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11.9: Mini-Lessons

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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The Troubled Waters lesson unit is comprised of the following mini-lessons:

  • Introduction to Water Consumption and Water Resources
  • RiverWeb Water Quality Simulator
  • WaterSim Scenario Builder
  • Local Water Samples
  • Water Filtration System Designed and Tested
  • Optional Enrichment Activity

Introduction to Water Consumption and Water Resources


This introductory activity can be used to set the stage for any of the mini-lessons that follow. The activity consists of a series of guided questions intended to engage the students in thinking about water, in particular fresh water that we use every day in both obvious and not-so-obvious ways. The guided questions are also intended to get students to think about what they don’t know about water and questions they might have.

Time Required: 50 minutes, 1 class period


Ask students to list all the activities that they do during the day that use water. Record their responses using common classroom practice – the board, chart paper, whiteboards. Now ask them if they can think of any other ways that they use water indirectly. For example, if they have orange juice for breakfast, was there water involved in producing the orange juice? Record responses again. Ask each student how many liters of water they think they use each day directly and indirectly. Record all answers. Note: the teacher is modeling data collection.

Show the video "How much water is in my latte": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nekqKEsbdU (2 minutes)

After the video, ask for a show of hands if any students would change the amount of water they use daily. Brainstorm ways to decrease water use. Possible answers might include: use containers more than once, buy the refillable cup, turn off water when brushing teeth, shorter showers, etc.

If your students have access to computers and the web, have them look up how much water the average person in the U.S. uses each day. Compare this to other countries if time permits. The following site has some good statistics.


Indoor activities using water
% Of Total Water Use

After the completing the chart, brainstorm where and how much water is used outdoors.

If there is no computer access for students, teachers could print out the PDF, which can be found on the EPA site (http://www.epa.gov/WaterSense/docs/ws_indoor508.pdf) Students can fill in the chart using the PDF.

Comparison of U.S. water use to other countries

Ask students to compare U.S. water use to other countries using the following link.


The following frequently asked questions (and answers!) about where we get our water can be found at: (http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/qahome.html)

RiverWeb Water Quality Simulator


Students will work in teams as they navigate the RiverWeb Water Quality Simulator. Each team will collect and analyze data for one water indicator at each site. The team will make implementations to improve the water quality at each site. The students will then use a jigsaw activity with the rest of the class to view the overall impact of all the indicators on the environment. They will analyze the data and create a math model that can be implemented for additional watersheds. Students will utilize the data to understand how land use affects water quality. They can take this information and apply it to the water systems in their area if time permits.

Learning Objectives

  • Work collaboratively in teams
  • Keep accurate records and analyze graphical data
  • Operate the RiverWeb Simulation
  • Use simulation data determine how land use affects water quality
  • Create a math model based on the simulation data and use this math model to calculate the percentage each improvement would have on the system
  • Use the jigsaw method to combine all data collected into a comprehensive picture of the impact on the watershed of all the indicators
  • Determine the 3 improvements that would have the most positive impact on the watershed for the indicator assigned


RiverWeb Simulation Website: http://mvhs1.mbhs.edu/riverweb/

RiverWeb Simulation Activity Sheet (included at the end of this lesson): This activity sheet should be given to students the night prior to running the simulation so that they may read through it and become familiar with the content.

Time Required

120-150 minutes, 2-3 class periods depending on the level of your class and their math skills.


The RiverWeb water quality simulator contains data for an entire year and tracks pollutants and chemicals that are released into the watershed as a result of human activity. The RiverWeb has data for eight distinct regions within the watershed:

0. pristine forest

1. logging forest

2. agricultural area

3. residential area

4. commercial/industrial area

5. wetlands area

6. urban area

7. river mouth

You do not need an account to log in this web site. Use "generic" as your username and password.


Before the students begin working on their individual indicators, examine the website together as a class. Use an indicator you will not assign to a group as an example so that students understand how to navigate through the website.

Assign teams and give each team one factor to study at each of the sites. We suggest looking at 6-8 of the indicators. We will be using nitrogen, phosphorus, sediments, heavy metals, toxins, pH, and dissolved oxygen. Each team will gather and analyze their data. This is outlined in the activity sheet and answers are given using nitrogen as the example indicator in the teacher packet.

As outlined on the activity sheet, students will be recording averages for each site and then using this information to determine the effect each station has on the total payload at station 7. "Payload" is the term used on the simulation website to quantify the total amount of indicator in the water at any given station. Students will also determine what percentage each station comprises of the total payload at station 7.

