This paper presents an innovative teaching approach, how it is implemented, student response results of the implementation, and the assessment of impact on student learning. The findings are based on surveys given to the students after each lab lesson taught in partnership with university (Project STEP) and community members. The purpose of this paper is to showcase authentic molecular technology research methods that have been incorporated into a high school level water quality study in cooperation with a watershed restoration program. Typically, water quality studies focus on chemical analysis such as pH, dissolved oxygen, biochemical oxygen demand, orthophosphates, nitrates, temperature, turbidity, macro-invertebrate survey and fecal coliform cultures. This paper shows that by using molecular technology, the source of pollution in the watershed can be determined. Students in these high school science classes are engaged in authentic experiences to identify and analyze human impact on the environment and local ecosystems. Students also are able to collect and analyze data using computer and molecular technology. With help from the local watershed managers, the AP high school students filter bacteria, isolate their DNA, use the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify the DNA, and finally use gel electrophoresis to trace the DNA to its source (human, cow or intestinal bacteria). In this way, both AP and Physical Science students can extend the water quality study to trace the pollution to a point source. This is a unique approach to high school science laboratory activities. All watershed data is collected and organized using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and graphing software. Students are able to form conclusions using technology that is used in today's workplace. Initial findings regarding student response to this innovative teaching approach indicate that the actual application of molecular technology methods, employed to solve a problem with an unknown conclusion, is very meaningful to students. Unlike other traditional classroom labs, neither the teacher nor the students know what the results of the watershed tests are before-hand. This type of innovative teaching approach, supported by research on inquiry lessons, provides a more memorable experience for the students - actually performing technology that they would otherwise only read about in textbooks and articles. This paper will provide other instructors with a kind of roadmap, but one where there are experiences of many partners and students that highlight both successes and challenges.

Meeting Name

2010 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition (2010: Jun. 20-23, Louisville, KY)


Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering

Keywords and Phrases

Fecal Coliform; Gel electrophoresis; High school; High school students; Human impact; Innovative teaching; Intestinal bacteria; Microsoft excel; Molecular technologies; Pedagogical method; Physical science; Point sources; Roadmap; Science laboratories; Student learning; Student response; Water quality studies; Watershed managers; Watershed restoration; Bacteriology; Biochemical oxygen demand; Dissolved oxygen; DNA; Electrophoresis; Engineering education; Gels; Genes; Innovation; Landforms; Nanotechnology; Polymerase chain reaction; Spreadsheets; Students; Surveys; Teaching; Technology; Turbidity; Water management; Water pollution; Water quality; Watersheds; College buildings

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)


Document Type

Article - Conference proceedings

Document Version

Final Version

File Type





© 2010 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Jan 2010