America's Water Education: announcing our first blog entry

Editor's note:

Within the context of our NSF grant on the innovative use of water data platforms at the middle and high school level, researchers Nancy Degnan and Laureline Josset together with the team of educators at the Eagle of Academies for the Young Men of Harlem are journaling their thoughts. These are collected in a series of blog entries on our project dedicated website. The first entry is reproduced below.

Anne Nancy Degnan
February 15, 2023


This Blog Series is meant to share ideas, experiences, and observations regarding the Water Center’s 3-year NSF ITEST Project[1] entitled America’s Water Education:  Teaching Data Science to Black and Latino Young Men through Water Security, or AWE.   

Our blog highlights the thoughts, observations, processes and research findings of AWE’s stakeholders including the Water Center researchers[2], teacher teams and school administrators, and middle and high school students.  Blogs are intended to feature our collective and individual teaching and learning, and pedagogical approaches, as well as implications for the fields of data science and water security.  We also intend to feature commentary on issues of environmental, social and educational justice; and blog about salient local, state and national education issues that are potentially impactful for AWE.  In some blogs, personal insights and perspectives are shared.

AWE takes place within two New York City Department of Education schools[3].  For the first year of the project, we are partnered with the Eagle Academy for the Young Men of Harlem; and, in the second and third years, we will also partner with the Eagle Academy of Southeast Queens.  For this reason, the blogging for 2023 is focused on teachers from the Eagle Academy Harlem.

All of us -- teachers, administrators, and middle and high school students and researchers --look forward to sharing our journey with you, and along the way, invite feedback and commentary.

Noun. 1. awe - an overwhelming feeling of wonder or admiration
AWE:  America’s Water Education

We begin with a fundamental observation. 

Communities of color across the USA face increasing challenges with affordable access to safe drinking water, as seen in Flint, Newark, Texas and elsewhere. Using data science to explore why, where and how this is happening, and what is being done about it, provides a powerful vehicle for the engagement of students in STEM, and to help develop a digital workforce with appropriate representation from the affected communities. AWE is about breaking through persistent barriers for Black and Latino men in STEM/data science education pathways and careers.

Engaging with approximately 600 boys and young men over three years, and their teachers from the Eagle Academies of Harlem and Southeast Queens, New York,  AWE tests whether age-appropriate data science integrated math and science curriculum: i) Increases students’ likelihood of choosing a data science career, generally, or applied to water security; ii) Improves students’ STEM/ICT[4] competencies, senses of self-confidence and self-efficacy through an integrated core curriculum, incorporating data rich water security project-based learning and Water Exhibitions; and, iii) Increases the effectiveness of teachers to implement AWE’s integrated middle and high school core curriculum and co-curricular activities.

Can we achieve our objectives?  We don’t know yet. 

But, how to bring data science alive through water security projects is the seminal goal of AWE.  Our strategy is the following:  Together, teachers and researchers enhance existing core curriculum by integrating data platforms and apps about water security.  We focus on effective use of standards, as well as thinking deeply about how to support student performance and engagement.   Our curriculum integration is accompanied by co-curricular activities to engage students in learning about data and its “promises and perils”, one of which is the AWE Water Exhibition.  Scheduled for next May 2023, Eagle Academy scholars will present AWE projects to their fellow students, families and friends, researchers and the broader community. The Exhibition features “state of the art” posters, various uses of media like podcasts, and demonstrations.

We are on a journey of research, knowledge and skills building, pedagogical excellence and embracing all the ebbs and flows of teaching and learning. It is a journey that is, at once, exciting and daunting, and we are looking forward to its unfolding.

[1] The National Science Foundation’s ITEST program (Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers) under its Designing and Testing Innovation funding stream focuses on “R&D projects that involve designing the innovation, pilot-testing or implementing the innovation, and analyzing its outcomes. DTI focused on direct engagement with students and educators and assessment of student outcomes.  DTI implementation involves all students, especially those from underserved or underrepresented student populations in PreK-12.”

[2] At the Water Center, Dr. Upmanu Lall, Director, is the PI for the project; and Associate Research Scientists Dr. Laureline Josset and Dr. Nancy Degnan are the co-PIs.  Our external evaluator at Teachers College is Dr. Charles Lang. Our eight colleagues from the Eagle Academy for the Young Men of Harlem constitute a team of Science, Mathematics, Literacy and ELA, Special Education and Physical Education teachers in middle and high school:  Christopher Anderson, Jermel Collins, Yurvana Mustafayeva, Andrew Peterson, Shadrack Sakyi, Christopher Slaughter, Alesha Smith, and Sarah Trexler.

[3] See:  The New York City Department of Education has approximately one million students and approximately 1800 schools.

[4] ICT for AWE stands for “Information, Communication and Technology”.