Water pollution in Zirahuen Lake (Michoacan, Mexico) (2016-10)

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Jun 26, 2017
Ana Yesica Martinez Villalba and Cynthia Armendariz Arnez

This case study is designed for higher education. We propose a time frame of eight sessions. During the first session, students are faced with a “Hook” dynamic, where they are given a situation in which a child from a specific community gets sick. Based on the symptoms, they must research which disease the child has. In the second session they are exposed to a general panorama of how environmental problems can be understood through the complex systems theory. In the third session they are asked to make a basic characterization of the social subsystem, and in the fourth session they must identify and present what are the possible interactions between different actors involved in the socio-environmental problem of Zirahuen Lake. In the fifth session they must carry out a characterization of the physical and chemical system, and study how the use of environmental spheres allows us to contextualize matter and energy flows promote the generation of waste that can then affect the surrounding environment. During the sixth session, the students identify the physicochemical parameters that determine the quality of different types of water. In the seventh session they integrate both characterizations (social and physicochemical) to identify and describe the socio-environmental problem found in Zirahuen Lake, and the importance of undertaking environmental problems as complex systems with defined structures and functions as well as positive and negative feedback loops that may or may not keep them in a state of dynamic equilibrium.

Students must have basic chemistry and social sciences knowledge to participate in this experience. We employ the framework on complexity and multidiscipline proposed by Rolando García et al. (2000) to approach environmental problems.

Estimated time frame: 
A few class periods or Units within course (i.e. multiple weeks)
SES learning goals: 
  • Co-develop research questions and conceptual models in inter- or trans-disciplinary teams
  • Consider the importance of scale and context in addressing socio-environmental problems
Has this been tested in the class room: 
Course and class size: 
Social Sciences Introduction and Environmental Chemistry
Does this case have an answer key: 
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