Italian Schools Commit to Raising Awareness on Clean Water & Sanitation

We might often think about the environmental impact of our consumption choices – but have you ever considered the repercussions of your water use and water drinking habits? Water is the most basic item to human survival, yet discussing the sustainability of water and sanitation systems isn’t always a priority in science classes and schools.

To increase students’ scientific understanding of water management and its historic uses, our partner Iren, through its educational division Eduiren and in cooperation with the Italian upper secondary school Blaise Pascal, is engaging schools and communities in a set of interdisciplinary open schooling activities. Read on and be inspired by their teaching and learning journey!

Water management and the chemical parameters of water

The chemistry teachers of the Blaise Pascal school introduced the topic of water quality to 52 4th-grade students (17-18 years old) in March 2022, proposing an activity to analyse the hardness of the water distributed in the Reggio Emilia province.

This was followed by the debate “Tap Water vs Bottled Water” in April, organized by the school with Eduiren experts, including a discussion and brainstorming on the quality aspects of different types of water and the environmental impact of our consumption habits. A technical visit to the local water supply system reservoir and water tower followed, giving students insight into real-world water supply facilities and integrated water management processes.

Students were then involved in the authentic learning group task “Your home/school water”, including the evaluation of a water analysis certificate, with assessment and critical considerations on the characteristics of specific tap waters (hardness, pH, nitrogenous compounds). An online presentation was held on the task results with the support of experts from the Iren analytical laboratory. On the same day, the experts assisted the students in analysing nitrogenous compounds in wastewater samples, using spectrophotometric methods to measure the concentration of chemicals in wastewater. In sequence, a visit to the laboratory at Iren premises took place in May.

At the end of April, a presentation on sewage networks and treatment systems, with a focus on the recovery and reuse of discharge water and sludge, was made by Iren technicians during a visit to the Mancasale wastewater treatment plants.

These activities prepared the ground for a water blind tasting session with students and their families. The aim was to work out their views on water quality and discuss water drinking patterns. Perceptions at the tasting experience were compared to the results of analytical tests on several types of drinking water, allowing participants to debunk myths and fake news regarding water quality and taste. The activity showed that many beliefs are related to preconceived ideas rather than to actual experiences or product characteristics.

At the end of the school year, four students were selected for two-week placements which took place at the Iren analytical laboratory, allowing them to acquire practical knowledge and skills on water management.

Il Mondo dell’Acqua (The Water World) – Project 2.0

Taking students’ knowledge further, a new Teaching and Learning Sequence (TLS) has been designed on the basis of the training path carried out in the previous school year. The new TLS is addressed to 42 4th-grade students of the Blaise Pascal Applied Science upper secondary school.  

In November, the now 5th-graders made a presentation of the activities developed and the knowledge acquired in the project to 4th-graders. After an assessment of the experience made in Spring, the latter organised a water blind tasting in December within an “Open Schools” event, collecting data on water perception and knowledge from 150 lower secondary school students and parents. A third blind tasting session is scheduled for January 2023.

Between November 2022 and January 2023, in cooperation of Eduiren, all the steps of the training project have been “upgraded” to reflect learnings from the first learning phase and scheduled for further implementation.

An ancient water system from the Middle Ages

To complement their learnings with interdisciplinary knowledge, the students have undertaken a history research project on the Secchia Channel (Canale di Secchia) of the Reggio Emilia area. Dating back to the Middle Ages, the channel was the first water system in town: it provided water for domestic use and irrigation, collected urban sewage from homes and factories, operated mill wheels serving millstones, textile workshops and other craft and proto-industrial facilities. The project was also important to raise awareness of the impact of technological progress on everyday life and on health and hygiene improvements brought about by the advent of drinking and wastewater treatment processes.

Italian and art history teachers divided the students into groups, engaged in different assignments. Beginning in November, they studied ancient maps of the channel (from the 17th to the 19th century), and collected information on the channel’s path, water uses and different locations. They also took pictures of statues, historical artefacts and sections of the channel, comparing ancient charts with maps of the modern distribution and sewage networks.

The next step, scheduled for January 2023, is to visit the State Archives of Reggio Emilia to complete the study and collect documentation on the “Botte Meravigliosa”, a barrel-vault section of the Secchia Channel, which will be the subject of an exhibition.