Subscribe to The Horn Book

Science units on watershed

The Frog ScientistLast month I had an email exchange with Molly Bang who wanted to know whether any teachers were using Pamela Turner’s excellent book The Frog Scientist to explore the herbicide atrazine and watershed issues. Everyone who knows Molly’s recent books is aware that she is concerned about environmental issues. I love that this concern goes well beyond her own books. She emailed me about this particular issue after reading this New Yorker article about Dr. Tyrone Hayes, the subject of The Frog Scientist.

I know a teacher in central Massachusetts who does a watershed unit with a combined 4th-5th grade class, and I’m hoping she will tell us more about that unit in the comments below. Pamela Turner, responding to Molly’s email, said she thought watershed issues might come up in middle school and high school science classes. She also mentioned that some recent blog posts have been critical of Dr. Hayes’s work, adding that Syngenta (the company that makes atrazine) has had to admit that they pay journalists to write pieces that discredit him.

What a mess! So the question is, are any of you tackling this in your classrooms? Do you use The Frog Scientist and/or other trade books?

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. Lolly, you’re right, I have lots to say, and love all the ways Molly Bang has helped teachers connect with kids. But you’ve caught me during some time with my youngest grandson, Zen, who is trying to help type! I’ll come back soon.

    Tangentially—went and found Dave the Potter and love it so much—

  2. This is the first time I have come across this book, but I will be getting a copy on loan from my library system as soon as possible.

    I have used another recent science-themed book with great success – an Australian title THE FLIGHT OF THE HONEY BEES.

  3. I’ve written about my students’ work focused on watersheds in two entries on my blog for which I’ve put links below. The entries mostly describe work that began with each student following the pond or trickle closest to their house, following it downhill, step by step, to see how that water reaches the ocean, and what other water it joins. Kids did this partly walking and exploring, partly by car with their parents’ help, partly by map in class, and partly using computer resources. Wild fun, all of it, with important ideas that emerged as kids worked together.

    Here’s something not in either entry. After making model watersheds in dishpans and the sandbox, we did a simulation of tributaries joining up to form the Blackstone, with kids representing the various smaller rivers and brooks on a rough map we’d made on the playground. As we were finishing up, a kid yelled, “I get it! It’s all happening at once and it all comes together!” Some version of that, at various levels of sophistication, is a crucial part of what kids can get out of watershed studies, in my experience. A sense of watershed as connection, leading to a sense of shared responsibility.

    These were interdisciplinary thematic units, part science, part geography, part history and civics, part reading and writing. I haven’t written enough, yet, about the local organizations that gave us support. I also haven’t specifically focused on books we used. Lots of them. Older students within my class, which included 10, 11, and 12-year-olds, often chose to read Nobody Particular, Molly Bang’s amazing book about Diane Wilson, and her fight to save the waters in which her family had fished shrimp for generations.

    Here are the links to the blog entries. (If they don’t work, you can go to and search for chasing the river.)

  4. A follow-up: the best book I know about historical watershed deterioration is a book from Australia. (Interesting that both Sam and I are recommending Australian books.) It’s called My Place, written by Nadia Wheatley and illustrated by Donna Rawlins. It’s the most engaging thematic-unit-inside-one-book that I know of, with the watershed history just a part of it–but Nadia Wheatley and Molly Bang have a lot in common in what they want to help children understand better. My blog entries about My Place are focused partly on place based education, with a nod to David Sobel, who has written about that so well.

  5. Lolly, thanks for the post, and Molly, thanks for bringing up THE FROG SCIENTIST! If any teachers out there doing water units are interested, there are several teachers’ guides for THE FROG SCIENTIST on my website ( under the “For Teachers” tab.

  6. I love this book, and so many of the science books in this series! Those of us who write science and nonfiction for young people hope that our books are helpful to teachers incorporating these subjects into the core curriculum. Many nonfiction books have teacher guides and questions to steer readers down thought-provoking paths.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind