To gain an international perspective for her template, Khourey-Bowers, associate professor in the School of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies at Kent State University at Stark, reached out to Kent State University's College of Education International Office. Her initiative resulted in a connection with the International Hydrological Program at the Paris, France headquarters of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
Drawing from the expertise of Dr. Miguel Doria, UNESCO's assistant program director of water education, Khourey-Bowers developed what is becoming recognized as a cutting-edge curriculum template adaptable for classrooms of all levels and geographic locations. Built on place-based learning, the template provides a project-based model where teachers assist students in finding a water issue close to home, empower them to take action and then build from their experiences. "The power of the template is that because students are discovering the issues that exist around them, they care about finding a solution. When that happens, true learning takes place and further action is inspired," says Khourey-Bowers.
Through funding from UNESCO, Khourey-Bowers participated in an eight-day educational mission to Bamako, Mali, which, despite its close proximity to the Niger River, often experiences water shortages and concerns with water quality. The traditional practice of cloth dying in Mali involves using mud to color the fabric, then rinsing it in the river. Because "mud cloth" fades quickly, the native women have recently begun using artificial pigments, which is causing the Niger â€” the fourth largest river in Africa and main source of transportation, drinking water and commercial fishing â€” to become polluted.
While in Bamako, Khourey-Bowers met with education leaders and water specialists about modifying the curriculum template for a program at the University of Mali, with the goal of equipping teachers to use classroom instruction to address local water issues, such as the pollution of the Niger River. Khourey-Bowers notes that, "A challenge with implementing a program in a developing country like Mali is money. You can't throw money at a problem and hope it goes away, but if you have a template for educating people on how to take action, money can make a big difference."
In addition to her mission to Mali, Khourey-Bowers also presented a paper at the UNESCO-IHE North America and Europe Water Education Forum, held at the Institute for Water Education in Delft, The Netherlands. There, she gained valuable feedback on her template and networked with educators eager to share strategies on teaching about water issues in the classroom.
Khourey-Bowers' experiences abroad helped her create a polished template, which she now uses in her own middle childhood education classes at Kent State Stark. Her students have worked on projects involving the effects of urbanization on Stark County landfills, the Nimishillen Creek Watershed and Sippo Lake. Students are required to develop action plans and Khourey-Bowers finds that it is not difficult to get students to act on those plans. "If you want to change people's practices, you have to make people care. Students have a vested interest in these issues because they are in their backyard."
In the summer of 2010, funded by Kent State Stark's Herbert W. Hoover Foundation Initiative in Environmental Media, Khourey-Bowers collaborated with the Stark County park district and three local school districts to create a water sustainability curriculum. Teachers are now using it in classrooms at Pfeiffer Elementary School in Perry, Minerva Elementary and East Canton Middle School.
The greatest challenge she has faced is breaking the paradigm with a new, progressive model for teaching on these topics. "Whenever something is cutting-edge, it's not always appreciated," she says. "Of course, the project was challenging because I was working primarily with people overseas, which brings cultural, language and time differences. But the greatest challenge is getting people to understand the significance of teaching on these topics from a scientific, cultural and social perspective. Once they understand that a quarter of the world's population doesn't have access to fresh water, they begin to see the immediacy and importance of the concern."
Khourey-Bowers is currently working on another curriculum document with multiple sectors of UNESCO and her long-term plans include visits to South Africa and Jordan.More than anything, Khourey-Bowers hopes that her research will help students care about what they are learning, and care about the needs of people domestically and internationally, as well as the people of the future. "This is not an academic issue, this is real-world. We're helping people to think about others more than ourselves and doing it in a very valuable, tangible way."