Learning in the Field: 6th Grade Visits Brightwater

Learning in the Field: 6th Grade Visits Brightwater

Shelley Levin, Middle School science faculty, shares how she uses hands-on case studies of current events as part of the 6th grade science curriculum. 

In science, the 6th graders have been studying ecology through the case study of the Southern Resident orca population. This population, which lives locally year-round in the Salish Sea, is in decline due to noise pollution from boats, biomagnification of toxins like PCBs, and lack of Chinook salmon, their primary prey. In order to better understand how wastewater and stormwater affect the orcas, last Thursday the 6th grade visited Brightwater, a King County wastewater treatment plant and education center.

During the Humans and the Water Cycle program, 6th graders explored how humans use, change, and impact water in our region. In the lab, students engaged as wastewater engineers in the design process to design, test, and improve ways to clean up wastewater, and then gathered evidence to debate the merits of different cleaning solutions based on effectiveness, environmental impact, and cost. They also toured the wastewater treatment plant and saw firsthand how trash, organics, and microbes are removed in the treatment process. Unfortunately, the treatment process cannot remove all chemicals in the wastewater, like the PCBs affecting orcas and their prey. The solution our 6th grade engineers determined? Avoid putting chemicals down the drain in the first place and use natural filtration like rain gardens to avoid toxic runoff in stormwater.

Next in science class, the 6th graders will use what they’ve learned to write letters to their state legislators advocating for an action that will help our Southern resident orcas. Not surprisingly, many are choosing to advocate for ways to reduce toxins entering the Salish Sea!