Cleaning Water and the Flint Fiasco
Cleanliness and schoolwork don't always go together, but in the 10th grade chemistry lab, students worked to clean 500 milliliters of filthy water. Students syringed out the oil floating on top. Then they filtered the liquid with sand and charcoal, and used a process called flocculation which caused the suspended pollutant particles to clump together and sink to the bottom.
"The lab showed me how much time and effort goes into making water clean," said sophomore Halle Sisenwine. "I am lucky to live in a place where I can take for granted that my water is safe to drink."
The water unit, taught by veteran science teachers Laila Goodman and Mark Wilkins, was about a lot more than precipitates, ions and solubility. Using Flint, Michigan and its lead-contaminated water as a case study, students explored the fascinating junction of science and public policy. They also grappled with the notion of environmental injustice —that if you’re poor or from a community of color, you’re less likely to have access to clean water and air.
"It's very important that students understand that science is relevant to their lives and how it can be applied in a way to maximize equity and justice," said Goodman.
Student Jonah Gold said that he looked forward to chemistry each day. "The science itself was interesting, and I really enjoyed learning how chemistry can affect politics and real people," he said.
The unit ended with a forum in which students argued the positions of different stakeholders in the Flint fiasco to better understand the conflicting agendas and the role science played in the debate.