Project analysis: Water We Doing

Project analysis: Water We Doing

Project overview

Poor sanitation in the Dharavi slum, Mumbai, India.
Poor sanitation in the Dharavi slum, Mumbai, India.

We know that the modern world faces many issues and challenges from climate change and unsustainable resource exploitation to widening inequality within Britain and globally.  I believe that students need to have a new type of knowledge that will enable them to have a high level of wellbeing. They also should have a knowledge that allows them to contribute to the wellbeing of the planet.  Keri Facer’s work in particular is worth reading when designing a modern contemporary curriculum.

Global inequality is the focus of our ‘Water We Doing’ project, a joint curriculum adventure between Geography and Chemistry teachers.  I want to discuss in this blog how in our own small way we are thinking about what Keri Facer calls ‘future building’ and for students to have an ‘educated optimism’ about important 21st century challenges.  I would like students to think deeply about current issues and think critically about the best ways to address these issues.  This blog will address how teachers designed a project that explored cross-disciplinary knowledge to address the issue of abject poverty in the Dharavi slum, Mumbai.  The issue of water quality in particular was explored alongside other challenges that are interconnected.  The blog will also discuss the use of technology to enhance learning and the importance of ‘project based learning’ as a method that potentially allows students to be the critical thinkers that are required to address global inequalities and other contemporary global issues.

The project was carried out with year 8 over a period of 6 weeks in Chemistry lessons and 8 weeks of Geography lessons. Although this was longer than anticipated, it is important for the curriculum to be flexible to allow students to produce high quality work.  The project will be extended beyond the 8 weeks in Geography lessons as students move on to study another ‘case study’ of poverty of their own choice resulting in the production of a comparative essay.  For high quality work this will take several drafts and revisions supported by google docs.  There is a cross over of knowledge and skills between the two disciplines.  Without the background knowledge of the slum, the Chemistry work would not be authenticated.  Also through hypothesis testing and report writing within both subjects we have students engaging with domain specific pragmatic rehearsal.  There are also obvious aspects of literacy and numeracy being developed through this project. This exemplifies a ‘connected-curriculum’, developing discipline cores while facilitating personalised pathways and trans-disciplinarity.

The project was launched in Geography lessons initially through image analysis and video analysis.  The image analysis task is explained here

Kevin Mcleod’s ‘Slumming It’ proved an engaging way into the topic.  We also showed a scene from ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ before this.  It showed clearly the conditions in the slum and teachers were able to draw out the issues around contaminated water and poor sanitation.

Teachers pedagogical content knowledge can really come into action in a questioning session and support the authenticity of the task.  One example of this is linking diseases common in the slum with students own lives.  Why don’t we get those sorts of disease in the UK?  Good questioning allows students to link higher life expectancy in the UK to vaccinations (not injections as students like to call them) that they had as they were growing up.

Students were given a masterclass about statistics as part of the directed learning about the Dharavi slum.  Consequently, they had a knowledge of statistics for India and the UK such as Life expectancy, GDP per capita, literacy rate and fertility rates for example.  Discussion and high quality questioning allowed for students to draw this knowledge together and use statistics to explain the conditions in the slum.  They were also introduced to ‘gapminder’ as an interesting way of looking at statistics developing (and in most cases beginning) learning about scatter graphs and correlations.

Metacognition has been thought about during the planning and delivery of the project.  SOLO hexagons were used to help students make the connections between concepts and also to space their practice and deepen their understanding.  The ‘learning set’ a group of 6 students, were given up to 30 different concepts to try to cluster and tessellate.  This deepened their connections between concepts and allowed recall of concepts such as sanitation, contaminated water and disease such as cholera and typhoid.

Low stakes testing of concepts were used regularly to enable students to space their practice and to interleave knowledge from previous topics.  They are also a good measure of progress within a project for example using multiple choice tests at intervals during the project.  The ‘multiplier effect’ is an example of a concept from a previous topic that was interleaved into this one.  Students had learned this concept on a previous project about ecotourism.  They were able to apply this concept to the benefits of recycling and jobs in the slum.

Problem solving & enquiry

Student designed water filtration device
Student designed water filtration device

water image

In Chemistry lessons students undertook three weeks of knowledge based lessons about atom, elements, compounds and mixtures. The focus during these sessions was to get students comfortable with using different keywords and being able to visualise how different substances look at the particle level. Practicals, assessments and regular feedback on the correct application of these keywords and use of particle diagrams.

After three weeks of knowledge based lessons, the main ‘Water we Doing’ title was introduced. Specific students from each learning set were assigned to investigate a specific method for filtering and purifying water, students were assigned based on the initial complexity of filtering and purifying. The four methods were: distillation chamber, evaporating and filters. During the next lesson, students evaluated the methods they were using and reported the findings back to the learning set. From here on lessons were focused on preparing a method, trialing, evaluating and producing a new method to trial. To ensure that the evaluation of knowledge and its dissemination to the learning was valuable and consistent discussion templates and class dialogue was used to get ideas flowing around the room.

