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Sewer Science – Expanding Wastewater Knowledge to the Next Generation

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Sewer Science is a comprehensive high school science laboratory that teaches students about municipal wastewater treatment using specially designed tanks and standard testing equipment. Initiated in 1998, the award winning Sewer Science program is used in numerous California school districts. This program presents a unique opportunity to present the wide variety of careers that are available in the wastewater industry. One example is to have slides about the various careers in a powerpoint presentation that wraps up the sewer science program.

Parallel with WEFTEC, WEF conducts WEFTeach, a full-day intensive teacher's workshop designed to provide information and practical hands-on applications for the classroom on the most important water quality issues. Since 2003, WEFTeach has successfully highlighted Sewer Science in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Washington D.C., and Forth Worth Texas.

Science educators assert a need to bolster hands-on learning experiences that link a range of subject areas while focusing on a common theme. There is also a need for students to link science and technology to societal impacts and issues. Creating such interdisciplinary curricula is often quite challenging, given the more traditional educational background of many teachers. Meanwhile, many wastewater treatment agencies and sanitary districts are looking for opportunities to augment their elementary and middle school outreach programs with new programs aimed at high school students. "Sewer Science" addresses the curriculum challenges of hands-on interdisciplinary learning while providing a unique high school outreach program for the wastewater industry.

The lab is a hands-on wastewater treatment laboratory that was developed in 1998 through a collaboration of San Jose State University, the City of Palo Alto, and 13 high school science teachers from seven high schools. Throughout the week-long laboratory, students receive a foundation in municipal wastewater treatment using specially designed tanks and standard analytical equipment. Students prepare a simulated wastewater using food and household products. Then they spend a week manipulating Plexiglas models of treatment operations and analyzing the wastewater as it is treated. The students realistically simulate primary sedimentation, biological treatment followed by secondary sedimentation, filtration, and disinfection. During the biological treatment phase, activated sludge from the local wastewater treatment plant is added to the aeration tanks.

Before and after each treatment step, the students make visual observations and measure pH, turbidity, ammonia, and chemical oxygen demand. At the lab conclusion, the students plot their data and compare their final results to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) effluent standards.

Developed to be suitable for and flexible to the needs of grades 9 through 12, the curriculum currently meets numerous national and California science education guidelines, and is readily adapted to other State standards. Sewer Science has received several awards including the 2002 Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies (AMSA) Public Education Award, and the 2002 Water Environment Federation Public Education Award.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2007-10-01

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