Highlight: K–12 Applications of the Report

H1. Introduction

The State of the Lower St. Johns River Basin Report was analyzed to identify elements useful to pre-collegiate educators. From this analysis, four major threads were identified as valuable to these personnel. The first relates to science-specific content. The Report offers a resource for background information (for teachers and their students) about content such as biological and chemical measures of water body health and the use of these data as evidence to support assessments. Examples of these indicators include dissolved oxygen, nutrients, turbidity, and biological assays.

The second thread connects to the data presented in the Report. Teachers can use this information to help their students understand how phenomena are described and generated through empirical observation and evidence collection, and used as indicators of watershed health. As an example, data in the Report are presented and, based on defined water quality criteria or benchmarks, an assessment made for the tributaries within the SJR watershed. Students can see how data are represented to make a case of the health indicators of these tributaries. They can also use these data to make their own calculations, representations, and conclusions.

Third, the Report offers a potential resource related to the “Nature of Science” components of the state and national standards. These components are central for students to understand how science is practiced. As a specific example of how the Report can provide a resource in this area, discussion of limitations of water quality assessments are found throughout the Report. These descriptions provide students an authentic example of scientific uncertainty and the limits of available data. The authors provide students a clear rationale for their uncertainty (e.g., due to differences in sampling methods, changes in definitions due to public policy, and ongoing questions of causation). These examples could provide useful points for teachers when discussing their students’ own empirical work or current topics like global climate change or natural selection.

Finally, the Report offers a resource for cross-disciplinary curriculum development. Topics such as geographical history and human impact on the watershed are logical areas to make connections between the social studies and science subject areas. Through the use of the background information and data in the Report, students can better understand issues facing policy makers and the public when they try to understand and suggest management strategies for the LSJR watershed.

H2. Connections to Standards

The Report can support teaching approaches advocated by the authors of major policy documents including the National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996a), Science for All Americans (Rutheford and Ahgren 1990), the Florida Sunshine State Standards (FDOE 2010), Common Core Standards (CCSSI 2012), and the Next Generation Science Standards (NRC 2013).

These approaches include teaching through inquiry, where students are active learners through posing questions, examining data and finding patterns, and creating, examining and revising models, explanations, or solutions to issues. The Report supports teachers in these efforts by providing authentic data and presenting important issues related to management of the watershed. These resources can allow students to investigate questions that are relevant to their community and bring their understanding to bear when devising solutions to local LSJR watershed problems (e.g., saltwater intrusion, water conservation). One example could include striking a balance between the positive economic impact of expanding shipping in Jacksonville with the needs of suitable habitat for wildlife.

The Report provides a resource to support real-world curricular connections and critical thinking — areas that are central components of the Next Generation Science Standards (NRC 2013) and connected to the Common Core Standards (CCSSI 2012). To build relevance and real-world connections within the curriculum, cross-curricular materials should focus on tributaries and social components (i.e., Aldo Leopold’s “sense of place”) of the students’ surroundings. This development could allow teachers to develop broader connections with the content of the Report. This broadening of the curriculum scope to connect to neighborhoods near schools is intended to build awareness of the watershed and that inter-connectedness of the components in the ecosystem. Through these materials, students will hopefully find science and nature in their everyday environments.

In addition to connecting to the tributaries in neighborhoods to meet the interests of students, the Report can be modified to meet the needs of students with varying reading levels. Educators can modify the text of the Report for grade level appropriate reading and science content. As the district advances in its use of technology (i.e., e-readers), teachers can modify text to meet the needs and interests of students.

H3. Current Impact

To broaden the impact of the Report, we evaluated its current use and gathered information to determine the best route forward. Up to this point, the Report has been used as a background information (e.g., definitions of terms, descriptions of the watershed) source. Broadening the focus to use the Report as a data source is a logical next step. Based on feedback from school personnel, the best route to data collection and sharing are ready-made materials like the World Water Monitoring Challenge kits.

Using input from faculty of the University of North Florida Departments of Biology and Chemistry, we determined the World Water Monitoring Challenge kits were a good option to use to proceed. Balancing cost, simplicity, and durability of the tests were factors in this decision. These tests correspond to some indicators within the Report, providing a connection between the Report and testing completed by secondary students.

Additionally, school administrators indicated an interest in students being able to share data with other students (either across schools or districts). The World Water Monitoring Challenge kit coordinators allow students to upload their data into a worldwide database.

From earlier discussions with school science education personnel, Jacksonville’s schools were discussed as possible targets for this use. With the proximity of these schools, and their locations within the watershed, students could get a better understanding of the community surrounding their school, while making a more concrete, real-world connection to environmental science concepts. While there are important science topic areas to address, there is also an important, more general focus that has been an issue. Students struggle with engagement at the secondary level, which impacts motivation and achievement. By providing more relevant topics and real-world connections students are more apt to connect to science curriculum and instruction. The water sampling from the watershed and examining the Report provides students with a real-world case that helps them connect not only to the curriculum, but their community.

To this date, the Ribault and Trout Rivers have been identified as sample sites, as they tributaries that are in close proximity to the urban core schools. These tributaries also have boat landings that are accessible for sampling. Additional sites in the Jacksonville area may also be suitable for student sampling.

In the summer of 2015 and spring of 2016, 11 pre-service teachers were trained on the use and relevance of these kits in meeting required curriculum standards.  The sessions were designed to build relevance and real world connections within the curriculum. Materials focused on tributaries and social components (e.g., Aldo Leopold’s “sense of place,” Emdin’s “reality pedagogy”) of the students’ surroundings.  This curriculum scope, through connections to community near schools, was intended to build awareness of the watershed and that inter-connectedness of the components in the ecosystem.  The training with these materials was designed to help pre-service teachers show their students that science and nature are in their everyday environments.

