Categorization of Water-related standards in learning domains

In research question #1, we asked, “to what extent do water-related standards address recognized domains of learning?” The water-related standards identified in the study are diverse, as each can represent one or more domains of learning. Their distribution within learning domain categories is shown in Fig. 3.

Fig. 3
figure 3

Learning domains of water standards

First, across all standards and grade bands (including the unspecified grade band), n = 259 (76%) were behavioral while n = 82 (24%) were non-behavioral. From all the standards, n = 295 (87%) pertained to the cognitive domain; n = 223 (65%) were declarative; and n = 108 (32%) were procedural. Also, n = 84 (25%) belong to the affective domain; n = 49 (14%) to the social, and n = 39 (11%) to the emotional components across all standards.

When we consider the standards across the K-12 levels only (without the unspecified standards), n = 236 (70%) belong to the cognitive domain; n = 177 (52%) to the declarative; and n = 90 (26%) to the procedural components. Also, n = 67 (20%) belong to the affective; n = 36 (11%) to the social; and n = 35 (10%) to the emotional domains across the K-12 levels.

We also analyzed the frequencies and distributions of standards in the various learning domains by K-12 grade bands, as shown in Fig. 4.

Fig. 4
figure 4

Water-related standards representation of learning domains across grade bands (K-12)

Results from the Tests for Goodness of Fit (Table 3) showed significant differences and a large effect among the three grade bands for the emotional domain x2(2, N = 35) = 8,46, p < .0146, Cohen’s w = .5137. Standards representing the emotional domain were lower in the K-5 grade band (n = 5), increased in the 6–8 grade band level (n = 11), and were the highest in the 9–12 grade band level (n = 19). These findings suggest that the proportion of standards reflecting the emotional domain is lower than expected in the K-5 level, but higher than expected in the 9–12 grade band (Table 4). No other differences were found in the analysis of the other learning domains across grade bands. These results suggest that other standards are relatively equally distributed among grade bands.

Table 3 Proportion of learning domains and grade bands: chi-square statistics (x2) test for goodness of fit
Table 4 Observed and expected frequencies of the emotional domain across grade bands

Results from the Test for Independence (Table 5) showed significant differences with small effects in the distributions across grade bands between the emotional and declarative domains, x2(2, n = 212) = 7.92, p < .0191, ϕ = 0.18. These findings suggest that the proportions in the distribution of standards across grade bands of the declarative domain is different from the distribution of the emotional domain. No other significant differences were found. Results from the observed and expected frequencies (Table 6) indicate that the distribution of standards within the emotional domain across grade bands is disproportional, particularly as it compares to the declarative domain.

Table 5 Differences between learning domains and grade bands: chi-square statistics (x2) test for independence
Table 6 Observed and expected frequencies between the emotional and the declarative and procedural domains

A transdisciplinary matrix for Water-related standards

In research question #2, we asked, “what thematic outcomes for students’ learning are apparent across grades in water-related standards?”. In the sections that follow, we outline core themes resulting from analysis and organization of water-related standards for teaching and learning focused on the interactions between water and human systems.

Water and human settlements

Intersection between the thematic outcome and learning domains

Additional file 1 shows the representation of the N = 341 water-related standards and their corresponding learning domains within each thematic outcome. The thematic outcome on water and human settlements accounted for 30% of the standards. The representation of the cognitive domain was larger than the affective domain; the declarative component was larger than the procedural component; and the social component was lower than the emotional component. The number of behavioral standards was larger than non-behavioral standards.


