Environmental Engineers: Water Quality and Research

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Students will be able to apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.

Big Idea

Students begin research about the sources of pollution in their watershed in preparation of going to a local river to perform water quality tests.

Introduction and Connection to the NGSS and Common Core

It is important to realize that this lesson is a three day lesson that is preparing students to travel to a local river to perform water quality tests.  Please take a look at the lesson, "Environmental Engineers:  Data Analysis and Inventions".

This lesson is designed to connect to the following NGSS and Common Core Standards:

MS-ESS3-3  Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment. 

MS-ETS1-1  Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1  Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.2    Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

Science and Engineering Practices:

Developing and Using Models (SP2):

  • Evaluate limitations of a model for a proposed object or tool. 

Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information (SP8):  

  • Critically read scientific texts adapted for classroom use to determine the central ideas and/or obtain scientific and/or technical information to describe patterns in and/or evidence about the natural and designed world(s).
  • Integrate qualitative and/or quantitative scientific and/or technical information in written text with that contained in media and visual displays to clarify claims and findings.
  • Gather, read, and synthesize information from multiple appropriate sources and assess the credibility, accuracy, and possible bias of each publication and methods used, and describe how they are supported or not supported by evidence.
  • Evaluate data, hypotheses, and/or conclusions in scientific and technical texts in light of competing information or accounts.
  • Communicate scientific and/or technical information (e.g. about a proposed object, tool, process, system) in writing and/or through oral presentations. 

Crosscutting Concepts:

Stability and Change: For both designed and natural systems, conditions that affect stability and factors that control rates of change are critical elements to consider and understand.

  • Explanations of stability and change in natural or designed systems can be constructed by examining the changes over time and forces at different scales, including the atomic scale.
  • Small changes in one part of a system might cause large changes in another part.
  • Stability might be disturbed either by sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time.

Connecting to the Essential Question: What are you supposed to learn today?

5 minutes

I begin every class by asking the students, "What are you going to learn today?" Students respond by referring to the Essential Question, "How can we interpret data about how human activities affect Earth’s systems in order to develop technologies to monitor and minimize the effects?This EQ is included on their Unit Plan and on the front board.

As the previous lessons helped develop their understanding of the skills in the Unit Plan, I ask students to reevaluate their self assessments from the previous day. Students rank themselves on each of the skills included in the Unit Plan. Students rank themselves on a scale of 1 to 4 (4 being mastery). Students will continue to update these scores over the course of the unit. I emphasize to them that it is ok not to be at a "4". Learning is about growth! We will use this starting point to track the growth in their learning.

Notice in the student work below, that the student updates his scores over the course of the unit as he grows in his level of mastery.


Mini Lesson: Factors Impacting Water Quality

35 minutes

First, I explain to the students that we will be traveling to the local river to perform water quality tests. Thus, students need background in the factors that affect water quality that they will be testing.  

To introduce these ideas, I use this PowerPoint. For each aspect of water quality, I make sure that I tie back to how the biodiversity of the river will be impacted if the levels are not adequate.

Environmental Engineers Project

15 minutes

I explain to students the Environmental Engineer Project that they will be completing. The requirements of this project are listed below. You will read the acronym "ABCDE" frequently in the description. ABCDE is a informational writing format that my students use. There is a detailed explanation of this format called "A Quick Guide to the ABCDE Paragraph" in the resources. I also want you to realize that I collaborated with my team's Language Arts teacher in completing this. So, you will notice requirements such as parenthetical citations and a works cited page that I may not include if I was only assessing students on the science content.

The city of Saline has hired your engineering firm to help them with the water quality of the Saline River.  Your client has asked for the following analysis of the river:

1.  Multi-paragraph introduction with compelling examples of pollution in our watershed.

  • Identify the points of origin of pollution in the watershed. (1 Developed Paragraph – ABCDE or version of it, Could be ABCDCDE)
  • Include both point and non point source pollution origins.
  • Use multiple citations (in-text and parenthetical) that demonstrate knowledge of the sources of pollution in our local area.
  •  Include the path the pollutants take through the hydrosphere, atmosphere, and geosphere to reach the river.
  • Each member of the group must complete this.