Next, students will research how the implementation of improvements at each station will affect the amount of indicator in the water at that site. An improvement can be made to most stations of the watershed. To make the improvement, click on the link next to the bolded term, Implement Improvement. You will know that you have implemented an improvement by two things happening. First, the graph will show a red line showing the pre-implementation data and a blue line showing the post-implementation data. You can see the differences between pre- and post-implementation more clearly by limiting the days (in the box on the left) to 1-100 or whatever you would like. The second way to know you have implemented an improvement is that the bolded term next to the improvement now says Retract Improvement. After recording how these improvements affect the payload downstream, students will be asked to identify the 3 implementations that are evidenced to have the greatest improvement on the factor they studied. They will do this using the math model to calculate efficiency from the activity handout.

Jigsaw Activity

(100 minutes, 1-2 class periods)

Students will share and compile their data as a class in a jigsaw activity. The students are re-grouped so that the groups contain one expert on each indicator. They will share their recommendations for improvements using data from their model. Then as a group they will come up with the top 3 indicators they think should be studied and at what sites they should implemented to have the most impact on the overall watershed. Answers will vary but all groups of students must back up their claims using the percentages derived from their model. This final phase will allow them to understand how models are used to make decisions and improve water quality given real world budget constraints. Each group will present their recommendations and supporting data to the class.

Homework Activity

Read and summarize an article about water contaminant cleanup. Choose one of the Internet sources listed below. After the students write the summary they will be asked to answer the following question: How could the technique from the article you chose be used in a watershed like the one in our RiverWeb Simulation?


  • The RiverWeb Simulation Worksheet
  • Graphs and data
  • Rationale for expert groups' implementation sites
  • Jigsaw group presentation and recommendation for implementation

RiverWeb Simulation Worksheet

Background information:

John Wesley Powell was the first white man to extensively explore, write about, and map what is now the western United States. He and his crew traveled by boat down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. He described a watershed as "that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community." The Colorado River and the streams that empty into make up the watershed that provides clean water to and has an impact on people in Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Nevada, just as the people in those states and the decisions they make about land use and management have an impact on the Colorado watershed.

Over the next couple class periods, you will be acting as hydrologists and land managers. You will be examining one specific indicator in this watershed and how land use decisions impact its prevalence in the river.

Data Collection:

You will fill in the following table as you work on data collection from the RiverWeb Simulation website:

Indicator: __________________________ (make sure to include what units it is measured in)

Station 1: __________________

Before Improvement Explanation of Improvement IYOW* After Improvement
Minimum Minimum
Maximum Maximum
Average Average
Total Total

*In Your Own Words

Station 2: _________________

Before Improvement Explanation of Improvement IYOW After Improvement
Minimum Minimum
Maximum Maximum
Average Average
Total Total

Station 3: __________________

Before Improvement Explanation of Improvement IYOW After Improvement
Minimum Minimum
Maximum Maximum
Average Average
Total Total

Station 4: __________________

Before Improvement Explanation of Improvement IYOW After Improvement
Minimum Minimum
Maximum Maximum
Average Average
Total Total

Station 5: __________________

Before Improvement Explanation of Improvement IYOW After Improvement
Minimum Minimum
Maximum Maximum
Average Average
Total Total

Station 6: __________________

Before Improvement Explanation of Improvement IYOW After Improvement
Minimum Minimum
Maximum Maximum
Average Average
Total Total

Station 7: _______________________

Before Improvement


Process (do some math!!) your raw data into tables that show differences between different sites as well as graphs that are meaningful and easy to read.

Stations Total payload before improvement (raw data) Total payload after improvement (raw data) Difference in total payload (processed data) % of total payload before improvement at Station 7 (processed data) % of total payload after improvement at Station 7 (processed data)

Create a graph (bar, line, histogram or pie — you decide which best represents this data) that shows the effect each of the stations has on the total payload at Station 7 before and after the improvement. Remember to label each axis with units and to title your graph! Lines should be drawn with rulers.

Create a graph (bar, line, histogram or pie — you decide which best represents this data) that represents what percentage each station contributes to the total payload at Station 7.


Using your data, calculate the percent efficiency of each of the improvements on the indicator you are researching.


  1. Which human use of the stream has the greatest effect on your indicator?
  2. Sequence the stations and improvements in order from greatest effect on total payload to least effect on total payload.
  3. Sequence the stations and improvements in order from highest % efficiency to lowest % efficiency.
  4. Are there any improvements that did not make a difference in water quality? What were they? Why do you think this is?
  5. If you could only make improvements to 3 areas, which would have the most impact? How much impact would they have (use data)?
  6. Which improvement would have the largest impact on your indicator? Do you think this improvement could work at any of the other stations?

