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What's Up in the Environment?
overview | PROCEDURES

  Contaminated Water


Step 1 - State the Problem
Step 2 - Research, and Hypothesize or Predict
Step 3 - Plan Experiment and Gather Data
Step 4 - Analyze the Data and Make a Conclusion
Step 5 - Take Action
Step 6 - Assessment



Step 1 - State the ProblemMore information about this step

Introductory activities

What does the scientist want to find out? In this project, students will investigate just how vital healthy water is to our communities. Start by finding out how much students know about the importance of water, and the problem of water pollution. Have groups of students visit the United States Geological Survey ≠ Water Education site to take the interactive quiz. Let them surf around the site for more information afterwards.

Have students explore some of the problems surrounding our water supplies by watching the water segment of the WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT video, and visiting Web sites listed below, looking for all the reasons why clean water is important to us. Have them create an illustration or Web page that illustrates these reasons.

The problem

Once students have a sense of the scope of the problem, tell them they will undertake a project in which they examine the health of one of their local bodies of water. If it turns out to be unhealthy, students will figure out ways to clean it up.

Resources for step 1

Materials needed

  • Access to the Internet on at least one computer (optional)
  • WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT video (optional)
  • For the water illustration ≠ graphics software such as Paint or Illustrator; OR paper, markers, glue, scissors, photographs.

Bookmark these Web sites for student research

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Step 2 - Research, and Hypothesize or PredictMore information about this step

Research signs of water health

Now that students have a sense of the importance of clean water, they'll need to do some research about the health of water bodies in their own communities. In order to identify healthy or unhealthy water bodies, they'll need to research the following:

  • What are the qualities of a healthy body of water?

  • What are the signs of a contaminated body of water?
Have students develop their own checklist of signs for healthy or contaminated bodies of water based on the information they find in the Web sites listed below. Once complete, have the class review the checklists for the most relevant qualities and come up with a master list.

Get local

Have students contact local watershed or river conservation groups using the resources listed below, to find an example of a clean and contaminated body of water in your community.

Hypothesis

Using your research, form a hypothesis for this question: What are the differences in the water quality and ecosystems of contaminated and non-contaminated bodies of water? Based on this, are there examples of each in your community? If so, how can you clean up the contaminated site?

Resources for step 2

Materials needed

  • Access to the Internet on at least one computer (optional)

Bookmark these Web sites for student research

  • River Network
    http://www.rivernetwork.org
    The River Network is a national organization that seeks to connect river conservationists with the information that they need. The site provides listings of local resources, as well as links to useful resources. Since there is so much information on this site, you may want to preview it with your students.

  • Earth Force's Global Rivers Environmental Education Network
    http://www.green.org/resources/ #Identifying Watershed Problems
    This Web site offers a wealth of resources for identifying and monitoring contaminated watersheds. It includes an online monitoring database and community action tool.

  • Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water ≠ Surf Your Watershed
    http://www.epa.gov/students/surf_your_ watershed.htm
    This section of the EPA site has a national listing or information about bodies of water. Use this site to find out about watersheds in your area.

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Step 3 - Plan Experiment and Gather DataMore information about this step

Learn more about your site

Now do an experiment as a class to test the hypothesis you made in step 2. Has pollution affected a body of water in our community? Start planning your experiment by reviewing conservation tips listed in the sites below, and by talking to a representative from the local Environmental Protection Agency to discover how we determine the viability of a body of water. Ask the representative to help you find information about the following issues:
  • Is the body of water contaminated?

  • What contaminates are involved?

  • Was the pollution primarily caused by industries, or by individuals?

  • What is the history of the pollution at the site? When did it become contaminated?

  • Has the effect of the contamination been studied before? Investigate the sources of the pollution.

  • Are people still polluting the site?

  • Has anyone tried to clean up the site? If so, what worked or didn't work?

Data gathering field trip

Take a field trip to both water sites to conduct a water test, and take an inventory of the area. Talk with a member of your local Environmental Protection Area for advice about which tests are appropriate for your area.