Feedback from the summer session was used to modify materials. This modification included adapting the directions to be able to change font sizes and vocabulary to meet the needs of students in the targeted high schools.

In the summer of 2016, 12 graduate pre-service teachers were trained on the use of the World Water Monitoring Challenge kits. Modified procedure and data collection sheets were used during the session and made available to the pre-service teachers for use in their own classrooms.

Pre-service teacher feedback from the work with the kit has reflected a greater connection between the curriculum, community and the watershed.  Reflective assessments indicated that they considered the watershed to be part of their community to a greater extent.

In the summer of 2017, these kits continued to be used with the addition of lab equipment from the University of North Florida Department of Biology at a sampling site at Harbor View Boat Landing on the Ribault River in the urban core of Jacksonville. This was the first time pre-service teachers completed on-site sampling and testing.

The intent of this session was to show multiple, low-cost testing methods for use in secondary classrooms. Additionally, it is intended that having the pre-service teachers at a sampling site will demonstrate the feasibility of using St. Johns River tributaries for field trips or teacher-collected samples.

Two additional professional development sessions were added to help the pre-service teachers build relevance in their curriculum to connect to the backgrounds of their students. The concept was to build upon the pre-service teachers’ understandings of the neighborhood surrounding their schools to not only include the social and economic assets, but to also include the natural. As part of these new sessions, students read Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality (Bullard 1990) and wrote reflections.

A pre- and post-session short-answer survey was administered to 11 of the 12 graduate pre-service teachers. Prior to the sessions, 9 out of the 11 had not connected ecological communities, like the St. Johns River Watershed, into their conception of the community surrounding their schools. Multiple participants saw the Jacksonville urban core as “city” and devoid of natural resources. After completion of the sessions, 11 of 11 reported seeing a connection between the ecosystem and the community. This is an important finding, as one of the goals of the training was to help the graduate pre-service teachers see relevance between ecological concepts and their students’ environment. In the survey the graduate pre-service teachers reported learning about methods of building real-world, ecological connections for students within the curriculum, bringing water samples to the classroom, developing independent science fair projects using the watershed, and developing student statistical capabilities within the context of water sampling.

As reported in 2016, a Ribault teacher (part of an earlier cohort of graduate pre-service teachers who completed training with the World Water Monitoring Challenge kits) has been using the kit supplemented with materials provided by the St. Johns Riverkeeper. She continues to report higher engagement and higher student performance on aquatic ecosystem benchmark assessments when compared to other environmental science classes at Ribault High School. For her students, the ecosystem section of these exams showed the highest scores.

H4. Lesson Plans

As part of the efforts to help K-12 teachers utilize the resources from the Report, ten lesson plans have been developed for classroom use. The overall aim of these lessons is to help students develop a deeper appreciation of the Lower St Johns River Watershed through a better understanding of the complexity of the relationships between biotic and abiotic factors within the ecosystem. They are also intended to help students understand that they are part of the watershed ecosystem with the natural environment between closely linked to the human environment.

These lessons are categorized for age-appropriate use in primary and secondary settings (five lessons in each category) and include both a teacher plan and Power point. Each plan is intended to serve as a stand-alone lesson to be completed in one class period; however, the timeframe can be extended or shortened based on student background and curricular constraints. All materials are editable and are intended to be modified for student need and interest and school context. Lessons are either drawn from, or are linked explicitly to, appropriate sections of the Report — a feature designed to either be used in support of teacher background knowledge or used as a student resource for classroom activities.

The lessons cover a range of topics including how to assess the state of an aquatic ecosystem, developing a remediation plan that balances the social, ecological, and economic needs of the community, and finding patterns in nature. These topics, which are summarized below, are intended to tie into multiple standards and encourage students to engaged in inquiry-oriented activities.


  1. Aquatic Health: The standard parameters used to assess the health of aquatic ecosystems are explained why and how they are used.
  1. Aquatic Organisms: Living organism is defined; 10 aquatic organisms and examples of plants and animals’ roles in the Lower St. Johns River Watershed Ecosystem are identified.
  2. Human and Biological Communities: Community is defined in both social and biological terms, for which examples are provided as to how both are connected; the school neighborhood habitat is described using climate, biotic, abiotic, and geologic parameters.
  1. Macroinvertebrates in the Lower St Johns River Watershed: Definitions of invertebrate and vertebrate are provided and used to classify animals as one or the other; invertebrates and their importance in the Lower St. Johns River Watershed Ecosystem are identified.
  1. Shapes and Patterns in Nature: The definition and examples of a natural pattern are provided.



  1. Aquatic Health: The standard parameters and their importance in assessing aquatic ecosystem health are defined in detail.
  1. Developing a Remediation Plan: The possible causes of impairment of the Lower St Johns River Watershed are listed, from which a management/remediation plan can be developed that balances multiple needs and interests to improve the ecosystem.
  1. Human and Biological Communities: Key parameters used by scientists to assess aquatic biological health, including habitat and other components, are defined; distinguishing between qualitative and quantitative data is explained.
  1. Invasive Species and Impacts on Aquatic Ecosystems: Invasive species is both defined and designed, and examples of such in Florida ecosystems are provided.
  1. Salinity Testing: Salinity is defined as a measure of river health, and its effect in aquatic ecosystems is described.

H5. Conclusion

The Report provides an important resource for teachers to make important connections between science and the students’ environment. This helps make science more concrete and engages them in real-world problem solving. Additionally, materials can be modified to support science learning at multiple curricular levels. The Report team hopes to help teachers in these endeavors. Please contact us if you are interested in seeking guidance and support.

Water Quality, Fisheries, Aquatic Life, & Contaminants