Water has historically influenced human settlements, especially in areas with access to water resources that are favorable to satisfying human needs (ESLI 7.2–4). The unevenness of water distribution has also shaped the social, economic, and political characteristics of each region (ESLI 7.4). To ensure a continuous supply of water resources, infrastructure was developed to support different human activities (ESLI 9.4). These transformations have enabled the development of different civilizations in areas with and without an abundance of water resources, as human’s relationship with water has influenced culture, the development of arts and literature, scientific inquiry, values, and spirituality (ESLI 1.1, 7.1). Nevertheless, these transformations have altered water-related ecosystem services, transformed the land, and changed the distribution of surface and groundwater resources (ESLI 7.5, 9.4–5). Furthermore, climate change is an important factor compromising the distribution and availability of water resources for humans, as can be evidenced with the impacts of the decline of freshwater resources in regions that depend on glaciers, rising sea levels, changes in precipitation patterns and ocean circulation, increased forest fires, extreme weather events, and changes in the distribution of global systems (Climate Literacy 7.A-C, 7.F; ESLI 8.3, 9.1–3). Water-related hazards can increase risks to humans, affect populations’ size, and drive migrations, particularly in vulnerable and highly populated areas (ESLI 8.1–5, 9.6).

Grade specific standards

In grades K-5, students could be able to conceptualize that water is a natural resource (NALO T1.K-2.c; NatGeo 16.4.1.A; Pillars EC-3.1.D) that sustains humans’ basic needs (AAAS 6A/P2). They could be able to understand that water availability, distribution, and accessibility is variable as a result of different natural features, influencing the ways humans have historically adapted and transformed the physical environment to have access to water enabling them to settle in different territories (AAAS 7E/E3; NAAEE K-4.2.1.B, K-4.2.3.A; NatGeo 12.4.3.A, 14.4.1.A, 14.4.3.A, 17.4.2.A, 18.4.2.A; NGSS K-ESS2–2), where technology has played an important role (AAAS 3A/E4; NatGeo 14.4.2.A). In this sense, students could be able to use geographic representations to reason, describe and compare how access to reliable freshwater supply, presence of different weather patterns, access to a river or sea, natural harbors, and use of water for transportation and recreation, among other factors, influence the distribution of people as they provide opportunities and constraints for human settlements (NAAEE K-4.2.1.B, K-4.2.3.A, C; NatGeo 3.4.2.A, 3.4.3.A, 9.4.2.B, 12.4.2.A, 12.4.3.A, 15.4.1.A-B, 18.4.1.A). Furthermore, students could also identify and describe the locations and types of natural hazards and how humans might be affected by them, and how humans act in response (NatGeo 15.4.2.A-B). In this sense, students could understand that these adaptations also influence human behaviors (NAAEE K-4.2.1.B, K-4.2.3.A; NatGeo 15.4.3.A), perceptions, and responses in relation to the overall availability of natural resources, including water, and the presence of natural hazards (NatGeo 15.4.2.A-B, 17.4.3.A).

In grades 6–8, students build upon what they learned in elementary grades about the influence of physical conditions and the environment, including natural hazards, on humans’ distribution to develop evidence-based explanations and representations of these phenomena from a local to a national and global scale (AAAS 5D/M1b; NAAEE 5–8.2.1.A-B; NatGeo 1.8.2.B, 2.8.2.A, 3.8.2.A, 9.8.2.B; 12.8.3.A, 15.8.1.A-B, 15.8.2.A-B), and the role of technology to adapt to different locations (AAAS 3C/M4; NatGeo 15.8.2.A, 15.8.3.A). They could also be able to analyze both positive and negative consequences that human-induced changes have on the environment and can bring changes to other locations (NatGeo 14.8.1.A, 14.8.3.A). Furthermore, students could be able to integrate the influence of water on social, political, economic and cultural phenomena. For example, they could understand the influence that the presence of coasts has shaped human activities as the presence of ports influenced commerce, trade, and transportation, enabling the development of large centers of human settlements (NatGeo 2.8.3.A, 9.8.2.B, 12.8.2.A, 17.8.1.A). They could expand their understanding about how identities, cultures, philosophies, and perceptions can form based on the places where people live, and how they use the natural resources that are available (AAAS 10F/M1b; NAAEE 5–8.2.2.B, 5–8.2.3.B, 5–8.2.3.C; NatGeo 4.8.1.A, 16.8.1.A), including water. They could also be able to explain how water features play a role in establishing political boundaries (NatGeo 13.8.1.A).

