Purnell School's Watershed Management Course: Connecting Science to Real Life
Andra Silvestri, STEM faculty member

At Purnell, our faculty work together to design and implement curricula to ignite curiosity and passion for learning.

Pond at Purnell

Our shared goal is to create a safe, rigorous learning community that allows each student to discover her potential and strengths both in and outside of the classroom. My personal strengths as a science teacher are rooted in environmental, place-based, and experiential education, so I work to create curricula that draw from these strengths while catering to my students' unique interests and needs. Most recently, I implemented this strategy while designing a Watershed Management course.

Watershed Management is a half-year elective course, during which the students learn what a watershed is, how they are affected by human activities, and what can be done to preserve them. The course curriculum uses several strategies to appeal to Purnell's students and is highly effective as an experiential learning course because students are engaged through kinesthetic, hands-on activities.

Purnell has established a partnership with Raritan Headwaters Association a nonprofit conservation organization that protects water in our rivers, our streams, and our homes. My Watershed Management students participate in workshops there. Our labs at local streams and ponds allow our students to see and apply the concepts they learn in the classroom. Students collect macroinvertebrates, measure pH, oxygen levels, and waterflow at several sites to determine water quality. They become familiar with the local flora and fauna and use online tools to study the pollution status of the streams around Purnell and their homes.

During the water use unit, students apply the content of the course to their daily lives by analyzing their water usage while performing daily tasks including household and consumer choices. They compare and contrast their water use to that of other people around the world and critically analyze how they can lessen their impact on the environment. All lessons are differentiated within the class and can be molded or scaffolded to fit individual students' learning needs.

Engaging classes are what make Purnell unique, and our faculty members want to inspire our students' sense of wonder and engagement with the world around them. Here, we enable each girl to be herself to explore her passions, discover her strengths, and find the confidence to succeed in the world beyond Purnell.