To date, limited research has been done on the implementation of experiential learning among elementary school students. The current mixed-methods study examines the capacity of elementary science students to develop water literacy through the application of an experiential learning framework. From 2016–2017, two sections of 6th-grade science students (n
= 56) from a gifted and talented school in Queens, NY, were introduced to an experiential-based water curriculum designed to meet the needs of elementary science standards through the use of authentic learning environments, physical and conceptual modeling, and systems thinking. Multiple research instruments were used as formative and summative assessments to determine baseline understanding and quantify the consequences of student learning: pre- and post-tests and pre- and post-drawing assessments, science notebooks, field journals, reflections, and observations. After participation in the experiential water unit, most students increased their conceptual understanding of water cycle components and processes from surface to groundwater, physical properties of matter, and hydrogeological concepts of permeability and porosity. Systems thinking skills progressed over the unit from structural thinking to dynamic thinking. Implications of this study indicate that the experiential learning framework is an effective pedagogical tool for elementary science students to develop water literacy and science and engineering practices.
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