Concerned that water fountains might be fostering the spread of flu viruses, the principal of Lisbon Central School shut down the fountains early in the school year. Many students began using disposable water bottles, generating a high volume of waste. The principal then invited seventh-grade students to investigate what role (if any) the water fountains played in spreading the flu.
By inviting a local microbiologist to discuss how to undertake the requested study, and through Internet research, the students informed themselves about the spread of flu. They then observed how students used the water fountains, documenting what parts of the fountain were touched and which behaviors might be spreading viruses. Students then gathered, plated, and incubated bacteria. As is often the case with bacterial collection, it proved hard to determine a clear pattern in the data and agree on conclusions — even after students wrote up and graphed their findings.
Using the N/2 prioritizing approach outlined in KIDS As Planners, students determined which areas of the water fountains they should investigate further, based on what they had learned to date about the spread of pathogens. Students then did further observations and swabs to gauge changes in bacteria levels throughout the day. Their final graphs clearly showed that spigots of the water fountains were not likely to be harboring viruses. It also appeared that the fountains—in general—were being cleaned effectively by the janitorial staff. Students reported their results to the principal and school nurse, and gave the janitorial staff suggestions as to which areas might need more cleaning.
The teacher led students through several reflective activities at the project’s conclusion, including writing a haiku about microbes and playing a “Scrabble Scramble” in which teams of students created words from the microbe unit. Each student also completed a set of questions about their experience. Highlights of these observations were shared in class as a way to acknowledge and celebrate the good work that students had done.