Have students fill out the observation checklists they developed in step 2 to evaluate the sites. Have them preview field guides, and water testing manuals before they go to the site, so they'll be familiar with the process beforehand. Different groups of students can be responsible for collecting different kinds of data. Some of the things that should be observed and noted during the site visit are:
  • What kinds of fauna do you see?

  • What kinds of flora do you see?

  • How healthy does it look?

  • What is the appearance of the water?

  • What is the pH level and salinity of the water?

  • What is the turbidity of the water?

  • Is there fecal coliform bacteria present in the water?

  • Is there evidence of human use of the water or surrounding area?

  • Are there any tributaries to the water source? If so, where do they come from?

  • Are there any buildings or factories nearby?
Also, add in any other testing that you found to be important as a result of your previous research. Create the same data checklist sheet for the non-contaminated site, and conduct the same tests at that site.

Resources for step 3

Materials needed

  • water testing kit (check with your local EPA official for recommendations on the best ones)
  • field guide (see below for free online field guide)

Teacher tool Web sites

Bookmark these Web sites for student research

  • Enature.com ≠ Online Field Guide
    http://www.enature.com/guides/select_group.asp
    Access free wildlife and plant field guides on this site, or ask an expert naturalist for help. You can request information specific to your region, but it does require that you input an e-mail address and zip code.

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Step 4 - Analyze the Data and Make a Conclusion  More information about this step

Using the water testing data you recorded, make a double bar graph in Excel or on paper to compare the statistics from the contaminated and non-contaminated sites. Ask a scientist from the local Environmental Protection Agency to identify what the ideal pH, salinity, etc. are for the location and body of water you studied. Note the ideal level on the graph, or make a third bar in a different color to show the ideal level. (If you didnít study a non-polluted site, just compare the ideal levels to the levels you recorded in your tests of the polluted water.)

Do the same for presence and health of plants and animals you observed at each location. Also note evidence of human or industrial presence at the sites.

Once complete, have students write up a summary that answers the following questions:

  • What are the major differences between the sites and the ideal levels?

  • How does your research help explain the differences?

  • What conclusion can you make about how animals and plants have been affected by the water pollution, and how human actions have affected the quality of the water?

  • Is there another possible explanation for contamination that was not addressed in your experiment or research?
Based on all of this evidence, rate the level of contamination of the sites.

Resources for step 4

Materials needed

  • Excel (optional)
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Step 5 - Take Action

Based on your findings, work with your expert to determine a course of action that can begin to help clean up the contaminated water or protect an uncontaminated site from being polluted in the future. If possible, look at another similar site in your area that was cleaned up and emulate successful techniques from that program. Use the Web sites listed below for help. Depending on the source and content of the pollution, you may want to work with the local government or business community, or hold a trash cleanup and talk to police about ways to better enforce littering laws.

Resources for step 5

Bookmark these sites for student research

  • National Wildlife Federation: Take Action
    http://www.nwf.org/action/howtos/
    This site gives great advice on how to write to local media, write press releases, plan campaigns, and more.

  • Give Water a Hand
    http://www.uwex.edu/erc/gwah/
    This site is devoted to informing young people about the part they can take in protecting bodies of water. Download action plans and more.

  • Earth Force's Global Rivers Environmental Education Network
    http://www.green.org/resources/ #Identifying Watershed Problems
    This Web site offers a wealth of resources for identifying and monitoring contaminated watersheds. It includes an online monitoring database and community action tool.

  • Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water ≠ Surf Your Watershed
    http://www.epa.gov/students/surf_your_ watershed.htm
    This section of the EPA site has a national listing or information about bodies of water. Use this site to find out about watersheds in your area.

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Step 6 - Assessment

During your project, take pictures, write articles, and interview environmentalists (including yourselves!). After you have helped to clean up the polluted water in your town, reflect on what you've done by writing about your experience and how it felt to be an environmentalist. Gather all the materials you made during this project and build a Web site or create a scrapbook about this project to share with others. Notify your local newspaper to raise awareness about the project in your community. Send us your Web project and we'll post it on the WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT Web site!

If possible, go back next year to check on the water you cleaned up. Do the same water quality tests and observe the growth of plants to see how you made a difference. Send us your results with a Web site update.

Resources for step 6

Teacher tool Web sites

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