WaterSim Scenario Builder


The students will look at real data about the water supply for the Phoenix, AZ metropolitan area. This simulation creates a model that integrates information about climate, land use, population growth and water policy to allow the user to determine the water supply and demand for the city.

The website provides a tutorial and allows the user to put specific input into a model and see the results. Some factors may not be changed, but the simulation allows you to adjust for runoff, drought conditions, population, water policy and agriculture use for the Colorado River and the Salt and Verde Rivers.

This lesson could be used as a cross-disciplinary lesson to show overlap between chemistry and social sciences, such as government, geography, and policy.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand factors affecting local water use
  • Analyze graphical data


Arizona State University Decision Center: http://watersim.asu.edu/Default.aspx

Time Required

120 minutes, 2 Class Periods


This website has a variety of options. Students can look at graphs and simply read them and present information. More advanced students can be given specific criteria to change and determine environmental impacts. The tutorial outlines a variety of uses and you will need to determine the detail required of your students.

Working in groups the students will:

Step 1: Visit the tutorial.

Step 2: Create a scenario using the WaterSim Explorer or Scenario Builder and create a simulation that will model water use and availability in Maricopa County.

Step 3: Analyze the graphs and determine the effects of the input on the water supply to the Phoenix area.


Students will present their findings based on their input in either a written summary or a whiteboard presentation to the class.

Local Water Samples


Students will use portable testing apparatus to determine indicators such as dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity, temperature, hardness, alkalinity, and total chlorine. Vernier probes or simple water quality strips may be used. Water will be sampled at a variety of sites along a waterway. Samples may also be brought back to class for additional testing if desired. If a field trip is not feasible, then students may bring in water samples from a variety of sources such as ponds, canals, swimming pools, etc. for testing in the classroom.

Students will use their local water treatment facility website to determine the standards for water in their community. The website for the city of Tempe, Arizona is given as a resource in the materials section. Students will compare the data they collected from their local waterways to their community's standards and use the math model to determine the percent difference between the collected samples and the standards.

Learning Objectives

  • Compare water samples collected from local waterways to either of the simulations and to local water standards.
  • Navigate a city utility website to gather water standards
  • Compare and contrast experimental data with known standards

Part A: Collection and Analysis


Vernier Lab Quest or similar with a variety probes. If this technology is not available, you may use pH paper, pool testing kits, or various water quality testing strips that are available inexpensively on line.

Water collection bottles. Empty water and Gatorade bottles are good choices.

Time Required: 2 class periods

Procedure: Water sample collection: While a rafting trip down the Salt or Verde River was used in our original lesson, you may visit one of your local water sites to collect samples to be analyzed – consider a number of connected watershed sites such as river, creek, tidal wetland, bay, or ocean to the extent they might be local to you.

Students will create a data table to show the results of each specific test they plan to run on the water sample. They should include a column for later comparison with local standards. Your equipment and resources will dictate the tests that you choose to run on the water samples. A sample data table is show with all the indicators suggested in the overview.

Once your water has been analyzed either on site or brought back to the lab for analysis the table will be completed.

Example Table
Test Waterway Site 1 Waterway Site 2 Waterway Site 3 Local Standards
Dissolved Oxygen
Total Chlorine

Assessment: Students will be assessed on table organization, units, and completion of data collection for all water samples.

Data will be compared to sites from the RiverWeb Simulation. Based on similarity of data, students will try to determine what that tells them about water usage at each site.

Part B: Local Water Treatment Facility Standards


Time Required: 60 minutes, 1 class period

Procedure: A second table should be created to show the percent difference from the local standard using the math model created in the RiverWeb Simulation Activity Sheet.

The data will be compared to the different stations from the RiverWeb Simulation. Students will determine which station is most similar to each sample and what that tells them about the water usage for that site.

Example Table:
DO pH Conductivity Temp Hardness Alkalinity Chlorine
Site 1 % Difference
Site 2 % Difference
Site 3 % Difference

Students must show the set-up and calculation of each answer they record in the chart.

Sample Calculation:

pH Standard: 7.7 pH units

pH at Site 1: 6.2 pH units

The pH at site 1 is 19.48% less than the standard. (This is indicated by the negative answer.)

