustain water inquiry with their students.


For questions, comments or more information about the Water Inquiry Teacher Group please contact Carol Berner We welcome visitors to drop in on professional development sessions during the school year (schedule will be posted on Water Inquiry Blog).