To demonstrate progress through this topic a variety of strategies were used. Firstly to address pupils own awareness of their role in the group and how they can contribute, peer assessments with respect to contribution were prepared. Secondly, the use of weekly evaluation homeworks where students were tasked with evaluating their groups work throughout the week and independently evaluate how they would alter and improve their method. Progress was demonstrated by students being able to discuss how their method altered over time in response to new data (Ref images above for example – cloudy to clear water).

In Geography lessons students would have a debate about the future of the slum.  For a home learning activity, students were expected to read and annotate an article.  A masterclass was deliver prior to this on how to annotate effectively, i.e. not highlighting and aimed at picking out key ideas.  The students would then be prepared for a socratic seminar the following lesson.  This worked well, despite this being the first time students had done the activity.  Students would have a wider knowledge and understanding of poverty in the slum and be able to debate the importance of the slum and evaluate if the large scale redevelopment of the slum was a good idea.

Projects do not mean fun unstructured learning.  We are still pragmatic with the fact students sit exams in future. Pragmatic rehearsal is preparing for GCSE and being literate and getting good qualifications.  Students completed a 40 minute timed essay answering the question ‘Can poverty be eradicated in the Dharavi slum?’.  They were able to discuss the cause and effect of abject poverty.  Because of regular testing and making the deep connections between Chemistry and Geography, every student produced a well written piece.  Progress was demonstrated through the range of connected concepts students were clearly able to discuss.  Most were also able to evaluate the methods of redeveloping the slum versus smaller scale improvements such as methods to improve sanitation.

Dharavi - Asia's Largest Slum

Assessment & measuring progress

Students are able to track their progress against ‘I can’ statements throughout the project on the grade card for Geography. Rubrics were also designed and shared on the google classroom for students to refer to.  These would be used in gallery critique and in depth critique sessions.

We now have a set of models that can be used again for critique sessions and next time the project is carried out the quality of work should be even higher.  Some work in progress can be seen below.  Students have been working collaboratively as a learning set, using google docs to create and share work.

Grade card 'Water we doing'
Grade card ‘Water we doing’
Essay rubric
Essay rubric
Rubric 'Water We Doing'
Display rubric ‘Water We Doing’


The most important aspect of a project is the exhibition.  The aim is to exhibit the final display pieces at an external location (possibly UCL) so that external experts, parents and university students can judge the quality of the work.  From the first minute of the first lesson students were aware of working towards producing a display that highlights how water quality in the slum could be improved.  In future we need to make sure the exhibition idea and location is disseminated to the students from the outset of the project.  Stay tuned for exhibition photos!

Works in progress…..

Student display explaining their hypothesis and how to solve the problem of contaminated water in Dharavi
Student display explaining their hypothesis and how to solve the problem of contaminated water in Dharavi



To see one SEN student in particular complete a wonderful piece of extended writing in his Geography lesson for the 40 minute timed essay for me was the highlight of this project.  The planning for meta-cognition and the engagement this student has shown in the topic has definitely had an impact.  A further look at student work will enable us to evaluate the project further.

However, the project still feels restricted by the system parameters that students and teachers have to work within.  We want to use the schools unique spaces further for a new kind of collaboration and pedagogy to thrive.  The project could further be supported by having a timetable that fits with this form of pedagogy.  A fluid and flexible timetable that allows teachers across disciplines to work closely together.  Students working without the boundaries of age or classroom walls is a vision.  It would be ideal for Geography and Chemistry teachers to be team teaching.  The Geography experts constantly asking the ‘why’ and Chemistry teachers the ‘how’ of eradicating contaminated water in the slum.  Although the connections are clear and deepen the learning, by teaching together those connections can be enhanced.

There is potential for the project to be extended.  Perhaps making actual connections with students and experts in India and the slum through skype could be an option.  We would like to connect more with our partners at UCL to provide input e.g. through critique or masterclasses/lectures about the issues being learned.  A project where different generations are working together to solve a real problem.  Students could also potentially study and create engineering solutions to poor sanitation that could physically be tested.  There is also scope to extend the project into a true learning expedition by finding a local water source and analysing the water quality but perhaps this could be saved for a future project.

Comments and suggestions on how this project could be revised, improved and scaled up are welcomed.


The unit was planned by myself a Geographer and Chemistry teacher Matt Kizintas.  Thanks to Loni Bergqivist for her superb and inspiring introduction to REAL projects.  Thanks to co-writer of this blog from a Chemistry perspective, Henry Ward.  Thanks to Rob Gratton for edit and opinions/thoughts as always.

6 thoughts on “Project analysis: Water We Doing

  1. This is thorough, very interesting and clearly has huge potential as a project. The correlations between geography and science are clear and valid. Have you thought about talking to the local water board about how they make water drinkable in London? A trip to a plant and to get them in to view and assess the validity of the work would be an interesting addition to the project. Look forward to seeing the final exhibition. This is really exciting work that matters!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting Pete. In keen for more expeditionary learning. Comparing local water quality with that in the slum would be interesting.

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