2.  Analyze the current water quality of the river.

  • Qualitative analysis of erosion, vegetation along banks, meanders (1 ABCDE paragraph.  Each group will complete one qualitative analysis.)
  • Quantitative analysis of dissolved oxygen, phosphates, fecal coliform, nitrates, velocity, temperature, turbidity, and pH. Discuss how these factors might impact biodiversity in the river.  (1 ABCDE paragraph for each person, divided amongst group.  You will write about the test that you are assigned to complete at the river.)
  • In all paragraphs, use data, charts and graphs, and in-text/parenthetical citations to support conclusions. Writer must include a MSExcel graph in his/her writing.

3. Concluding paragraph with a call to action.

4. A Work Cited page

Environmental Engineer: Engineering Design

Invent a mechanism that could either improve the water quality of the river in some way or could prevent further pollution to the river. (Act as if you have unlimited resources at your disposal.  Your only constraint is environmental and health effects.  You must consider how your invention will affect the environment.)

  • Design your invention to directly affect an aspect of water quality that was found to need improvement from the research or data collected.
  • Draw a diagram or model of your invention.  Inventor is an option for this!
  •  Explain how the invention improves water quality in the watershed.
  • Include the limitations of the technology (invention you created).
  • Analyze the short term and long term consequences that the invention could have on the climate, natural resources, and economic conditions (both positive and negative).
  • All of this could be placed on construction paper, poster board, or in a PowerPoint.  You will have to present this to your client so it should just be organized in a way that looks professional.

Research: Sources of Pollution in Our Local Watershed

90 minutes

In the introduction of what will be their final water quality analysis, students must include multiple sources of point source and non point source pollution that is occurring in our unique watershed.  I have created a website that includes many resources students can use to research the sources of pollution in our local watershed. This website is focused on my local watershed, the River Raisin Watershed. So, you would need to compile a list of resources your students could use about your particular watershed. It is critical that the list of resources relate to your local watershed as students will be designing a solution to improving the water quality in the watershed later in this project. If students don't research the local sources of pollution, they will be unable to develop a solution that would impact their own community.

You will notice that some of the resources on the website I created are long and challenging. I encourage students to use the "Find" function as well as the Table of Contents of those articles to narrow the number of pages in those long reports they actually have to read.

As students go through these links on the website, they complete this note taking graphic organizer. The most challenging columns for my students are the "Point or Non Point" and "Characteristics Impacted" columns. These columns must be filled in based on prior knowledge or with further research. For example, when reading about PCB contamination, the article my students found never explicitly states if the pollution is point or non point source. It is up to the student to read the article and determine this for themselves based on their understanding of point and non point source pollution. In addition, if a student reads an article about sediment pollution, the article may not explicitly state that this will impact the temperature or dissolved oxygen of the river. Students must then use their knowledge of water quality to think, "Sediment would make the river darker, increasing temperature and decreasing DO."

Here is a look at a student's completed research guide. If you wanted to look at a final, completed introduction that a student wrote based on this research, you can check one out here. Please realize that the paper you are about to link to is a paper that was compiled by a group of students and also includes analysis from water quality testing at the river. The "Introduction" section is the only section of the paper that you need to worry about in relation to the research the students complete in this lesson.  

In the video below, I describe how students can use their graphic organizer to write their "Introduction" for their final paper.

Research always takes longer than you think it will. Students can spend a full 3 days researching the many sources of pollution in their local watersheds.


15 minutes

To close the lesson, I have students complete this "Can You Point It Out?" worksheet. Students circle possible sources of pollution in the watershed pictured and label it as point or non point source pollution.  Then, as a class we share all of the sources we identified. There are 16 possible sources! The document and answer key are included in the resources.