The Potomac Highlands Watershed School 

High School Environmental Forum

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Forum (fo-rum) n. pl. -rums or -ra An assembly, meeting place, program, etc. for the discussion of questions of public interest.

What is the Environmental Forum?

The Potomac Highlands Watershed School's Environmental Forum (eForum) provides a setting for students and teachers to explore regionally important environmental issues in depth.  Students work both as a class and with students across the internet to understand problems and to seek solutions that are broadly acceptable to their communities.

There are currently two eForums:

Oh Deer! eForum - Students investigate ecosystem balance in the context of deer overpopulation.

SCE Forum - Stream Cleaner Environmental Forum - Students investigate the causes of and solutions for non-point source pollution.

Each Forum has two parts:

Part one, available year round, is background reading and investigation guided by the web-based lessons and activities;

Part two, open for 3-4 weeks each Fall and Spring, facilitates a dialogue between participating students so they can address their peers. 

Students will:

  • Explore the science and social dynamics of complicated environmental concerns;

  • Roll play to form stakeholder groups (such as farmers, homeowners, fishermen, etc.) and  develop "point of view" (POV) position papers that are post on the web for other students to investigate;

  • Challenge each others stakeholder POVs within their class and across the internet by asking Thoughtful Questions (TQ) facilitated by a moderator and controlled submission process,

  • Regroup as a class to seek socially and environmentally acceptable solutions to the problem by addressing stakeholder concerns and develop a general consensus that balances the needs of all stakeholder groups.



For Teachers
“This was great!  
This was the hardest school work that I have done in my whole life.”  
2005 Student Participant

How does it work?

We have done our best to include everything a class will need within the E-Forum web pages and to make the instruction inclusive and self explanatory.  All the information required to participate is include on the web page and many links and threads of through are offered to lead students to self discovery.  Use the links at the top of this page to see the current/upcoming Forum, past students' work, our favorite picks.  We are continually developing a teacher suggestion page for ideas on how to enrich the students' experience, meet content standards, and accommodate .  Future Forum pages have all the background reading, links, and information required to participate but the student submissions will not be accepted until the Forum is underway.  We encourage classes to familiarize themselves with the issues and web site prior to the opening date.  The three or four weeks of web-based dialogue between schools should be the culmination of your program.  We hope you will find the information and links of value in a number of science classes.

Who can participate?  Any school with internet ability can participate. 

English  -  Students practicing research skills will find the Forum pages a good starting point; persuasive writing classes can do background reading and make a strong "point of view" statement; journalist students can cover the conversations and consensus building exercises of their class and draft press releases for the local paper and articles for or the school's paper.

Social Studies - The exercise in developing stake holder groups and forming community consensus are fundamental to a democratic society.  Students get first hand experience tackling some of the hot-button environmental issues of the day.  One of the advantages of the web-based forum approach is that students have a regional experience.  While deer migration, and water pollution are not restrained by political boundaries, political actions do have an impact on the problem.  We invite students to study the interplay of federal, state, and local governments and the role citizens plan in forming policy.

Science -  Forums is rich in science learning for environmental science, biology, and chemistry.  The Forums highlights the importance of objective science in the larger social dialogue on solving environmental problems.  Classes are invited to go beyond the web-based bounds of the Forums to initiate their own science projects in what we like to call living laboratories.



What is needed to participate in the on-line program?

Many styles and lessons can be accommodated.  We have created the Environ Forum to be as flexible as possible.  As a minimum to participate in the multi school dialogue a class must be able to commit to three classes (45 minutes or more for each) where students have access to the internet.  In addition the students are expected to do an additional 1-1/2 to 2 hours of background reading and research prior to or during the on-line exchange between schools.  The background research can be done in class or out, see some suggestion below lll).  Both Stream Cleaner Forum and Oh Deer! Forum are available year round as is the rest of PHWS's web site. 

Since the background reading material and links are available at any time and it is possible for individual classes, working off-line, to form stakeholder groups, define their POV, TQ, and consensus exercises.  We have found that students most enjoy challenging their piers across the web so we encourage teachers to schedule class time consecutive with active Forum.



Why should teachers participate?  

Cacapon Institute’s internet-based Environmental Forums provide an opportunity for high school teachers to challenge students to think deeply about complex issues that are relevant to their lives and to their community (and to educational content requirements!) – and to challenge their peers across the internet to do the same.  When everything clicks, the result can be electrifying: 

“I was shocked and amazed to observe the strong stances that many of my students took on their points of views…The most rewarding experience for me was the students’ response at the end of consensus work.  All the students leaned back in their chairs and collapsed with a sense of satisfied accomplishment.” 
Sharon Harman, Ph.D., Petersburg H.S., West Virginia

The E-Forums expose students to real-life issues they will be dealing with as adults, and provides mentors, and guides as roll models.  Both Forums contain links to "Native Guides".  These are real life professionals and experts who environmental work related to the specific issues.  Experts discuss forest ecosystems in Oh Deer, and watershed health in the SCE Forum.  These essays were drafted specifically for the PHWS high school participants.  Cacapon Institute will also help schools locate and contact experts in their location who can participate with the class.  We encourages teachers to reach out to real life experts to visit their class.  The PHWS is designed to offer teachers a chance to engage local environmental issues through a broader regional context.


