Environmental Engineers: Data Analysis and Inventions

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Objective

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 travel to a local river to perform water quality tests. Then, they write a call to action to the City Council and present their findings to create change!

Introduction and Connection to the NGSS and Common Core

This lesson is a big undertaking that is well worth every second you will put into it. This lesson builds on the Environmental Engineer: Water Quality and Research Lesson. There are tasks listed here that must be completed by the teacher in preparation to plan a field trip in which students go to a local river to test water quality. In addition, the lesson includes detailed information about the tests performed, the report the students create, the inventions they design, and the call to action the students present to the community. Altogether, this lesson is one of the most impactful of all of the lessons that I do. And, while it does take a commitment to plan it, I always feel the work is worth it!

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. 

Teachers: Before the big day!

1.  Get permission from your administration.

2.  Contact your transportation department for pricing and reservation.

3.  Contact a local park that has a river at it and reserve it for the day of the field trip.

4.  Contact local pizza places and get quotes for pizza. Explain to each business what you are doing and tell them you are comparing prices. Some pizza places will give schools a really great deal, especially if they know you are shopping around. Make sure you consider plates, napkins, drinks, and cups.

5.  Send home permission slips and ask for parent chaperones. (You will need as many eyes as you can down at the river!) I have to collect money for transportation and pizza, so I like to send my permission slips home one month in advance. I have included my permission slip just in case you wanted to see what I wrote to my parents. I also send an email to all of my parents explaining the trip in addition to the hard copy.  

6.  Send an email to your staff letting them know in advance that your students will be missing their classes on that day.  In that email, ask any teacher that is able to attend with you. The more adults at the river, the better! I included the email I sent to my staff in the resources.

7.  Contact the Teacher Consultant/Special Education Teachers associated with your students to determine if there are any health concerns or accommodations that must be made with a trip like this.

8.  Coordinate with the office administration the para professional support/schedule for the day of the trip.

9.  Contact your school nurse for any health concerns you will need to prepare for with any of your students.

8.  Kits must be put together and labeled with group numbers.  You should make 1 kit for every 5 - 6 students. The materials that I have come from LaMotte Water Testing Kits.  You can make about two physical student kits per one LaMotte Testing Kit. However, there is enough tables to reuse the kits multiple times.  In other words, once you invest in the LaMotte Kits the first time, you can reuse your kits for years to come.

  1. 2 DO tablets, 1 phosphate tablet, 1 nitrate tablet, 1 pH tablet 
  2. Plastic or metal thermometer
  3. Plastic beaker with turbidity sticker
  4. Small, glass vial
  5. 2 Tall, skinny plastic test tubes
  6. Large, glass Fecal Coliform vial with tablet inside
  7. Stop watch
  8. Tin foil

**The materials listed above are those included in the LaMotte Kit.  I have actually found a benefit to add an extra small, glass vial and an extra tall, skinny plastic test tube because they are used in multiple tests. You can definitely do it without them; but at the day of testing it is nice for each student to have their own test tube/vial. I found you can order some similar to the LaMotte vials at Flinn Scientific (linked above).  

8.  Design a way to bring the procedures for each test to the river on testing day.  I have created folders with laminated directions in the past. (The LaMotte kits have small booklets with the directions.  So, to make a folder, you would have to make copies and enlarge them, then laminate the enlarged copies.) However, next year, I am going to send the directions digitally to my students so that they can access them with their devices. Either way, have a plan for giving kids access to lab procedures for each test at the river.

9.  Divide your classes into groups of 5 - 6 and assign them tests and chaperones. Within each group of 6, I have groups of two work together to be responsible for 2 - 3 tests.  Here is the spreadsheet I created to organize my students  Notice that I grouped Temperature/DO/BOD, Phosphates/Nitrates, and pH/turbidity.  Also notice that not every group does the BOD and Fecal Coliform tests. There are less of those materials in the LaMotte Kits and both are tests that require the sample to be collected and stored for days after the testing day.  The data for these tests are shared with the rest of the class.

