The uniqueness of the framework used in this case study is
that it brings science professionals into the classroom and the
field to mentor K–12 students through a four-stage program:
Learn, Collect, Report, and Communicate (LCRC). Here, we present a case study using the LCRC active framework in which students (1) learned about the importance of water quality (Learn);
(2) conducted field research and collected data from a nearby
stream (Collect); (3) analyzed these data and documented their
results in a scientific report (Report); and finally (4) communicated their findings at a local science conference (Communicate).
This case study followed the water survey methodology of Adopt-a-Stream, a multi-site community science monitoring program in
the Southeast. Clemson University graduate students and Clemson Extension Water Resource agents volunteered to mentor students from a local school system and utilized the LCRC program
to introduce community science, provide experiential learning,
and demonstrate real-life use of scientific concepts to high school
The “What’s in Our Waters” (WOW) educational outreach program focuses on engaging high school students in water quality
research in their local community ( https://adobe.ly/2FtrLz3).
Water sanitation, affordability, and availability constitute a growing crisis both domestically and internationally (Hutton & Chase,
2016; Mack & Wrase, 2017). Incorporating hands-on learning
with water quality lessons helps improve students’ understanding
of and appreciation for the environment (Spellerberg et al., 2004).
The global importance of water, paired with relatively accessible
hands-on opportunities to determine water quality measures, makes
water studies an ideal subject to use in teaching students environmental
stewardship through the scientific method. In addition, the Adopt-a-Stream program utilized in this project is a well-established community
science program in the southeastern region of the United States, allowing mentors to demonstrate the broad range of questions that can be
addressed through citizen-collected data. Furthermore, students can
utilize statewide data to draw comparisons between different streams.
The WOW program was developed by graduate students at
Clemson University and implemented in AP Environmental Science courses in local high schools. The program’s impact and
the collected data are useful both for educators working to
advance environmental education and for researchers working to
increase interest in community science. The content of this program is designed to bring attention to local water resources and
alter students’ perceptions of science and scientists. The primary
goal of the project is to educate high school students about water
quality, proper scientific research methodology, and the importance of science communication. Specifically, the objectives of
the program are to
• teach students the importance of responsible community science,
• familiarize students with real-world environmental problems,
• introduce students to professionals and careers within the environmental science field,
• provide students with hands-on water quality research
• convey the relevance of science communication with the public, and
• offer students the opportunity to present findings at a local
symposium or conference.
To accomplish these objectives, we used the LCRC framework to
maximize the student learning experience. Students are first introduced to community science, watersheds, water quality measures,
and field testing through an in-class introduction. The following
class period, students are taken to a field site to collect data on local
streams. Students are then responsible for developing a collegiate-level lab report based on their findings. Finally, students synthesize
their research into a scientific poster presentation and communicate
their results at a regional scientific conference. These steps are further
elaborated upon in the four LCRC phases (Figure 1). Approximately
108 high school students from three different high schools participated in this program between 2016 and 2018. Following the program, an evaluation survey was administered using quantitative
Likert scale rankings and open-ended qualitative responses
to gauge student perception and understanding of water quality
(Clemson University IRB no. 2016-295).
Professional scientists, called mentors, first engage with students
through an in-class instructional period. In the WOW program, these
professional scientists are primarily graduate students. However, local
extension agents, foresters, or nonprofit employees may be contacted
to serve as mentors, depending on the topic of study, their availability,
and the specialization needed. During this phase, students are
exposed to community science, careers in the environmental sciences,
and the processes of building a hypothesis, conducting research, analyzing data, and communicating results. Mentors present this information via a short interactive lecture broken into multiple emphasis
areas (see the Supplemental Material for this article, available at
https://works.bepress.com/christie-sampson/). The first section begins
as an introduction and overview of the program, including who the
mentors are, what their career fields look like, and a highlight of
mentor experiences or research pertaining to water quality pollutants.
The second section is an overview of water quality, including what
affects it and how it is monitored. In addition, the mentors discuss
the importance of watersheds, the river continuum concept, and
stream orders, using local examples. The presentation concludes with
details regarding water quality sampling methods that will be used in
the data collection phase, including macroinvertebrates, chemical
sampling, and bacterial sampling. This overview phase is the foundation upon which the remaining steps in the program build.
Following the presentation, the use of a role-play consulting
game, outlined in Sampson et al. (2018), improves students’ critical
thinking skills by engaging them in a real-world application of the
knowledge just acquired. This role-play scenario teaches students
analytical skills in assessing water bodies for water quality impact
factors. The students also learn about the field of environmental consulting and the costs associated with conducted water quality tests.
This activity assists students in thinking critically and applying their
learning in a gaming situation prior to entering the field to conduct
research. An observed increase in students’ thought process and
hypothesis development while in the field has occurred since incorporating the consulting game.