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What's Up in the Environment?
overview | PROCEDURES

  Acid Rain

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

Begin by exploring the problem of acid rain and how it can impact the community. Ask students how much they know about acid rain and its impact on the environment. You may want to develop a preliminary online quiz using the Funbrain Web site. Have them watch the WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT video or visit the HOT TOPICS AIR page to get some background on the topic.

Optional extension If you will be working with another school to collect rainfall data, you may want to have students develop quizzes for the other class about what they know. Post the quizzes online and see the results. Then have both classes take the quizzes again at the end of the project to see how much they learned.

Resources for step 1

Materials needed

  • Access to the Internet
  • WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT video (optional)

Teacher tool Web sites

  • Funbrain's Quiz Maker
    This Web site is free, but requires registration. You can develop quizzes that students take online. The results will be tallied and e-mailed to you.

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

Now it's time for students to extend their knowledge by researching some general facts about acid rain and its impact on the environment.

Empirical research

To see the effects of acid rain on a small scale, do an experiment with five pairs of indigenous, fast growing plants. Sprinkle five different types of plants with plain water each day, and sprinkle the other five with vinegar or lemon juice. Observe the plants after several days. Visit the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Program Web Site listed below for step-by-step instructions on how to conduct this experiment. Have students record their daily observations in a logbook, or Excel spreadsheet. Once completed, ask students to draw conclusions about the impact of acid rain on flora and ecosystems on a microcosmic scale.

Research the basics of acid rain

Have students split into teams to research different aspects of acid rain. Either ask student teams to generate their own research questions, or have them choose one of the following to investigate:

  • What effect does acid rain have on the environment on a macrocosmic scale?

  • How do storms carry acid rain from place to place?

  • What does acid rain do to plants and entire ecosystems?

  • What causes acid rain?

Read about acid rain on the Internet and in books. Talk to environmentalists to find out more. Look at the resources below to help you get started.


Using all your research, create a hypothesis for these questions: Where do you think acid rain comes from within your community? How severe is the problem? Why do you think it is or is not a problem in your community? What can you do to improve the situation?

Resources for step 2

Materials needed

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

Teacher tool Web sites

Bookmark these Web sites for student research

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

Plan the experiment

Now do a class project to test the hypothesis you made in step 2. Away from trees or buildings, have students set up a clean plastic or glass container to collect rain, and an accurate rain gauge. After each precipitation, measure the rainfall with the rain gauge. Use a pH test kit to find the pH level of the rain sample. To get an accurate reading, test the sample three times to find an average. Collect data for 30 days or more, waiting for at least four rainfalls. (For more detailed instructions, visit The International School Network on Water Toxicity Web Site listed below.)

To get an even larger sampling of rain data yielding a more accurate local listing, you may want to get other schools to track data in their location and share the information online either using Jake's Lab, or by creating your own collaborative project. See resources below for ways to connect with other classrooms.

On a blank U.S. map, students should mark the places that they think may be sources of acid rain pollution affecting your community. Each day, clip national weather maps from your local newspaper or print out the information from Keep track of the movement of fronts, and make sure to record the number of rain or snowfalls, as this can impact the pH level.

Different groups of students may be assigned to keep track of weather maps, pH testing, or rainfall measurement. Observations should be kept on a daily basis in a logbook or Excel spreadsheet. Either way, ask students to determine how the data should be organized so that it shows the relationship between weather patterns, presence of certain industries, and pH levels.

Gather the data about your local environment

Investigate the presence, or lack thereof, of acid rain in your community by contacting the local Environmental Protection Agency, or other government agencies. Have each group of students develop their own set of research questions, or have them answer the following:

  • If present, how long has acid rain been a problem?

  • Where are the chemical pollutants produced that cause acid rain near you?

  • What laws or regulations control acid rain pollution?

  • What industries, or other causes of acid rain, are there in your community?

  • How can you tell which industries (or other factors) are contributing to the acid rain problem?

  • If factories are not using clean technology, look into political and economic factors. For example, what are the costs of installing cleaner technology? What reasons do local politicians give for supporting or not supporting new environmental laws?

