Clearwater: Hudson River Rising
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Title: The Case of the Hudson River Crisis

There are many ways in which bodies of water can be polluted. In this lesson, your students will learn about some of the man-made causes of water pollution. They will examine photos for evidence of pollution and use deductive reasoning to determine the possible causes and effects of the pollution. In the culminating activity, they will write a letter that includes ways to prevent water pollution in the future.

Grade level: 5

Subjects covered: Science

Students will be able to:
  • locate the Hudson River on a map;
  • define the terms runoff and pollution;
  • identify several industrial causes of Hudson River pollution;
  • articulate ecological hazards to the Hudson River.
Time Allotment: 2 class periods

Materials for the class:

Evidence of Crisis Photos (one copy for every five students; for example, if there are twenty students in your class, make four copies of each photo) Exhibit A Exhibit B Exhibit C Exhibit D Exhibit E
One Styrofoam cup
Orange peels from one orange
Crumpled piece of paper
Sandwich bag filled with table salt (to represent fertilizer)

Materials for each student:
Hudson River Crisis Evidence Worksheet

Standards from the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning: Science Standard 6, Level II

1. Knows that an organism's patterns of behavior are related to the nature of that organism's environment (e.g., kinds and numbers of other organisms present, availability of food and resources, physical characteristics of the environment).

2. Knows that changes in the environment can have different effects on different organisms (e.g., some organisms move in, others move out; some organisms survive and reproduce, others die).

3. Knows that all organisms (including humans) cause changes in their environments, and these changes can be beneficial or detrimental.

Prep for Teachers:
Print the Evidence of Crisis Photos (one copy for every five students) (link to pdfs)
Print one copy of the Hudson River Crisis Evidence Worksheet for each student.

Introductory Activity:

1. Show your class the Styrofoam cup, orange peels, crumpled paper, and bag of salt. Explain to them that the Styrofoam cup was tossed out of a moving car on the highway. The orange peels were disposed of in a garbage can. The salt is fertilizer used to grow crops. And the crumpled paper was dropped by a pedestrian and blown away by the wind.

2. Ask your students which of the four items could potentially wind up polluting a river. Answers will vary, and can include: Wind will blow the paper and cup into a river. The chemicals in the fertilizer could be washed into a river by rain (runoff). The orange peel is organic and will decompose naturally over time.

3. Clarify the terms runoff and organic for your students. (Runoff is rain that is not absorbed by the soil, and organic refers to a plant or animal derivative.)

Learning Activity:

1. Tell your students that they will be examining photographs to find evidence of pollution.

2. Distribute the Hudson River Crisis Evidence Worksheet to each student in your classroom.

3. Tell your students that they will look at each of the photos and complete the corresponding section of the Worksheet. Each student will have the photo for 2 minutes, at which time you will say, "Pass the photo." The students will then pass their current photo to their neighbor, and begin their two minute examination of the next photo in the sequence.

4. Allow your students 10-15 minutes to complete this activity. At the end of that time, tape the pictures to the board, wall, or easel.

5. Write two category headings on the board: Pollution and Solution.

6. Review each section of the Worksheet with your students. Ask them specific questions, such as: What is the pollution (or threat of pollution) in each picture? How is the pollution likely caused? What are the damages done to the water, the fish, and the marine plant life? Does water pollution impact the quality of living for people in the area?

7. Answers to your prompts can include the following:
  • Cans, bottles, gasoline, and air pollution are damaging the rivers in the pictures.
  • Like causes of pollution are people, industry, and agriculture.
  • The pollution can kill the plants and animals in the water.
  • Water pollution impacts quality of life because people who live near polluted water cannot swim or fish in it, and boating becomes unpleasant.
8. Write the sources of the water pollution under the heading "Pollution."

9. Discuss possible alternatives/solutions to pollution with your students. For example, farmers can use organic fertilizer instead of chemicals, and industries can dispose of their waste in places besides the River. Local laws can be passed to make boat owners more accountable for their actions, and people who live in cities can make choices that are less harmful to the environment.

10. List the children's solutions under the "Solution" heading.

Culminating Activity

1. Tell your students that they are going to write a letter to a local or national politician about the preventable damage being done to the Hudson River (or another body of water near their community). The letter must address the ways the water is being polluted (i.e. runoff causes pollution because... ) and how this pollution can be prevented.

2. Allow your students twenty minutes to compose their letters. They may refer to the list on the blackboard as needed.

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