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Grasping the concept of virtual water

Concomitant research to the exhibition project:

Grasping the concept of virtual water


Problem Situation


On average each person in Germany daily uses 12 liters. However, this value does not sufficiently represent the water consumption caused by our lifestyle. To do so one would have to incorporate additional water volumes that evaporate and are used or contaminated during production of the products we use on a daily basis (Haffer, Sprenger, & Kremer, 2014; Kremer & Arnold, 2013). Taking these hidden volumes of so called „virtual water“ into consideration, we reach a daily consumption of about 3900 liters per capita. In our globalized economy the process of consumer good production and therefore of water consumption does not automatically takes place in the country of consumption. Statistically, 69 % of a German’s water consumption takes place abroad, frequently in countries characterized by water scarcity.


Project Goals


The project used the example of virtual water to develop and evaluate new ways of imparting knowledge and opportunities for acting on sustainability. An interdisciplinary hands-on exhibition was developed funded by the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (DBU) and in cooperation with the Mathematikum Science Center Gießen. The exhibition provides factual information, objects and hands-on experiments.

Themed "Ich sehe Was(ser), was du nicht siehst – Grasping virtual water" the exhibition explains the generation of the large numbers of virtual water consumption and where they are formed in global and regional coherences in a positive manner. Visitors are invited to investigate and reflect on virtual water and to discover small ways to reduce a lot of virtual water in their daily lives. The interactive experiments stimulate students of a lower secondary level to „grasp“ the complexity of the topic.




The effectiveness of the exhibition concerning the imparting of sustainability knowledge and action is currently investigated using different research approaches. First, visitors report a personal appreciation of their knowledge gain and action disposition in questionnaires. Second, think-aloud-sceneries about the exhibition topics are video-taped and analyzed for the substantial understanding and improvement of sustainability learning by an innovative hands-on approach.



Learning materials for subject-comprehensive science education


The relationship between our daily consumption and the global economical, ecological and social outcomes of water scarcity is a complex topic affecting both natural and social science school subjects. Only when coherent educational actions are achieved can school learning adequately promote sustainable knowledge and readiness to act.

Interdisciplinary teaching materials relating to water consumption are developed for biology education (dealing with every day products like tomatoes, meat, cotton or paper) to achieve this. Moreover, subject comprehensive approaches for sustainability education are developed. Educators can thereby obtain curriculum-based suggestions to innovate the teaching and learning of sustainability in school science.




Haffer, S., Sprenger, S. & Kremer, K. (2014). Wasserwerte(n) – Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung im Museum [Valuing water – Education for sustainable development in the museum]. In M. M. Müller, I. Hemmer & M. Trappe (Hrsg.): Nachhaltigkeit neu denken. Rio + X: Impulse für Bildung und Wissenschaft (283-290). München: Oekom.

Kremer, K. & Arnold, J. (2013). Was ist Wasser „wert“? Mit Kindern über Nachhaltigkeit philosophieren [What is the „value“ of water? Philosophying with children about sustainability]. Sache-Wort-Zahl – Lehren und Lernen in der Grundschule 135, 35-42.


Project run:


2014 - 2017


Persons und Institutions:


Prof. Dr. Kerstin Kremer, Biology Education, IPN Kiel

Dr. Julia Arnold, Biology Education, IPN Kiel

Prof. Dr. Sandra Sprenger, Geography Education, University of Hamburg

J. Christian Benninghaus, Geography Education, University of Hamburg

Prof. Dr. Albrecht Beutelspacher, Mathematikum Science Center Gießen (Leading institution)

Carola Kahlen, Mathematikum Science Center Gießen



Exhibition Places:



06.04.2017 - 10.04.2017

MNU Bundeskongress Aachen



28.05.2016 - 23.07.2016

Phänomenta Science Center Schleswig-Holstein, Flensburg


17.09.2016 - 30.10.2016

M!ND, Würzburg


17.11.2016 - 15.02.2017

International Maritime Museum Hamburg



12.09.2015 – 15.11.2015

Mathematikum Science Center, Gießen


05.12.2015 – 21.02.2016

Aquarius Water Museum, Mülheim / Ruhr