Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Talking About the Flint Water Crisis in Your Michigan Classroom

*Heads up! This isn't my usual Beautiful Static-y post. It's teacher-y.

I'm feeling rage about the Flint Water Crisis right now and I already know if I was still a classroom teacher, I'd be all over Google trying to find a way to make sure my students were knowledgeable on the subject.

Because I am no longer in classroom, I'm going to use the time I have this evening to create a teaching resource for those of you are using this time to grade papers, lesson plan, breathe, etc. Sorry Season Six of Parenthood on Netflix, you don't get my tears tonight. I'm writing this more quickly than usual to get it to any of my friends who would like to use it-- apologies for not teaching it first before throwing it out there. If you use it, please let me know how it goes! Feel free to change it up... you won't hurt my feelings. I suppose you can use this in classrooms outside of Michigan too!

This is a problem posing lesson. It is meant for you to start a discussion with students on this important topic in one-two class periods. Ideally, it will result in action, which looks different to every teacher. For me, it's some kind of service learning project or letter writing campaign, for others it might be a media piece, or further research. 

Grade Level: Middle and High School

Time Frame: 60-90 minutes

1. Water and You: Introduce the Lesson
Activity One:

  • In groups, ask students to list every way they use water each day where the water comes into contact with their bodies. One student can record in the group.
  • Tell the students they are all part of a family and today, the family has to decide how they want to use the water because they do not have unlimited water. They can only choose two ways. Give groups time to circle the two choices from their original list. 
  • Give groups time to share out on their choices and why they chose them. 
Activity Two: Ask students to stand up, sit down if the following is true for them.

  • I know I can take a shower or bath every day in clean water.
  • The water at my house has never made me sick.
  • I can drink the water from my faucet.
  • Elderly people, small children, and people with compromised immune systems can drink the water from my faucet.
  • My siblings and I don't have to get our blood tested after ingesting the water from my faucet.

2. How Did Flint Get Here? 
Activity One:

  • Students will put the pieces of a timeline based on this MLive slide show--How the Flint Water Crisis Emerged-- into chronological order. It details the account of how our state got to where we are today from 2014-2015. Click here for an easier way to print cards of the timeline. 
  • These cards can be sorted as a full class, with each student receiving a card and then reading them off when they are in order. You can also make several sets of the cards and the sorting can be done in groups. 

Discuss (as a class or in groups):

  • What are some of the key points that stuck out to you from this timeline?
  • How did you feel about some of the situations on the timeline?
  • What do these issues mean for Flint? Our State?
  • What actions or ideas has this issue triggered for you? 

3. Now What?
The timeline only goes up to October 15th. If technology is available, conduct a Google search with students about what is happening now. If cell phones can be used in the classroom, ask students to conduct a Google search on the topic (individually or in pairs) and report out on what is catching their eye from their news search. If technology isn't available, print a variety of articles for students to explore. There are SO MANY right now. Have students report out on what is catching their eye from the articles.

4. Take Action
I'm going to leave this one in your wise and knowledgeable hands, teacher friend. As I said at the beginning of this post, I always go the service learning or PBL route, which can take too much time if you've got a curriculum you've got to stick to. Here is a planning template I've always liked. Maybe taking action isn't appropriate for you at this time and you just wanted your students to know about what's happening. It's coo. Let me know if you do something bigger.


Anonymous said...

This is a fantastic lesson! Thank you for all of the time you put into this and for sharing it. I am going to use this lesson tomorrow!

PB said...

I wish I'd seen this last week! I am currently a 5th grade teacher in Illinois and was mortified as the details of this crisis unfolded. I knew we had to cover it in class. We had, ironically, just read an article about the improving situation with the droughts in Southwestern California, so we had already read about water scarcity, how families and communities are impacted when water isn't accessible, etc. This allowed the students to really look at the differences between a natural disaster and a man-made disaster--one that was preventable, but caused by a score of bad, irresponsible decisions by people who were trusted to keep the community's water supply healthy. I opened with showing them the advertisement that was posted online at (that was conveniently pulled) , reassuring people that the water was safe to bathe in and cook with even though it was not safe to drink, and asked the students if they would still feel comfortable using the water if it was discolored and smelled funny (I didnt tell them the ad was real until later. They were appalled that it had been posted AFTER water testing had already proven that lead had leached into the supply). We read an article from Newsela on the crisis, and have discussed the physical effects of E.Coli, chlorine, trihalomethane and lead on children in particular. We have created cause-effect diagrams, are continuing a timeline (they are creating it themselves as they listen to the documentary "Not Safe to Drink" from Michigan Public Radio) and will write an opinion paper next week about whether they think Gov. Snyder should stay in office to fix the problem or or be ousted and start with new leadership (I might have to pick a different topic because I think by this time none of us in my classroom are detached enough to give any reasons why he should stay). Then we will be (hopefully) working with Project Change, our Student Council, to do either a fundraiser or a "No Water Package" supply drive to send to help. My goal is to raise learners and citizens who, frankly, know how to tell the truth, tell it early, and tell it loud, and will either a). hold their leaders accountable for unjust actions or b). BE leaders who are accountable and don't make decisions that imperil their constituents.

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