10.  If you are taking more than one bus of students, create bus lists so that you can easily take attendance both before you leave the school and before you leave the river.

11.  Send an email to your parent chaperones giving them all of the information they need ahead of time.  I send my parents a resource document that gives them the itinerary, frequently asked questions, and resources about water quality. Parents want to know what they are responsible for and may feel as if they cannot help students at the park. By giving them this information in advance, many parents will actually "study" so that they can really help students at the park.

12.  Create folders for parent chaperones with all of the resources and information you sent them along with the names of the students in their group.  Parents appreciate having a document to reference as you will be walking the length of the river and may not always be accessible to answer questions.

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.

 

Field Trip to the River: Student Preparation

40 minutes

Before the day of the trip, I let students know their groups and the test they are responsible for. Then I meet with all students that are testing each cluster of tests to go over the procedures. For example, I call all students that are testing phosphates and nitrates together, those testing pH and turbidity together, and those testing temperature and dissolved oxygen together. While I meet with these groups, students begin writing their introductions to the Environmental Engineer Project Report. (This lesson builds of a different lesson - Environmental Engineers: Water Quality and Research. This lesson describes this project and the "introduction" in detail.)

When I meet with these small groups, I simply show students what the kits look like and read through the procedures with them. Below I have included some specific tips I give students that are unique for each respective test. (I can't encourage you enough to read these procedures ahead of time yourself and make sure you can locate the correct vials/test tubes/tablets for each test before you show students.)

Reading this lesson for the first time? All of the information below is specifically related to the LaMotte Testing Kits. Until you have a LaMotte Kit in front of you, this information might seem overwhelming and confusing. Just save this link and when you get your kits, come back to this lesson and read the tips!  Don't let this information overwhelm you now!

Dissolved Oxygen:

1.  Use the SMALL GLASS vial.  Show students that there are different types of vials/test tubes in the kits.  There are tall, skinny test tubes and a tall, glass test tube as well. These students are using the one that is SMALL and GLASS.

2.  Use 2 DO tablets. This is the only test that uses two tablet. Show students that the tablets say "DO" on them. The tablets and writing on the tablets are small, students benefit by seeing them!

3.  Show them that they will hold their vial up to the color coded card in their kit to determine the parts per million. Then, they must use the Saturation Chart included in the LaMotte Kit to find the % Saturation based on the temperature and ppms.  

4.  The % Saturation is then compared on the ranking chart (Included in the LaMotte Kit) to determine the ranking (4 - excellent, 3 - good, 2 - fair, 1 - poor).

Temperature:

1.  You will have to measure the temperature upstream and downstream and record the difference between the two. Give students the boundaries of where they may go upstream and downstream.

2.  The temperature difference is then compared on the ranking chart (Included in the LaMotte Kit) to determine the ranking (4 - excellent, 3 - good, 2 - fair, 1 - poor). Beware - students that don't read the procedure may only take the temperature in one place instead of finding the difference.  These students will find the river to be a "1" or "poor" even when it is not.

Nitrates:

1.  Use the TALL, SKINNY, PLASTIC vial.  Show students that there are different types of vials/test tubes in the kits. There are tall, skinny, plastic test tubes, small glass vials and a tall, glass test tube as well.  These students are using the one that is TALL, SKINNY, and PLASTIC. If you do not buy extra plastic test tubes as I describe in the "Teachers: Before the big day!" Section, you will also need to explain that they will need to share this test tube with the other students that are testing phosphates and pH.

2.  Show students that the tablets say "Nitrates" on them. The tablets and writing on the tablets are small, students benefit by seeing them!

3.  Show them that they will hold their vial up to the color coded card in their kit to determine the parts per million. The ppm is then compared on the ranking chart (Included in the LaMotte Kit) to determine the ranking (4 - excellent, 3 - good, 2 - fair, 1 - poor).

Phosphates:

1.  Use the TALL, SKINNY, PLASTIC vial. Show students that there are different types of vials/test tubes in the kits. There are tall, skinny, plastic test tubes, small glass vials and a tall, glass test tube as well. These students are using the one that is TALL, SKINNY, and PLASTIC. If you do not buy extra plastic test tubes as I describe in the "Teachers:  Before the big day!" Section, you will also need to explain that they will need to share this test tube with the other students that are testing nitrates and pH.

