Fishy Mixture Water Quality Inquiry Lab (Part 1/4)

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SWBAT identify, classify and separate different types of mixtures based on physical and chemical properties of matter.

Big Idea

Students explore how complicated mixtures are all around us, affecting us in ways we rarely think about. While some mixtures help us, they may harm the environment.


The Fishy Mixture Inquiry Lab is an inquiry project including multiple lessons taught over the span of 1 to 2 weeks. To help manage the magnitude of this project, you will find the project split into 4 parts.

  • Part 1 includes the ENGAGE and EXPLORE components of the lesson; Time: 2 - 3 50-minute lessons or equivalent block periods. 
  • Part 2 includes the EXPLAIN component of the lesson; Time: 1 50-minute lesson.
  • Part 3 includes the EXTEND component of the lesson; Time: 2 -3 50-minute lessons or equivalent block periods.
  • Part 4 includes the EVALUATE component of the lesson; Time 2 50-minute lessons or equivalent block period.

Alignment to NGSS

This lesson utilizes many of the Next Generation Science Standards. I've described how these standards are met in this video.

In addition, details of the alignments of content standard to concepts and practices are found in the resource Fishy Mixture NGSS Alignment.


20 minutes

This lesson is highly engaging to students by the very nature of the problem: a fish in Colorado rivers is being affected by hormones that are not being filtered out in the waste water treatment process. These hormones are causing fish to change from male to female.

Students are charged with the challenge of creating a mini waste water treatment plant (WWTP) to filter a simulated water sample mixture. This lesson can be completed at the beginning of instruction on mixtures or as a culminating inquiry lab.

1. In order to ENGAGE students in this lesson, I start with a brief prompt (written or oral) to get students thinking:

What kinds of mixtures have you used or eaten today?

I have students dyad or think-pair-share about their ideas and choose one idea to share out with the class. We discuss student ideas as an informal method of pre-assessment to find out what they know about mixtures through discussion.

2. I tell students that we are going to be looking at a real world problem that has to do with mixtures. I front load the video by informing students that they may hear scientific words that are unfamiliar or topics that could feel uncomfortable. We then watch the NBC Nightly News Video, stopping to clarify vocabulary or concepts as necessary.

Students reactions to the video range from confused to embarrassed. I ask students to identify the main problem facing the white sucker fish and how the video relates to mixtures within a discussion format.

3. It is time to introduce the investigation: Students receive a "water sample" from Boulder Creek that they must work collaboratively to separate. They will work as a consultant group to learn about the properties of mixtures and how to separate them. Groups use this knowledge to design WWTPs out of common household supplies to separate the mixture. At this point in the lesson, students will have many questions. I prefer to let students get into their groups at this point to start tossing ideas around.


100 minutes

The purpose for the EXPLORE stage is to get students involved in the topic so that they start to build their own understanding. There are two main areas students need to explore in order to conduct the lab itself:

1) Explore the Problem: I have students explore the problem in a variety of ways determined on the individual needs of the students. You should choose your text, instructional strategy and grouping method based on your students' needs. Having a Fishy Mixture Glossary is handy since there will be many scientific terms. I have provided a glossary or used a shared Google Doc where students can submit and define words. Here are several ideas for exploring the problem:

 - Group Article Analysis: Provide copies of an appropriately leveled article (or other media) to each group. Together, students read and complete the Article Analysis Organizer (page 1 of Fishy Mixture Mixtures Investigation).

 - Individual Article Analysis: Provide copies of an appropriately leveled article (or other media) to each student. Individually, students read and complete the Article Analysis Organizer. Together, they review and edit their organizers.

 - Jigsaw: Provide copies or allow students to choose articles (or other media). Individually, students read and complete Article Analysis Organizer. Together, students share and edit their organizers.

Review findings as groups work and together as a whole group to ensure the problem is clearly defined. Use resources such as the Endocrine Disruptor Background InformationBoulder Area Sustainability Information Network- Boulder Creek Overview or Waste Water Treatment Plant Schematic to define and explain the problem. Be sure to probes students on the topic of "Why do we care?" to promote engagement. For a student example of a completed Article Analysis Organizer: Fishy Mixture Student Work - Explore and Explain

2) Properties of Mixtures: Students conduct an investigation using different types of mixtures and resources from a textbook to determine what the properties of different mixtures are:

They also practice writing a procedure for separating a simple mixture. This investigation helps students learn the fundamentals of mixtures so that they may apply their understanding to the Fishy Mixture problem.

Materials required are minimal: Fishy Mixture Mixtures Investigationsamples of three types of mixtures, flashlights, and textbook, online resources or printed resource page. 

Continue on to Fishy Mixture Water Quality Inquiry Lab Part 2.