Dartmouth Montshire Institute for Science Education
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Environmental Detectives

A Middle School Environmental Chemistry Curriculum

This project engaged 6th-8th grade students with participatory experiences in environmental science with a concentration on the behavior of chemicals in the environment. Placed in the role of problem solving "detectives," students developed an enthusiasm for environmental science and gained an appreciation for the complexity of understanding environmental issues. Museum-based science educators, collaborating with Dartmouth research scientists, created this intensive, multi-week sequence of environmental investigations and piloted the activities with rural New Hampshire and Vermont schools. Professional development opportunities for participating teachers were provided as an integral component. Dr. Folt and her research colleagues were actively engaged in supporting the teacher professional component including curriculum development and participating in classroom activities.

The proposed program was designed to fulfill three educational aims:

  • Create a middle school environment (both physical and intellectual) in which students gain knowledge about the fate and transport of chemicals in the environment through their own hands-on, self-directed activity; provide an experience through which students' appreciation for the experimental process is as stimulating as the knowledge itself.

  • Create experiences that make environmental science relevant to students' own communities.

  • Begin introducing, as a precursor to their future academic work, how interrelationships between multiple disciplines contribute to a successful understanding of the environment and how the environment is impacted by human activity.

A five-year evolutionary process provided time to develop the program, refine it through several iterations of classroom use, and using formative evaluation to guide the process. Dr. Cindy Char, of Char Associates, provided formative evaluation during the mid-phase of the project (see below for the Char reports). Although the project was completed in 2005, Montshire continues to support the Environmental Detectives program in several schools.

Project principals:

Scientific P.I.: Carol Folt
Dean of Faculty and Professor of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College

Educational Programming: Gregory DeFrancis
Director of Education, Montshire Museum of Science

Educational Programming: Rachel Donegan
Science Educator, Montshire Museum

Project dates:

4/1/00 - 3/31/05

Project funding:

Primary Funding:
Grant Source: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Grant Recipient: Center for Environmental Health Sciences at Dartmouth

Additional Funding:
Grant Source: National Science Foundation
Grant Recipient: Guerinot, Dartmouth College

Project outreach budget:

$486,000 over five years


Reports by Dr. Cindy Char, of Char Associates, which provided formative evaluation during the mid-phase of the project
Year 2 Evaluation [pdf]
Year 3 Evaluation [pdf]

For project information, contact any of the project principals.


Dartmouth-Montshire Institute for Science Education