Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

Monthly Update sign up
Follow The Annenberg Learner on Facebook Follow Annenberg Learner on Twitter
Mailing List signup
Follow The Annenberg Learner on LinkedIn Follow The Annenberg Learner on Facebook Follow Annenberg Learner on Twitter

Science and the Flint Water Crisis

No waterThe ongoing crisis over lead-contaminated drinking in Flint, Michigan has shocked many Americans. In April 2014 the city switched its drinking water source from the City of Detroit’s system to the Flint river as a cost-saving measure. Almost immediately, residents started complaining that the water looked, smelled and tasted strange, but state officials insisted that it was safe to drink. Tests by academic researchers soon showed that the water was highly corrosive, and was leaching dangerous levels of lead from Flint homes’ aging pipes. This crisis has brought attention to additional states, such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, facing lead contamination concerns.

This ongoing disaster offers many lessons about government, risk and public health. It also shows how directly relevant science is to our daily lives, and the right and wrong ways to think about exposure to environmental hazards.

Unit 6 of The Habitable Planet, “Risk, Exposure, and Health,” describes the process that scientists and health experts use to measure potential exposure to hazards in our environment and assess whether they are dangerous. In Flint, state regulators did not follow this process. Rather, they contended for months that there was nothing dangerously wrong with water from the Flint River.

But when residents turned to a team of engineering professors and students from Virginia Tech University (whose leader, Marc Edwards, was a prominent expert on drinking water contamination), these researchers came to a very different answer. First, they predicted that Flint River water would be corrosive, based on their knowledge that it was heavily treated with chlorine to reduce contaminants. Second, they confirmed this hypothesis by testing Flint River water in their lab. Third, they theorized that because state regulators had decided to use the river water without adding anti-corrosive chemicals (a standard water treatment step), it was likely to leach lead from old pipes and lead pipe solder in many Flint homes. Fourth, they confirmed this by testing tap water samples collected by Flint residents.

Now Flint residents are receiving bottled water, while state officials debate options for replacing the city’s lead pipes. Access to safe drinking water is also an urgent problem is many other cities worldwide: see unit 8 of The Habitable Planet, “Water Resources.” In addition to pollution, expanding agriculture, damming, and wasteful use are straining water supplies in many places, and global climate change is altering hydrological cycles. Watch this site for information from the United Nations about World Water Day on March 22, which will focus this year on “Water and Jobs.”

Image Copyright: arcady31 / 123RF Stock Photo

National Environmental Education Week (April 14-20)

HabPlanet_earthDiscuss current and future environmental problems, including possible solutions, with your students. The following resources provide ideas for science, social studies, and literature classrooms:




  1. Hear thought-provoking views and research findings from experts in the field, including entomologist E.O. Wilson in The Habitable Planet, unit 13 video, “Looking Forward: Our Global Experiment.”
  2. Two interactives in The Habitable Planet allow you and your students to manage an energy crisis. The Carbon Lab explores how human influence on carbon output affects the future health of the Earth’s atmosphere.  In the Energy Lab interactive, try developing a portfolio of energy resources that cuts back on CO2 and considers the pros and cons of multiple sources of energy.
  3. Gage Reeves asks his 5th graders to relate their reading about global warming and climate change to events and products in their community in Teaching Reading 3-5 Workshop, classroom program 13, “Reading Across the Curriculum.”
  4. Consider the possible conflicts that arise when living in a future society affected by significant global warming and other challenges by reading “Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler.  The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature, session 7, “Critical Pedagogy,” includes an audio clip of the author and a synopsis of the story.
  5. Learn about where oil comes from, how it is extracted and used for energy, and the effects of using oil as an energy source on the environment in Earth Revealed, program 26, “Living With Earth, Part II.”
  6. Explore environmental mysteries like the causes of ice ages and consider how life shapes the earth in Planet Earth, program 3, “The Climate Puzzle,” and program 7, “Fate of the Earth.”
  7. Economic stories show how pollution is a “negative externality” that can have serious consequences for economic efficiency in Economics U$A, unit 8, “Pollution and the Environment.”
  8. The World of Chemistry, program 17, “The Precious Envelope,” explains ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect on the earth’s atmosphere.

6 Ways to Get to the Bottom of the Ocean

earth revealed_wavesWhy are the oceans that cover over 70% of the Earth’s surface so enchanting? Many people head to the seaside to relax in the sun and listen to the waves roll in and out. Others use beaches as playgrounds for volleyball, building sandcastles, and swimming in the surf. A chance to glimpse fascinating ocean life draws visitors to aquariums all over. The smell of salt in the air and the rustling of grasses on the dunes inspire poets of all ages.  Celebrate National Week of the Ocean by exploring and appreciating the ocean with your students using the following resources:

1. Learn about the large-scale ocean circulation patterns that help to regulate temperatures and weather patterns on land, and the microscopic marine organisms that form the base of marine food webs in Habitable Planet, unit 3, “Oceans.”

2. Dive into Earth Revealed, program 4, “The Sea Floor,”  to learn how scientists use technology to study the geology and biology of the bottom of the sea.

3. Explore the relationship between rocky landmasses and the energy of the ocean. See illustrations of wave movements and their impact on the shores, and study how the greenhouse effect could impact sea level and coastal lands in Earth Revealed, program 24, “Waves, Beaches and Coasts.”

4. Use cyclic functions to track the height of tides as they come in and go out in Learning Math, session 8, part A, Cyclic Functions, Tides.

5. Understand global water distribution, the cycle of water from ocean to atmosphere to land, and the effects of human activities on our finite supply of usable water in The Habitable Planet, unit 8, “Water Resources.”

6. Peer into the future of energy by examining how experimental ocean power systems harness energy and the challenges of using such systems in The Habitable Planet, unit 10, “Energy Challenges,” section 8, Hydropower and Ocean Energy.