2.  Show students that the tablets say "PHOSPHATES" on them. Show students the pH tablets and the PHOSPHATE tablets and ask them to note the difference. I have had students in the past confuse these two tablets because they both begin with "ph". The tablets and writing on the tablets are small, students benefit by seeing them!

3.  Show them that they will hold their vial up to the color coded card in their kit to determine the parts per million. The ppm is then compared on the ranking chart (Included in the LaMotte Kit) to determine the ranking (4 - excellent, 3 - good, 2 - fair, 1 - poor).

pH:

1.  Use the TALL, SKINNY, PLASTIC vial. Show students that there are different types of vials/test tubes in the kits. There are tall, skinny, plastic test tubes, small glass vials and a tall, glass test tube as well. These students are using the one that is TALL, SKINNY, and PLASTIC. If you do not buy extra plastic test tubes as I describe in the "Teachers: Before the big day!" Section, you will also need to explain that they will need to share this test tube with the other students that are testing nitrates and phosphates.

2.  Show students that the tablets say "pH" on them. Show students the pH tablets and the PHOSPHATE tablets and ask them to note the difference. I have had students in the past confuse these two tablets because they both begin with "ph". The tablets and writing on the tablets are small, students benefit by seeing them!

3.  Show them that they will hold their vial up to the color coded card in their kit to determine the parts per million. The ppm is then compared on the ranking chart (Included in the LaMotte Kit) to determine the ranking (4 - excellent, 3 - good, 2 - fair, 1 - poor).

Turbidity:

1.  Show students the turbidity cup and that they will compare what the sticker in the bottom of the cup looks like to the color coded card in their kit to determine the number of JTUs. The JTUs are then compared on the ranking chart (Included in the LaMotte Kit) to determine the ranking (4 - excellent, 3 - good, 2 - fair, 1 - poor).

BOD:

1.  Use the SMALL GLASS vial. Show students that there are different types of vials/test tubes in the kits. There are tall, skinny test tubes and a tall, glass test tube as well. These students are using the one that is SMALL and GLASS.

2.  DO NOT ADD ANY TABLETS.

3.  Wrap the vial in tin foil and return it to the designated container at the river. The BOD test is not completed until 5 days after the field trip.

Fecal Coliform:

1.  Use the TALL, GLASS vial that already has a tablet in it. Show students that there are different types of vials/test tubes in the kits. There are tall, skinny test tubes and a tall, glass test tube as well. These students are using the one that is TALL and GLASS, containing a tablet already.

2.  Fill the water to the indicated line and return it to the designated container at the river. The Fecal Coliform test is not completed until 2 days after the field trip.

Gathering Data at a Local River

90 minutes

Before leaving for the river, review this information with the students. I have them complete "What do I need to know the day of testing?".

When first arriving at the river, organize the groups with their chaperones and get the chaperones the kits and directions for their group. I emphasize that my parent chaperones are the "keepers" of the kits. This will reduce any materials getting lost.  To ensure a successful trip for the chaperones, I also have a chaperone meeting before letting the students begin gathering data.  In this meeting you can make your expectations clear in terms of their role at the river.  In the section "Teachers: Before the big day" of this lesson, I have included a parent packet that I email the chaperones before the trip.  At the river, I have folders that includes this information and I go over this information with them before letting the students begin.

Students begin with gathering qualitative data. I have them complete this "Our River Worksheet" as they walk the length of the river making observations. I emphasize that this should take them at least 20 minutes. They should be detailed in their observations.

 

After making qualitative observations, students begin to perform their quantitative tests. Be sure to have designated waste buckets along the river and that students know not to dump their waste water into the river. Students should share and record their data within their groups on this data table.

 

After students finish their tests, I ask parents to lead a group discussion with the students. Students answer these questions in the discussion with their group. (These questions are included in the parent resource folder I provide them.)