In grades 9–12 students could use spatial concepts, geographic representations, and models to identify and describe these patterns (NatGeo 1.12.4.A, 2.12.1.A, 3.12.1.A, 3.12.3.A, 15.12.1.A, 16.12.2.A; NGSS HS-ESS3–1, 3). Students could be able to develop a more complex understanding about the interactions between water patterns and the overall environment with socio, cultural, economic, political, economic, and technological factors that influence human settlements differently (NAAEE 9–12.2.2.B, 9–12.2.3.B-C; NatGeo 3.12.2.A, 4.12.2.A, 4.12.2.B, 6.12.2.A, 10.12.1.B, 10.12.2.B, 16.12.1.B, 17.12.3.A). They could be able to understand the concept of “limits to growth” (NatGeo 15.12.3.B) and identify that water use patterns and environmental changes, and natural disasters can influence the growth or decline of different regions (NatGeo 3.12.1.A, 6.12.2.A, 9.12.2.A, 12.12.1.A, 12.12.2.A, 12.12.3.B), and how these can impact human migration patterns and transform human settlements (NatGeo 9.12.2.B, 9.12.3.B; NGSS HS-ESS3–1). Students could understand that different policies around water, and other natural resources, also influence urbanization, and upstream and downstream locations (NatGeo 14.12.3.A; NGSS HS-LS2–7), and they could compare the adoption of policies, adaptation strategies, and technologies to respond to water-related natural hazards (NatGeo 15.12.2.A, 15.12.2.B, 15.12.3.A, 15.12.3.B).

Food-energy-Water Nexus (FEW-Nexus)

Intersection between the thematic outcome and learning domains

The thematic outcome on the nexus between food, energy, and water accounted for 30% of the standards. The representation of the cognitive domain was larger than the affective domain; the declarative component was larger than the procedural component; and the social component was lower than the emotional component. The number of behavioral standards was larger than non-behavioral standards.


Societies rely on water resources to produce energy and food (ELP 7.3; ESLI 7.5; UNESCO 6.4.clo). Moving water is a primary source from which humans transfer and transform energy (ELP 4.1; ESLI 7.10). Land surface is also transformed to satisfy agriculture needs (ESLI 9.5). Although gravity is the major force that helps to transport water, additional water-related infrastructure, like canals, dams, and levees are needed to divert water to other areas and to transform this movement into energy, and as reservoirs for future uses of water, including irrigation. These reservoirs help to store a stable source of energy for future use, which are necessary for national security, access, and equity (ELP 4.6–7). The transformation of the land influences climate change, which repercuss on water systems (Climate Literacy 6.C; ESLI 9.3), as well as the capabilities to produce energy and food, as important sources of water, such as winter snowpack and mountain glaciers, are declining (Climate Literacy 7.B, 7.F). Furthermore, as a result of population growth, industrialization, and socioeconomic development, food and energy demand are increasing, adding stress to water systems (ELP 6.3–4), impacting water quality, availability, and distribution, as well as the balance of different ecosystems, such as wetlands, and different natural processes, including groundwater replenishment, weather patterns, and ecosystems’ energy balance (ELP 3.6, 7.3, 9.1; ESLI 9.4–5). In this sense, the availability of water resources, technological aspects, social, economic, political factors (ELP 4.2), and environmental impacts (ESLI 7.10) pose limits and constraints to the use of water for energy and agriculture production (ELP 4.2), influencing decision-making processes (ELP 4.6–7, 5.6–7).

