Project Profile

Watershed Awareness using Technology and Environmental Research for Sustainability (WATERS)


This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase student motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) by developing and testing a middle school science curriculum focusing on water and water-related career awareness. Diverse middle school students across three regions of the United States will become engaged in project-based learning that includes hands-on geospatial analysis and use of national and local data to explore local watershed issues. The project will apply principles from Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to create an effective, scalable approach to water learning open to all students. By providing flexibility in information presentation and student responses, reducing barriers in instruction, and providing appropriate supports and challenges, the project will increase access to curricula and approaches having the potential to greatly increase awareness of and engagement with water concepts and career pathways in learners nationwide. In conjunction with the new curriculum, the project will produce a classroom observation instrument that teachers can use to assess student engagement, use of UDL supports, time on task, and content understanding during inquiry instruction.

The goal of this project is to develop and test a student-centered, universally accessible middle school curriculum for learning water concepts and promoting water career awareness. To accomplish this goal, the project will develop and implement a 12-session curriculum unit that will engage students in use of Geographic Information System (GIS) applications and modeling based on data collection within local watersheds, use UDL technologies to broaden inclusivity among learners, and engage nine experienced pilot teachers in co-designing and iteratively improving the curriculum over the three-year development period. A quasi-experimental, experimental/comparison group research design will be used to to answer the following research questions: 1. How does engagement in an inquiry project-based middle school watershed curriculum relate to students' confidence and efficacy in STEM subjects, 21st century learning skills, and interest in STEM careers? And 2. How does UDL support all learners (students who are intellectually gifted, students learning the English language, students who are economically disadvantaged, or students with disabilities) of an inquiry project-based middle school watershed curriculum? Middle school science teachers and their students will be recruited from California, Pennsylvania, and Virginia to participate in the project. Three teachers from each state will be recruited to pilot the curriculum in Year 1 and provide feedback to the curriculum team to inform curriculum and research revisions. The learning objectives and activities will be the same for both the experimental and comparison groups, but the comparison group curriculum will not include the UDL technologies

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.


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Co-Principal Investigator(s)
Primary Contact


Award Number
1850060, 1850051, 1849719
Project Duration
2019 - 2024
Millersville University, Millersville, PA
Concord Consortium, Concord, MA
Stroud Water Research Center, Avondale, PA
Project Work State
Target Gradespan(s)
Middle school (6-8)
Project Setting(s)
Formal Education
Geographic Location(s)
Project Status
Computer and informational technology science
Environmental sciences
Life sciences
Target Participants
Youth / students