Assessment: A conclusion containing the following information will be written:

  1. Which collection sites are closest to the standards? Explain why. Use the calculated % difference in the explanation.
  2. What are some water uses that might be occurring at each site? Use information from the RiverWeb Simulation activity to help you determine possible water usages at each site.

Water Filtration System Designed and Tested


Students will design and test a water purification apparatus and use the math model to determine water quality improvement. Prior to designing their apparatus, students will gather background information from local water treatment facilities and a variety of NASA water quality websites.

Learning Objectives

  • Design and build a simple water filtration system
  • Reclaim water using a filtration system
  • Make qualitative and quantitative observations about water samples
  • Compare and contrast experimental data with known standards
  • Use the math model to predict reclamation outcomes with a filtration system
  • Use engineering design requirements such as the most water with the highest purity


Time Required

150-180 minutes, 3 - 4 class periods


Day 1: Students will be assigned the task of creating a filtration system that will filter out some contaminants from household water use.

Brainstorm Session: Students will brainstorm everything that they think goes into the sewer from their homes each day. Have students share their ideas with the class.

A fun activity is to start at the beginning of the day and add all the things that go down the drain while you are getting ready for school. Example: Mountain Dew (to represent urine), toilet paper, toothpaste, mouthwash, soap, shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, lotion, milk, coffee and coffee grinds, cereal, and juice. This ties back into the very first activity about all the ways you use water and is a nice way to bring everything together.

From their lists, determine with the students what will go into their sample wastewater. Point out that for the safety of the class certain things cannot be used, such as body fluids, medicines or dangerous (toxic) chemicals. You should be sure to includes some salty items (like soy sauce), some oils, and some solids (like coffee grinds). As the students go through their day and how they use water, add shampoo, toothpaste, soda, and food scraps, such as peels of oranges or apples, etc.

The following information will be given to the class:

Each group will be given 100 ml of sample wastewater.

Each group will be given the following items:

  • 1 liter soda bottle, empty
  • 100 ml beaker of sand
  • 100 ml beaker of gravel
  • 1 charcoal briquette
  • 1 coffee filter
  • Lab glassware and funnels will be available

Each group may bring 3 additional items from home to use in their filtration system (may not include commercial water filter systems).

The groups will be competing, and they will be scored using the following table. The scores in each category will be 1-5, 5 being the highest. Scores will be given after comparing each sample for volume produced, clarity of sample, presence of oils, and presence of solids. The instructor will give the best sample for each category a 5 and the other samples will be ranked in order of quality. It is possible to get a low score in one category and a high score in another category.

Remember, a good filtration system reclaims the most water with the highest purity. 1 ml of pure water isn’t useful, but 75 ml of contaminated water is not good either.

Water Quality Chart
Group Volume Clarity Presence of Oils Presence of Solids Total

Students will spend the first class period doing research and designing their system. They will sketch their design and this will be submitted along with their purified water sample. There are many tutorials that can be found on the engineering design process. NASA has one at http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/324206main_Design_Packet_II.pdf.

Day 2 & 3: Students will build their filtration apparatus and test with a small amount of the waste water. If their system doesn’t work, they will need to adjust, re-design, and try again. Students will have 2 days to filter their water. Remind them that they will only have the 100 ml of water to filter and no additional supplies. They should make sure to allow for the possibility that they may need to rework some aspects of their initial design.

All of the filtered water samples will be judged at the end of the 3rd day. The highest total score will become the standard for the class (or 100% on the grading scale), and students will be graded as a % of that.

Example: If the highest score is 17 than that group has a 100%. The overall score is the sum of all the categories. The next group has a 15 and their score is or 88.2%.

Percent improvement of water sample:

Students will run the following tests on the original wastewater: dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity, temperature, hardness, alkalinity, total chlorine. They will run the same test on the filtered sample. Students will use the math model to determine % improvement.

Sample Data Table:
Test Wastewater Filtered Water % Improvement
Dissolved Oxygen
Total Chlorine


Filtration apparatus design

Water quality chart

Percent improvement of wastewater sample

Optional Enrichment Activity


Students will use the following websites:

Time Required

60 minutes, 1 class period


The websites give information on the water reclamation systems used on the International Space Station. The students will determine how their filtration system should be adapted to be used in space. There will be two new engineering design requirements for this assignment. The first is cost — students should keep in mind that it costs $1,000 per pound to launch something into space. The second design requirement is to keep in mind that the design needs to work in a micro-gravity environment.

A written plan from the students will be collected and students will highlight their designs on whiteboards to be shared with the class.

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