Grade-specific standards

In grades K-5, students could identify and explain that water is used for agriculture and energy production (NALO T2.K-2.e, T1.3–5.e; NatGeo 16.4.2.A; NGSS 4-ESS3–1; Pillars EC-3.1.C), which are limited by water’s availability and proximity (NAAEE K-4.2.3.A; NatGeo 15.4.1.B, 16.4.2.A). Students could be able to use observations to identify that animals and plants need water to grow (NGSS K-LS1–1, 2-LS2–1), and that water and weather patterns delineate the types of crops and livestock produced in different regions (AAAS 8A/E5, 8A/P1bc; NAAEE K-4.2.3.B; NALO T1.K-2.b, T1.K-2.d, T1.3–5.b; NatGeo 11.4.2.B). They could understand the role of stewardship of these resources (NALO T2.3–5.e). Learners could also be able to identify, describe, and construct an argument supported by evidence for ways in which humans adapt to the affordances and constraints of the environment and modify the environment to gain access to water resource to produce food and energy (NAAEE K-4.2.3.A, K-4.2.3.B; NatGeo 14.4.1.A; NGSS K-ESS2–2). In this sense, elementary students could recognize the present and historical role of technology to facilitate food production (i.e., irrigation) (AAAS 3A/E4, 8A/E4, 8A/E1c; NALO T4.3–5.b; NatGeo 14.4.2.A), energy generation (AAAS 3A/E4, 8C/E1), and water movement (AAAS 10 J/E1).

In grades 6–8, students are expected to build upon their learning about how geologic and environmental patterns (AAAS 4B/M10ab; NatGeo 15.8.1.A-B, 16.8.2.A; NGSS MS-ESS3–1), and technologies (AAAS 3C/M4; NatGeo 14.8.2.A, 15.8.1.B, 15.8.3.A) can influence water distribution and availability for energy and agricultural production. Learners could develop explanations about how technologies help obtain water (AAAS 10 J/M2). Also, they could understand the influence of water availability and distribution as an energy source, and how this influences the global distribution of energy and amounts of energy produced by it once it is collected, concentrated, and transported for its use for different purposes (AAAS 8C/M4–6, 8C/M9–10; NALO T2.6–8.d; NatGeo 16.8.2.A, 16.8.3.B; Pillars 4–8.2.C). They consider many drivers of increasing water resource use, including a growing human population (NGSS MS-ESS3–4), agricultural production (NALO T1.6–8.c; T1.6–8.d), and energy production. They begin to elaborate more complex explanations that include social, economic, and political factors (AAAS 8C/M10; NAAEE 5–8.2.3.D; NALO T3.6–8.f; NatGeo 16.8.1.A; NGSS MS-ESS3–4) that provide different opportunities and constraints to respond to higher demands of food and energy (NatGeo 15.8.1.A-B, 18.8.1.B, 18.8.2.A; NGSS MS-ESS3–4). In relation to water use for food production, students also continue developing an understanding of the influence resulting from weather patterns on the availability of water to produce food (NALO T1.6–8.g), and how importation of food can help reduce the dependence on weather but augment the reliance on transportation and communication with distant markets (AAAS 8A/M3b). They can evaluate the trade-offs associated with the use of different technologies to use water for agriculture and energy production (AAAS 3C/M9, 8A/M3acd), and how the different uses of water can compete with other human and non-human uses (AAAS 5D/M1a, 4B/M8; NALO T1.6–8.a).