Resources for step 3

Materials needed

  • Access to the Internet
  • Excel (optional)
  • Water testing kit to test pH levels

Teacher tool Web sites

Bookmark these Web sites for student research

    Use this Web site to get information and maps about your local weather.

  • Jake's Lab jakesattic/index.html
    Submit your data to Jake's national acid rain data collection campaign for Spring 2002. Also get the facts about acid rain, view a map marking acid rain data on a national level, or use interactive activities.

  • Environmental Protection Agency's Acid Rain Page /meta_first_new2.try_these_first
    Read through these links to find out what the EPA is doing about acid rain.

  • Ask a Department of Energy Expert
    This Web site allows you to ask a question of a DOE expert. It does ask for personal information, so teachers may want to type in the questions themselves.

  • Library of Congress Internet Resource Page for Local Governments
    This Web site provides a comprehensive listing of local government Web sites that may be a helpful resource for students in finding information about industries in their areas, emissions levels, etc. You may want to use this Web site to find your appropriate local government Web site to bookmark.

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

Have students look at the information gathered in the logs or spreadsheets from step 3. Ask them to analyze the data and draw a conclusion about whether their hypothesis from step 2 was accurate. They should consider the following factors in their analysis:

  • What differences did you see in the pH level of rainfall on different days?

  • What was the average pH level of the rain overall?

  • Examine the national weather maps you clipped and look at the weather patterns that preceded each rainfall. Based on the data you collected and the weather patterns, did acid rain appear to be coming from one area?

  • What local industries might be contributing to the acid rain? What evidence do you have to prove this?

  • If you live in an urban region with a high concentration of industry in all directions, what next steps might you take to pinpoint the source of acid rain?

  • Since there are many contributing factors to acid rain, ask students whether they can know for sure if they proved their hypothesis. If not, how would they modify their experiment the next time?

Since this analysis is comprehensive, you may want to have different student groups be responsible for producing parts of a PowerPoint presentation or written report that includes the analysis of one or two of the questions listed above. If your class worked with another school, ask them to share their findings and conclusions via e-mail, or have the other school contribute to the final report or PowerPoint presentation. When complete, publish all the parts of the report together. Save the documents as html, and publish on your school Web site.

Resources for step 4

Materials needed

  • Access to the Internet
  • Power Point (optional)

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Step 5 - Take Action

If you discovered that nearby factories are contributing to acid rain, use your research to urge the company or companies to clean up their acts. Installing cleaning devices called "scrubbers" in smoke stacks can be very effective in preventing the chemicals that cause acid rain from polluting the air. Have students visit the National Wildlife Federation: Take Action Web Site to get ideas on how to plan a public awareness campaign. Then students should work together to plan a campaign to visit, write, and call the companies to ask them to adopt this technology. They should use the reports/presentations developed in step 4 to help them explain the problem to the local community. If you published your project on the Web, send out e-mail announcements via listservs about the report with links to the Web site. Publicize your actions in your school paper or Web site, and let members of the local media know about your campaign.

Resources for step 5

Materials needed

  • Access to the Internet
  • Power Point (optional)

Teacher tool Web sites

Bookmark this Web site for student research

  • National Wildlife Federation: Take Action
    This Web site gives great advice on how to write to local media, write press releases, plan campaigns, and more.
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Step 6 - Assessment

For the final assessment, students should create a reflection piece on how the project went overall. Here are some questions they may consider:

  • Were their predictions correct? Why, or why not?

  • What was the most useful information they got? Why?

  • What was the least useful information they got? Why?

  • What challenges and triumphs did they face?

  • How might you improve upon your campaign for next time?

Have students add any documents, images, interviews, etc. they collected over the course of the project to their Web site or written presentations. Once completed and edited, notify your local newspaper to raise awareness about the project in your community by sending them your reports, or URLs. Send us your Web project and we'll post it on the WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT Web site!

If possible, check back with the factories next year to see if they adopted new, cleaner smokestack technology. Send us your results with a Web site update.

Resources for step 6

Materials needed

  • Access to the Internet

Teacher tool Web sites

Bookmark this Web site for students

  • National Wildlife Federation: Take Action
    This Web site gives great advice on how to write to local media, write press releases, plan campaigns, and more. You may want to have your students consult this Web site for advice on how to promote their composting campaign within their school or even their community.
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