What is a MWEE?

Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEEs) are learner-centered experiences that focus on investigations into local environmental issues that lead to informed action and civic engagement. Teachers play an important role in presenting unbiased information and assisting students with their research and exploration. Four essential elements and four supporting practices build upon each other to create this comprehensive learning experience for students.

“Part of the beauty of MWEEs is that they are not something extra but are, indeed, a means of enriching lessons for deeper student learning while strengthening local and national academic standards.”

— Donna Balado, Maryland State Department of Education

Essential Elements

The MWEE consists of four essential elements that describe “what students do.” These elements promote a learner-centered approach that emphasizes the role of the student in actively constructing meaning from the learning experiences. Throughout the process students have time for reflection, allowing them to refocus on how what they are learning and experiencing affects the driving question.

Students working in the classroom

Issue Definition

Students focus on a driving question that addresses a locally relevant environmental issue, problem, or phenomenon requiring background research and investigation. Students learn more about the issue through classroom instruction and by making observations, collecting data, conducting experiments, talking to experts, and reviewing credible publications. They also reflect on personal and public values and perspectives related to the issue.

Student learning about water quality

Outdoor Field Experiences

Students participate in one or more outdoor field experiences sufficient to investigate the issue, problem, or phenomenon. Investigations may involve making observations, collecting data, and/or conducting other activities required for answering their questions and informing student actions. To the extent possible and within appropriate safety guidelines, students are actively involved in planning the inquiry that occurs during the outdoor field experience(s). These experiences can take place off-site and on the school grounds.

Students studying the different sea grasses

Synthesis and Conclusions

Students identify, synthesize, and apply evidence from their investigations to draw conclusions and make claims about the issue, problem, or phenomenon. Students communicate these conclusions and claims to internal and external audiences in venues that may range from the school classroom to the larger public community.

Students catching critters in a muddy woodlands

Action Projects

Students identify, explore, and implement solutions for action. The solutions address conclusions and claims drawn through investigation. Students reflect on the action and determine the extent to which the action successfully addressed the problem, challenge, or phenomenon reflected in the claim. Students may also share proposals for sustaining or extending the action.

Supporting Practices

The MWEE also includes four supporting practices that describe “what teachers do” to ensure success.

Students at Lititz Run learning about water quality

Active Teacher Support

MWEEs depend on teacher facilitation and ongoing support of student learning. Teachers ensure that the essential elements of the MWEE come together to support academic goals for learning while creating opportunities for students to take active roles in their learning.

Student taking notes outside

Classroom Integration

MWEEs are anchored to curriculum standards and support formal goals for learning and student achievement. They provide authentic, engaging opportunities for interdisciplinary learning that crosses traditional boundaries between disciplines. Some portions of the experience, such as the outdoor field experiences, may occur off school grounds and/or be facilitated in partnership with external providers, however, the MWEE is integrated into the scope and sequence of the academic program.

Student planting a tiny plant

Local Context

MWEEs occur within a local context (i.e. schoolyard, neighborhood, town, or community) in order to establish the life-relevancy of the issue, problem, or phenomenon being studied. Situating the MWEE within local contexts enables students and teachers to explore how individual and collective decisions affect their immediate surroundings and how their immediate surroundings affect the larger environment.

Students walking on a dock

Sustained Activity

MWEEs represent sustained activity that engages students from beginning to end. Though a field experience may occur on one day, the total duration leading up to and following the experience involves a variety of rich learning opportunities spread over the course of a unit or multiple units. Experiences such as tours, gallery visits, simulations, demonstrations, or nature walks may be instructionally useful, but alone do not constitute a MWEE.