In grades 9–12, students build upon their understanding about the social, economic, political, and environmental complexities around the use of water and technology for energy generation and agriculture production to increase emphasis on complex systems and notions of sustainability (NALO T5.9–12.e-f, T1.9–12.f; NatGeo 14.12.1.A, 14.12.2.A, 14.12.3.A, 16.12.2.A; NGSS HS-ESS2–2). They could analyze the historical and potential impacts that changes on climate patterns bring to water resources, and how these can affect agriculture and energy production (NALO T1.9–12.e; NatGeo 3.12.2.A). Students could be able to use models to describe the impacts that changes in water systems to satisfy increasing demands for food, energy and water in both developed and developing countries (AAAS 8C/H4, 8B/H7, 4B/H8; NatGeo 9.12.3.B), can bring changes to human systems (NatGeo 3.12.3.A, 5.12.2.A, 15.12.3.B), including changes in migration patterns (NatGeo 9.12.3.B). They could identify the role the state has in determining the types of policies and their impacts on water, food and energy systems (AAAS 8A/H2; NatGeo 16.12.3.B). Some of these changes result from the adoption of different technological changes to improve food and energy production, bringing changes to the use of water inputs and humans’ ways of living (AAAS 8A/H3b; NALO T4.9–12.b; NatGeo 10.12.2.B; Pillars 9–12.5.A, 9–12.5.D). Students also need to explain that technology presents trade-offs regarding between the use of water to improve food (AAAS 8A/H3a; NALO T5.9–12.b) and energy production (NatGeo 14.12.3.A, 16.12.3.A).

Water and public health

Intersection between the thematic outcome and learning domains

The thematic outcome on water and public health accounted for 15% of the standards. The representation of the cognitive domain was larger than the affective domain, but with a short difference; the declarative component was lower than the procedural component; and the social component was larger than the emotional component. The number of behavioral standards was larger than non-behavioral standards, but more emphasized than in other thematic outcomes.


The availability and quality of water resources is fundamental for public health. The availability of clean water is essential for drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene, and for the prevention of the transmission of diseases that can increase people’s morbidity and mortality. Learners could be able to comprehend, put into practice, and communicate the importance of sanitation and hygiene as means to prevent diseases and enhance personal, family, and community health (CDC 1, 7, 8; UNESCO 6.1.selo, 6.2.selo, 6.4.selo). They could understand that there is a “global unequal distribution of access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities” (UNESCO 6.3.clo), not only in terms of spatial distribution, but also in terms of socio-economic and gender dimensions (UNESCO 6.5.selo). Furthermore, the impacts of climate change on water resources can pose challenges for public health (Climate Literacy standard 7.F). Organisms, including disease vectors like mosquitoes, need to adapt to changing conditions or migrate to more favorable areas to survive (Climate Literacy 3.A, 7.E), resulting in increased incidence and geographical range of climate- sensitive infectious diseases (Climate Literacy 7.F). Other water-related impacts of climate change “will contribute to unhealthy conditions, particularly for the most vulnerable populations” (Climate Literacy 7.F).

Grade-specific standards

Students in grades K-5, could recognize the importance of healthy behaviors and identify and demonstrate practices that help them prevent diseases (CDC 1.2.1, 1.2.3, 1.5.1, 7.2.1–2, 7.5.1–3) that can result from direct or indirect acquisition of contaminated water that can function as a disease reservoir. As standard AAAS 6E/P3 states, “Some diseases are caused by germs, some are not. Diseases caused by germs may be spread by people who have them. Washing one’s hands with soap and water reduces the number of germs that can get into the body or that can be passed on to other people”. Learners could also be able to make requests to promote, express opinions, and encourage peers and others to implement healthy practices (CDC 8.2.1–2, 8.5.1–2).

Students in grades 6–8 could be able to identify that water resources may contain different substances or carry bacteria and virus which can affect people’s health (AAAS 6E/M5, 8F/M5) and that sanitation and safe handling of food and water are among health practices that help prevent germs from entering the body (AAAS 10I/M7). They could recognize various sanitation measures, the need to monitor the environment for health hazards, and the historical importance of sanitation in enhancing human existence (AAAS 6E/M5; 8F/M1). In this sense, students could be able to assume responsibility of personal practices and behaviors that reduce health risks for themselves and others (CDC 1.8.1, 1.8.3, 1.8.7, 1.8.8–9, 7.8.1–3). They could also be able to present their position, influence and support, communicate, and work cooperatively (CDC 8.8.1–4) to promote a healthy use of water.