Why "Oh Deer!"?


When an ecosystem gets out of balance, it can experience a range of problems.  In Oh Deer! Students explore the environmental and societal problems caused by deer overpopulation.  They then seek solutions that might really fix the problem and that their community could find acceptable.  They learn about:

  • The range of problems that can be caused by overabundance of deer, with a lot of links to other websites, but starting with a couple of essays from "native guides" - natural resource professionals.

  • Some methods suggested by state agencies and universities to control the problem,

  • The politics of seeking solutions acceptable to their diverse community.


"Oh Deer!" 2007, is scheduled for October 22nd through November 16th (the three weeks prior to Thanksgiving).  For more information, contact Frank Rodgers via email or call us at 304-856-1385 or register on line lllhere



Why Stream Cleaner Environmental Forum?   

The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure but, after years of pollution, it is in trouble.  Each spring high school classes across the Chesapeake Bay watershed can participate in a regional wide dialogue about the Chesapeake Bay Program and what is being done to reduce non-point source pollution.  This is one of the most complex environmental problems ever to confront the United States - saving the Chesapeake Bay from decades of pollution.  For three weeks each spring you join classmates and students from other schools in exploring one of the most  You will learn about:

  • The science that is used to understand the problems and monitor changes,

  • The “best management practices” that are used to reduce the flow of pollution from our lands to local streams, larger rivers and, eventually, the Bay,

  • The politics of seeking solutions acceptable to our diverse community, and

  • The challenge of fostering widespread public acceptance and implementation of the entirely voluntary land use changes needed to protect our local waters and the Bay. 

Your challenge as a class will be to propose a solution that really cleans your waters and that your community would find acceptable.


Sign up now for SCE Forum 2007! etc. lll




For Watershed or Environmental Associations


We encourage interested parties to recruit classes and act as mentors on the importance of good stewardship.  We have more suggestions for participation lllhere.


The Environmental Forum provides an opportunity for tributary teams, watershed groups, and environmental "clubs" of all kinds to engage their local schools in the challenge of solving environmental problems.  The Forum provides a structure for students to roll-play as citizens addressing the social and scientific realities of real life environmental problems.  Stake holder identification and consensus building are at the heart of the solution to many problems. 

Stream Cleaner:  For watershed enthusiasts, natural resource agencies, municipal planners, and civic leader dealing with non-point source pollution the SCE Forum offers a format to introduce local issues in a broader context.  New for 2007, thanks in large part to a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, participating schools can apply for technical and financial support to design and implement best management practice demonstration projects.  This could mean real-world resources for a BMP installation in your watershed!  


Oh Deer!:  For environmentalists and natural resource agencies of many backgrounds Oh Deer! offers an introduction to the importance of retaining, or restoring, ecosystem balance.


For Individuals


Watershed leaders and environmentalists should reach out to students to teach stewardship.  Adult mentors lend a real-world sense of importance to classroom learning."  Laura O'Leary, North Harford H.S., MD


We encourage individuals to encourage their local school to participate in the E-Forums.  So if your a student, concerned citizen, feel you have environmental expertise, or are just plain passionate about your role as a steward of nature we need your help!  We have more suggestions for your participation lllhere.

  • Pass this information on to a teacher at your local high school.

  • Offer to help a teacher during the stakeholder and consensus building process.  lllsuggestions here.

  • Act as a mentor, visit the class to demonstrate how the environment is important to you.

  • Be a "Native Guide" - Cacapon Institute is always looking for feed back and input by experts that would improve the Potomac Highlands Watershed School.  If you have something important you want to say to the students that will enhance the Environmental Forum we want to hear from you.


Sign Up Now For PHWS's Environmental Forum!


* We strongly encourage teachers to incorporate Forum content into their lessons well before the Forum "officially" begins on March 5th.  Students will benefit from advance exposure to key subject matter found on the Forum's home page.


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When you talk about pollution that impacts the Chesapeake Bay, or really any body of water, watersheds matter much more than political boundaries.  Eight major sub-watersheds deliver water to the Bay.  Do you know which one you live in?  

Comments or Questions:



If you have trouble using this form, you can email your registration to Cacapon Institute.



The Potomac Highlands Watershed School is supported by the MARPAT Foundation, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Spring Creek Foundation, the USEPA, and the members of Cacapon Institute.

Cacapon Institute - From the Cacapon to the Potomac to the Chesapeake Bay, we protect rivers and watersheds using science and education.

Cacapon Institute
PO Box 68
High View, WV 26808
304-856-1385 (tele)
304-856-1386 (fax)
Click here to send us an email
W. Neil Gillies, Executive Director
Frank Rodgers, Education/Outreach