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What's Up in the Environment?
overview | PROCEDURES


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

What does the scientist want to find out? In this case, the main question is, how do wetlands remove possible harmful pollutants from groundwater?

Have students explore some of the problems surrounding our wetlands by watching the water segment of the WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT video. Then answer the following questions using the Web sites listed below, or books that you find listed in the resource section of this site.

  • What are wetlands? What is their function within the ecosystem?

  • What are some of the different types of wetlands? What are their characteristics?

  • What are some of the problems caused by destruction of wetlands?

  • What are some of the human and natural threats to wetlands?

  • Where are the wetlands in your area and around the country?

Once you’ve done some initial research, take a field trip to a local wetland to observe the plants and wildlife there. Record your observations about the flora and fauna. You may want to sketch some of the plants and animals you see, take pictures, or make audio recordings of some of the animal noises you hear. Once the materials are gathered, have your students create a mural that incorporates what they learned through their research and on their field trip.

The problem

Once students have a sense of the scope of the problem, tell them that they will be undertaking a project in which they build their own wetland and study it to learn how wetlands filter pollutants out of water.

Resources for step 1

Materials needed

  • Access to the Internet on at least one computer
  • For the mural (all optional) - camera, tape recorder, posterboard, markers

Bookmark these Web sites for student research

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

Research the value and function of wetlands

Ask students to research the following questions:

  • How do wetlands help control erosion?

  • How do wetlands contribute to the water supply?

  • How do wetlands help protect against floods?

  • How do wetlands help improve water quality?

  • How do wetlands support wildlife?

You may also want to contact a local expert from a nearby university or college to talk to your class about the function and value of wetlands, or contact an expert online. Try the Wetlands Helpline--


Using your research, form a hypothesis for these questions: How much does water change as it filters through a wetland? What possible pollutants can be filtered out? How does this benefit the wetland and the surrounding environment?

Resources for step 2

Materials needed

  • Access to the Internet on at least one computer

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

Build your wetland

Now work as a class to do an experiment that will test the hypothesis made in step 2.
First, find a location on your school grounds or a nearby park where you can get permission to build a small shallow marsh wetland. Check your proposed location during a rainstorm—the wetland should be placed in a location where it will collect runoff from a rooftop, parking lot, and/or playground.

Design a grading and planting plan so that the water will enter the marshy ground and stay there for several hours to several days. Marsh plants such as cattails are crucial to help your wetland retain water, but make sure the plants you pick are appropriate for a wetland in your area of the country.

When it rains, use water testing kits (see resources for step 3) to test the quality of runoff from the parking lot or roof as it enters the wetland. Once the water filters through the wetland, test this outflow again to see what impurities have been removed.

Groups of students can be assigned to work on various aspects of the project:

  • finding the site and getting approval

  • designing the wetland

  • finding marsh plants

  • testing runoff before it goes through the wetland

  • testing water after it filters through the wetland

Resources for step 3

Materials needed

The list will vary to suit your particular experiment design, but you will probably need the following:
  • Water testing kit - try your local university or college; they may have kits that they can loan to you for free. If not, see Web sites listed below

Teacher tool Web sites

Bookmark these Web sites for student research

  • North Carolina State University: The Value of Wetlands /wetlands/ values.html #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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Step 4 - Analyze the Data and Make a Conclusion  More information about this step

By carefully looking at the results of the experiment, you can analyze your data and draw a conclusion about whether the hypothesis was proven.

Using Excel, you may want to graph your results in a bar chart that compares the water quality before the wetland filtration to the water quality after the wetland filtration. Answer the following questions based on your findings:

  • What contaminants were in the runoff before it filtered through the wetland?

  • What contaminants did you find in the water after it filtered through the wetland?

  • What conclusions can you make about how wetlands filter pollutants from runoff water?

  • Can you think of any ways the design of your wetland could be improved?

Use the experiment data and answers to the above questions to formulate a report about the wetland. Different groups can write about various aspects of the project, such as the design and testing.

Resources for step 4

Materials needed

  • Excel (optional)

Teacher tool Web site

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Step 5 - Take Action

Have students act on their findings by doing one or more of the following activities:

  • Invite school groups to visit your wetland. Give tours to explain your project and how wetlands filter contaminants to prevent them from reaching groundwater and other bodies of water.

  • Become e-pen pals with another school and explain your project and encourage your pen pals to try it at their school. (See Resources section below for e-pen pal information.)

  • Encourage other students to build their own wetlands by offering to give advice on your project. Create instructions to recreate the project, or serve as student mentors to the other students as they build their wetland. This can also be done electronically by registering your project online, and asking another class to participate. See the Schoolhouse class project registry page to see how it can be done.

  • Or, organize a trash clean-up at a local wetland to remove bottles, plastic six-pack holders, and other debris that can harm wetlands wildlife.

Resources for step 5

Teacher tool Web sites

  • 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.

  • Global Schoolhouse Internet Project Registry Page
    This site allows you to post a request for other classrooms to collaborate with you. Or you can search existing projects to see if data collection similar to yours is already being done!
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Step 6 - Assessment

Throughout the project, encourage students to take pictures, write articles, and interview environmentalists. Once the entire project is complete, have students create an illustrated article, scrapbook, Web site, or video that includes the following elements:
  • Summary of project steps and what was learned in each step from beginning to end. This part should include all the documents created in the previous steps, as well as any photos, video or audio clips, e-mails or letters from people in the field, etc.

  • A short analysis of what worked or didn't work in this project, and why.

  • A description of how the project could be improved upon for next time.

  • A reflection piece that notes what it felt like to undertake this project.

If you choose to do a project that can be posted on the Web, send it to us and we'll post it on the WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT Web site! Make sure to consult our guideline submissions for instructions on how to build and submit your project.

If possible, go back at a later date to check on your wetland. Are students still maintaining and studying it? Is the wetland you cleaned up still trash-free? Send us your results with a Web site update.

Resources for step 6

Teacher tool Web sites

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