Students in grades 9–12 could expand on their understanding, attitudes, and behaviors they started building during elementary and middle school about water and public health. They could be able to analyze how the environment and their own health are connected, predict how healthy behaviors can have different impacts on health for themselves and others, analyze and propose alternatives; and communicate, and cooperate to and with others (CDC 1.12.1, 1.12.3, 1.12.5, 1.12.7, 7.12.1–3, 8.12.1–4) to reduce, prevent, or mitigate water-related diseases. Students could be able to explain causes that affect sanitation services (NatGeo 9.12.3.B).

Impacts of human activities on Water quality and quantity

Intersection between the thematic outcome and learning domains

The thematic outcome on impacts of human activities on water quality and quantity accounted for 11% of the standards. The representation of the cognitive domain was larger than the affective domain; the declarative component was larger than the procedural component; and the social component was lower than the emotional component. The number of behavioral standards was larger than non-behavioral standards.


While human activities are reliant on water as a resource, in turn, they impact water and water systems (ESLI 7.5, 9.4–8; UNESCO 6.1.clo). These impacts are multifaceted. On the one hand, human activities structurally reshape the landscape and naturally occurring water systems while, on the other, they often degrade them through erosion, pollution and overuse. Human impacts on water systems can be seen over the short and long term, and some of these impacts are not reversible (ESLI 7.3, 9.8). For example, in response to increasing water demands (ESLI 9.1), the withdrawal of surface and groundwater is often higher than their replenishment, and the restoration is often difficult (ESLI 7.5). Land use change affects the biosphere (ESLI 9.7), watershed and groundwater processes (ESLI 9.5), the hydrological cycle (ESLI 9.3), and the climate system (Climate Literacy 6.B-C, 7.F; ESLI 9.5).

Grade-specific standards

In grades K-5, standards foreground specific ways in which humans impact natural water systems through their use of water as a resource (NAAEE K-4.2.3.A, K-4.3.1.B; Nat Geo 14.4.1.A, 14.4.3.A; NGSS 4-ESS3–1). In general, students could identify, describe, and construct an argument supported by evidence for ways in which humans modify the physical environment to meet their needs (NatGeo, 14.4.1.A; NGSS K-ESS2–2). Early learners could identify and describe impacts of humans’ use of water on the natural environment, particularly through concrete and localized examples (NAAEE K-4.3.1.A).

Grades 6 to 8 students could build upon their recognition and description of human impacts on water in elementary grades to investigate these relationships in more substantial ways. Students recognize that “the physical environment can both accommodate and be endangered by human activities” (NatGeo 14.8.3.A). First, students could explore not only direct impacts of water resource use in a localized area, but also how these impacts reverberate beyond the immediate phenomena to broader systems and other geographical areas (NAAEE 5–8.2.3.A; NatGeo 14.8.1.A). Second, they could recognize that these changes can have impacts over the short- and long-term (NAAEE 5–8.3.1.B). Third, students could go beyond identifying and describing specific examples of water use consequences to be explaining these phenomena (NatGeo 14.8.1.A), comparing various related scenarios representing these relationships (NALO T1.6–8.a), and construct evidence-based arguments about these relationships (NGSS MS-ESS3–4). The consequences that students consider may be varied and diverse. For example, middle school students may consider how ineffective resource use limits the availability of water for other purposes (AAAS 4B/M11a) and that water “can be depleted or polluted, making it unavailable or unsuitable for life” (AAAS 4B/M8).

