Grapevine sixth-graders tackle water issues

Posted Sunday, Feb. 03, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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GRAPEVINE -- Terie Wied's sixth-grade students at Cross Timbers Middle School in Grapevine are spending time today trying to solve tomorrow's problems.

Three units of Wied's gifted and talented language arts classes are participating in a year-long project called Operation H {-2}O. The project is intended to bring local, national and global water concerns to the forefront and help craft a plan of action.

Every year, the students participate in a competition called International Future Problem Solvers, in which students from all over the world create projects dealing with diverse topics ranging from hunger and violence to fitness and self-image.

Wied's 60 students are engaging in a popular new learning format called Problem Based Learning. The Problem Solvers program fits that educational philosophy and teaches real-world issues instead of theoretical concepts.

"We've been doing this a long time," Wied said. "The idea is for them to build a plan of action, look at all the solutions, and if they hit a roadblock, they know to go to Plan B."

Students choose their own topic, create an action plan and investigate solutions with guidance from a teacher or coach, Wied said.

"Kids have to have the passion, and they choose the project," Wied said. Other schools in the Grapevine-Colleyville district have used the Problem Solvers model and enter the competition as well.

The objectives of the Cross Timbers students include educating students and the community about the limited availability of drinking water in Texas and the world.

Their action plan includes promoting water conservation and encouraging lawmakers to put water infrastructure funding in the Texas legislative budget.

They are raising money to purchase equipment for an Indian village to provide its inhabitants with clean water.

The students have been researching the problems of water supply, quality and conservation, and have lined up speakers, including an official with the Texas Water Board, to come to the school. They form informational committees that travel to nearby elementary schools to speak to younger students about water issues.

They have composed letters to state lawmakers as they follow water legislation through the current legislative session.

So far, there's plenty to follow. The state Senate has filed two bills and the House of Representatives has filed four, Wied said.

They're encouraged to find a novel approach.

Kathan Shenoy, 11, created a Water Jeopardy game.

"It took me from two weeks to a month to research it," said the sixth-grader. "It has random water facts on supply, sanitation and disease."

The game has questions such as, "What is the most common waterborne disease in India?" (Answer: Diarrhea) and "How much water do you waste per month when you leave the tap running while you brush your teeth?" (Answer: More than eight gallons).

Collin Robisheaux, 11, is head of the public relations committee and says Operation H {-2}O is "a pretty fun project."

Robisheaux has lined up speakers and arranged assemblies at Cross Timbers. The experience has taught him to write professional letters and make calls to professionals to ask for assistance.

"I've never looked that deeply into it before," said Robisheaux of the water issues. "I was really surprised to see how it's already affected the world. It's not happening here [water shortages], but it might be."

Dilan Shah, who visited India recently, researched the country's water sanitation problems. Then, he started looking for workable solutions.

"I was looking for organizations that could give us advice about purification systems," he said.

He found a good one, a system that uses a series of filters to purify water without using a power source.

Such a critical subject could seem frightening, but Wied said the students remain upbeat because of their can-do attitude.

"With gifted kids particularly, they stay informed so they worry about situations," she said. "This gives them more control. It draws them out of that feeling of negativity and hopelessness."

Nicole Buhr, 12, is chairman of fundraising for Operation H {-2}O, and is writing the 12-page research paper to accompany their project.

She also goes to other schools to garner involvement for water issues.

"They're all aware, but when we tell them we're going to run out of water by 2030, it really gets their attention," Buhr said.

Wied said the students are learning invaluable skills in teamwork and planning in the Problem Solvers program.

And they are learning to be informed citizens.

"If we run out of water by 2030, I'll only be 30 years old," Buhr said. "It'll be a short life."

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657

Twitter: @startelegram

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