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What's Up in the Environment?
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Class Projects  Wetlands Project


Many students may already be aware that wetlands serve as homes for scores of birds, fish, and other wildlife. But wetlands’ other environmental values may be lesser known. How many students are aware that wetlands slowly filter out pollutants that dissolve into runoff from pavement, pesticide-treated farmlands, and other sources? If untreated, harmful chemicals from runoff (such as lead, chromium, and mercury) can enter streams, rivers, and groundwater. But when water filters through a marsh, many impurities settle to the bottom. Thus, the discharge that exits the wetland is often cleaner then water that entered it.

Over time, however, the volume of pollution entering marshes can overwhelm natural wetlands. The water can become toxic to fish, birds, and other aquatic creatures. The grasses and other plants in the wetlands begin to die off as their leaves and roots react to the pollution. The contaminants can be dredged out, but at the cost of impacting the wetland and destroying valuable habitat.

But there is a way to harness the pollution-removal quality of wetlands while minimizing impacts to natural habitat. Engineers create specially designed stormwater wetlands to treat runoff from housing developments, industrial complexes, and parking lots. These artificial marshes can be designed to look and function like a natural wetland. Stormwater wetlands remove pollution while providing additional habitat for fish, birds, and other water-loving creatures. And best of all, when the bottom of the stormwater wetland fills with pollution (after about 15 to 25 years), the artificial marsh can be drained, dredged, and then reconstructed.

In this project, your students will build their own model stormwater wetland and conduct experiments to see how this fascinating water-cleaning process works.

This project incorporates elements of the scientific method.

Grade level
Middle school, but can be adapted to suit other grades

Time allotment
Up to 1 semester

Subject matter
Main focus on environmental science, with language arts and social studies connections

Learning objectives
Students will:
  • Gain an understanding of the scientific method and use elements of it to conduct some phases of the project.

  • Learn how wetlands filter out questionable contaminants before they can reach groundwater, rivers, and other bodies of water.

  • Gain an understanding of wetland structure.

  • Design and build a model stormwater wetland.

  • Test the water quality of inflow and outflow to and from the wetland.

  • Educate other students about wetlands by publicizing their project and giving tours of the site.

  • Use technology to work collaboratively.
  • North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE)
    Excellence in Environmental Education: Guidelines for Learning
    Strand 1—Questioning and Analysis Skills (Guidelines A, B, C, D, E, G); Strand 2.2—The Living Environment (A, C, D); Strand 2.3—Humans and Their Societies (C, E); Strand 2.4—Environment and Society (A, B); Strand 3.1—Skills for Analyzing and Investigating Environmental Issues (A, B, C, D); Strand 3.2—Decision-Making and Citizenship Skills (A, B, C, D); Strand 4—Personal and Civic Responsibility (B, C).

  • Technology Foundation Standards for Students
    Standard 1: Basic operations and concepts; Standard 3: Technology productivity tools; Standard 4: Technology communications tools; Standard 5: Technology research tools.


Students will reflect on the results of their project by making a scrapbook, writing a newspaper or magazine article, or creating a video or a Web page about their experiences to share with others, or they may form groups to write a series of articles. Each group can take on a different aspect of the project to write about.

Computer resources

  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above
  • Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM
  • Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows® 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM
  • RealPlayer plug-in. Download for free at
Materials needed
  • WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT video (optional)
  • For the mural (all optional) - camera, tape recorder, posterboard, markers
  • For water tests - water testing kit (Check with your local EPA official for recommendations on the best ones or see water kit Web sites listed below.)
  • Access to the Internet on at least one computer
  • Excel (optional)
  • Materials to construct a wetland
Online resources

Teacher tool Web sites

Bookmark these Web sites for student research
  • Educational Technology Center
    This site contains an extensive list of wetland sites. The sites listed contain information on the different types of wetlands, why wetlands are important, the consequences of destroying wetlands, and more.

  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): E-Pen Pals
    This Pen Pals Partners Program is a classroom-to-classroom collaborative learning experience that provides students with the opportunity to connect with other students across the country to discuss environmental issues.

  • EPA Office of Water
    Contains a Frequently Asked Questions section with helpful information on water testing.

  • EPA Office of Water: Types of Wetlands
    This section of the EPA site describes different types of wetlands.

  • EPA Office of Water: What are Wetlands? html
    This site contains a helpful explanation of what wetlands are.

  • EPA Office of Water: Wetlands
    This section of the EPA site discusses the status and trends of wetlands, human and natural threats to wetlands, and problems caused by the destruction of wetlands.

  • North Carolina State University: The Value of Wetlands #wq
    This site contains in-depth information on how wetlands improve water quality. Because the information is detailed and complex, it is recommended that teachers review this content first and then help students understand it.
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