Grades 9–12 could analyze how humans and their environment interact with each other; how those interactions can change with technology, such as dams, channels, reservoirs, or irrigation; and how these can bring different costs, benefits, and unintended consequences to different groups of people, the economy, and the environment itself (NAAEE 9–12.2.3.A; NALO T5.9–12.b, T5.9–12.e; NatGeo 14.12.2.A). As students expand their consideration of impacts of water resource use, they may consider temporal dimensions of water resource use, such as describing “how agricultural practices have contributed to changes in societies and environments over time” (NALO T4.9–12.b). There is also increasing emphasis on understanding regional and global scales of these impacts rather than local examples alone (NALO T5.9–12.e; NatGeo 3.12.2.A; 14.12.1.A). As students recognize how human activities influence water resources (NAAEE 9–12.2.1.A), they integrate a more sophisticated reasoning supported by the use of technology, through which students both create and use computational tools (NAAEE 9–12.1.F) to “illustrate the relationships among Earth systems and how those relationships are being modified due to human activity” (NGSS HS-ESS3–6) that would help them “describe and evaluate scenarios for mitigating and/or adapting to environmental changes caused by human modifications” (NatGeo 14.12.3.A).

Water resources management

Intersection between the thematic outcome and learning domains

The thematic outcome on water resources management accounted for 33% of the standards. The representation of the cognitive domain was larger than the affective domain, but with a short difference; the declarative component was lower than the procedural component; and the social component was larger than the emotional component. The number of behavioral standards was larger than non-behavioral standards, but more emphasized than in other thematic outcomes.


It is essential for water resources to be effectively managed to mitigate the impacts of natural hazards to reduce vulnerability (ESLI 8.7–8, UNESCO 6.5.clo) and ensure availability and access to water (UNESCO 6.5.clo). These practices encompass science and human-based approaches to support problem-solving and decision making (ESLI 7.10, 8.8, 9.8,). Science-based approaches include optimization of water use for agriculture (Pillars 1.B, 1.E, 1.F), the development and use of models to evaluate water-related hazards, such as floods and droughts (ESLI 8.6), model-based projections of the impacts of climate change on water systems (Climate Literacy 5.E) to improve preparedness (ESLI 8.7) and overall decisions (Climate Literacy 5.E). Managing water resources involves navigating priorities of diverse stakeholders and interest groups. Science-based awareness, engagement, communication, public policy and cooperation at different levels are key to support water management (ESLI 7.10, 8.8, 9.8–9; UNESCO 6.1–2.blo, 6.1–2.selo, 6.5.blo). Overall, students are expected to develop the skills that allow them to obtain, evaluate, analyze, and represent information about water resources that help them understand and explain the complexities of different decisions (ISTE 3a-b, 3d, 5b-c, 6c). These different kinds of knowledge are pertinent not only for individuals, but for society in general, as well as for daily and long-term activities (UNESCO 6.3–4.blo,6.3.selo).

Grade-specific standards

Students in grades K-5 begin to recognize their own rights and responsibilities with regards to the use of natural resources, including water (NAAEE K-4.4.A). They could be able to identify whose role it is to provide water-related services, and that many uses of water depend on the economy of the place (NAAEE K-4.2.2.C, D). They are able to identify water-related issues that take place within their closest environment (NAAEE K-4.3.2.A; NGSS 3-LS4–4), and develop an initial understanding of environmental, social, and economic issues that may accompany them (NAAEE K-4.3.1.B). Elementary students can express about these issues (NAAEE K-4.3.2.A) and their potential solutions (NALO T1.3–5.c; NatGeo 16.4.3.A; NGSS 2-ESS2–1, K-ESS3–3) in which they can contribute and start developing plans to address them (NAAEE K-4.4.B; K-4.3.1.C, K-4.3.2.B-D), with support of scientific information (NGSS 5-ESS3–1). For example, they can implement water conservation practices to improve the use of water in their own homes (NatGeo 16.4.3.A). They could be able to identify that different groups of people have differing perspectives about the use of water (NAAEE K-4.2.2.A-B), and that these views can lead to both cooperation and conflict in relation to proposed solutions (AAAS 7E/E3; NatGeo 13.4.2.A, 13.4.3.A).

