Tap Water Tour comes to Flint

Jan 11, 2002

For most people, turning on the tap in the kitchen or bathroom is so basic it is taken for granted.

Tap Water Tour comes to Flint

For most people, turning on the tap in the kitchen or bathroom is so basic it is taken for granted. Water, we presume, is a necessary, renewable resource used simply for cooking, drinking, washing and brushing our teeth.

But for more than 100 fourth and fifth grade students at Flint's Durant Tuuri- Mott Elementary School, the composition of water has taken on a significance they were unaware of before the Tap Water Tour at Kettering last week.

The Tap Water Tour, which is funded through a $19,000 Convergence Grant to Durant Tuuri-Mott, is a program that gives young students an opportunity to discover drinking water. They do that by engaging in basic water test experiments in one of Kettering's Chemistry labs with Chemistry Professor and Discipline Chair Robert McAllister and engineers from General Motors.

Students receive a test kit that contains the same tablets used by professional water analysts to determine the composition of water. In addition, they learn how to test water using the various water tablets and a chance to work in a sophisticated chemistry laboratory at a prestigious technological university. But perhaps the most important aspect of this program is the increased interest and awareness in science and chemistry that the program develops among youth.

"These kids get a chance to perform a variety of basic water tests, like pH testing, chlorine testing, and hard water testing, all of which are easy for them to conduct with supervision and yield immediate reactions," said Derek Wilber, a science teacher at Durant Tuuri-Mott and one of the program leaders. "It's great because these kids get hands-on experience with science and chemistry, which makes them interested because it's fun to conduct the tests. Plus, they get a chance to work with Dr. McAllister and several GM engineers, professionals who work in laboratory settings during their careers and enjoy helping students learn more about chemistry and science." Wilber noted that students often express a desire to go through the program again after they complete it.

Wilber is just one of several innovative local teachers and professionals who help conduct this program each year. Teacher Technician Jean Merkle and teachers Amy Windle, Jennifer Purman and Sue Hemmila also participate along with GM engineers Marv Asbury, Kevin Jones, Stacey Fejes, Keith Wilson and Dave Russel. McAllister, who has taught at Kettering for more than 25 years, contributes time every year to the program to help young people develop an interest in chemistry and science. All agree this kind of opportunity gives students a chance to see the fun and excitement in the study of science by conducting basic chemical tests on something they use every day of their life.

"It's great to help these kids learn something fascinating about the water they drink," explained Marv Asbury who, like the other GM engineers participating in the program, works at the GM NA Plant in Flint.

But for students, the tests are more fun than homework. "It's lots of fun, because we get to do different kinds of experiments on the water and learn a lot about it," said fourth grader Jacob Neeley.

Student Keyairis Thompson agrees. "I like seeing the water change and watching the experiments," he said.

And for "Doc Mac," the interest he observes among students is inspiring. "I've been conducting this program for several years and it really makes me feel good to help get these kids interested in chemistry and science," he said. "I think one of the best parts of this program includes the chance to build the desire among students to go to college and study these fields. It's very important to me that they do go on to college, and I think theTap Water Tour helps point them in that direction."

Students who complete the program receive a grab bag of goodies, compliments of Kettering. Included in this bag are a sack of candy, pencils and pens with Kettering's name on them, and a notebook. But themost important gift they leave Kettering with is the chance to learn how science and chemistry touches everything in life, including the most basic of human necessities: water.

To learn more about the Tap Water Tour, contact Kettering's Science and Mathematics Dept. at (810) 762-7912, or visit the Kettering web site at www.kettering.edu.

Written by Gary J. Erwin
(810) 762-9538

Jean Merkle (in blue), a teacher technician at Durant Tuuri-Mott, works withstudent scientists as they conduct their water tests.

A student studies his test bag for color changes in water.