-      What was the ranking of the dissolved oxygen levels in the river? Does this indicate a healthy stream environment? How will this affect the biodiversity of the river?

-      What was the ranking of the phosphates levels in the river? Does this indicate a healthy stream environment? How will this affect the biodiversity of the river?

-      What was the ranking of the nitrates levels in the river? Does this indicate a healthy stream environment? How will this affect the biodiversity of the river?

-      What was the ranking of the fecal coliform levels in the river? Does this indicate a healthy stream environment? How will this affect the biodiversity of the river?

-      What was the ranking of the turbidity levels in the river? Does this indicate a healthy stream environment? How will this affect the biodiversity of the river?

-      What was the ranking of the pH levels in the river? Does this indicate a healthy stream environment? How will this affect the biodiversity of the river?

-      Looking at all of the data together, what would you rate our river in terms of overall water quality?

 Two days following the trip, the fecal coliform results are complete. Our river tested positive!  Eeeeewww!

Analyzing Data: A Call to Action

90 minutes

Once students return from the river, they spend 3 days analyzing their data and writing their final lab report. For the requirements for each section of the report, see the Environmental Engineers Project Description.

Each student writes their own introduction and qualitative observation paragraph. However, each student only writes one quantitative paragraph for ONE of the tests they preformed. At the conclusion of the project, students will all copy and paste their quantitative paragraphs into one Google Doc that will become a group report.

After students finish their writing, they meet as a group to complete the following:

1.  Create a Google Document and share it with each member of the group.

2.  Read each other's "Introductions" and choose one to include in their group report.

3.  Read each other's "Qualitative Analysis" and choose one to include in their group report.

4.  Each member should copy and paste their quantitative paragraph into the group report.

5.  As a group, write a conclusion.  This conclusion is really a call to action based on their findings.  This information will be presented to both City Council and the local watershed council.  The call to action should ask these councils to make changes based on our areas of concerns.

Google Docs is a great way for students to collaborate. Below you can see a group that is collaborating in putting together their group report. With Google, students can send each other comments on their documents as well as Gchat as they work.  In the image on the right, students have place headings for their paper and each member is pasting their work into the document. At the same time, they are carrying a conversation through Gchat along the bottom right.  The resulting reports are amazing! Here is an example of one group's work.

Environmenal Engineers: Designing Solutions to Problems

60 minutes

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.

As students develop their inventions, make sure you check in with them that they have considered the short and long term consequences on the environment. For example, the first thing that many students want to invent is a filter that goes all the way across the river. These students have not considered what will happen to the fish and wildlife that will be swimming through the river. In addition, make sure that students are specifically designing an invention that will address a source of pollution in the local water shed or an aspect of the water quality that they found to be sub-par.

My students have experience with a 3 Dimensional Modeling Autocad Program. In the video below, I explain one of my student's visions for their invention that they developed in Autocad. You don't have to have an Autocad program to complete this aspect of the project.  Students can draw their inventions on their poster. The key to the video below is that I am showing a students invention, not necessarily that it is drawn in Autocad.

Closure: Presenting to Local Councils

60 minutes

I reach out to the City Council and to the River Raisin Watershed Council (our local watershed council) to arrange a time for my students to present our findings to them. In my area, these councils are excited to have my students present. The River Raisin Watershed Council comes to my classroom, while the students actually go to City Hall to present to the City Council.

Students present their group reports to these councils and present their call to action for what the councils should do to improve the water quality of the river. The City Council presented my students with the certificates shown below that named them "City of Saline Honorary Environmental Engineer".

Here is a short clip of one of the presentations that my students gave:

Here is the awesome thing about presenting to the actual governing bodies that address the water quality of the river - they are actually concerned about the results and want to act!  After presenting to the City Council, the council added to their budget for the next year a project to add vegetation along the bank at the river we tested at to reduce the fecal coliform that was entering the river through surface run off that my students showed them!

Empowering change can truly move a middle school student.  For students to feel as if the work they are doing is valued and can be used by important governing bodies in the real world can inspire them!