Students in grades 6–8 recognize the importance of a sustainable use of natural resources, including water, defined as a balance between use and replenishment of the resource itself (NALO T1.6–8.h; NatGeo 16.8.3.A). Students continue exploring the role of economic, social, and political factors influencing the management of natural resources (NAAEE 5–8.2.2.C-D), including water. They recognize that as stakeholders, their decisions can influence the use of water (NAAEE 5–8.2.2.A). Middle-school students could also examine the consequences, both positive and negative, of different water allocation approaches that reflect existing practices and stakeholder priorities (NAAEE 5–8.2.3.D, 5–8.3.3.A-C; NALO T1.6–8.d; NatGeo 18.8.1.A; Pillars 4–8.1.F). They recognize and explain that differing viewpoints about use of rivers, water sources, and access to water can lead to conflict and/or present synergistic opportunities for collaboration and collective action at local, national, national, and global levels (AAAS 7F/M3; NAAEE 5–8.2.3.D; NatGeo 13.8.2.A, 13.8.3.A, 16.8.3.A). Based upon their understanding about the scientific and socio-economic components of water-related challenges, students could be afforded opportunities to design solutions to these challenges (NAAEE 5–8.3.1.C, 5–8.3.2.A-D; NGSS MS-LS2–5). As with elementary standards, middle school students could first be afforded opportunities to learn about and develop understanding of methods and strategies currently used to manage water resources in a variety of settings (NALO T1.6–8.b-d; NatGeo 16.8.3.A, 18.8.1.B, 18.8.2.A; Pillars 4–8.1.A, 4–8.1.C, 4–8.1.E-F), including the use of technology (NatGeo 16.8.3.B). They could be able to apply scientific principles and research skills to understand, monitor, and minimize environmental issues within their community and region (NAAEE 5–8.3.1.A; NGSS MS-ESS3–3). Also, they can compare the various challenges associated with the implementation of different strategies (AAAS 4B/M11bc*; NGSS MS-LS2–5).

Standards for grades 9–12 students focus on many of the same dimensions related to water management as in earlier grades. They are expected to continue developing understanding of specific water conservation practices in a variety of domains (NALO T1.9–12.b; Pillars 9–12.1.B), and their trade-offs (AAAS 8A/H3a, 8C/H5). Furthermore, they could develop more complex reasoning about sustainability (NAAEE 9–12.4.A-C; NALO T1.9–12.f), including the different drivers of water-related issues and the implications of different management decisions. In this sense, students go beyond a focus on their community to consider global challenges and ways in which local water-related issues and responses are embedded in broader contexts, including economics (NAAEE 9–12.2.2.D), stakeholders’ perspectives (NAAEE 9–12.2.2.B; Pillars 9–12.1.E-F), politics (NAAEE 9–12.2.2.C), and geography (NatGeo 18.12.1.A). They are expected to explain how access and control over natural resources, including water, have led to different social and political events (NatGeo 13.12.3.B). However, they are also able to observe and describe how different kinds of groups and institutions can organize and promote sustainable options to manage environmental issues (NAAEE 9–12.2.2.A, 9–12.2.3.D; NatGeo 16.12.3.B, 17.12.3.A). Within this framework, high school students continue developing critical thinking and advanced research skills that allow them to understand, investigate, and evaluate the accuracy of information related to water-related issues from local to regional and global scales (NAAEE 9–12.1.A-B, 9–12.1.E-F, 9–12.3.1.A; NGSS HS-ESS3–3). They are also expected to continue developing comprehensive analysis of solutions that can be implemented to reduce human impacts on natural systems, where they can understand contextual, cost-benefit, and technological factors that bring different kinds of constraints and consequences associated with their implementation (NAAEE 9–12.3.1.B-C, 9–12.3.2.C-D; NGSS HS-ESS3–2, 4, HS-ETS1–1, HS-LS2–7). They also recognize their own roles, rights, and responsibilities towards water resources conservation and can evaluate the plausibility of their own participation in these strategies (NAAEE 9–12.3.2.A-B, 9–12.4.A-C).

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