Polluted mangrove

Polluting the Environment

In this learning unit, students construct a mini-ecosystem; pollute the ecosystem; observe, collect, and record data on the effects; share their findings; and draw conclusions. Students have ample opportunity to access technology as they collect data, organize data on a spreadsheet, create graphs, and design presentations.

Planning Guide

“Polluting the Environment”

Creating Learning-Focused Schools

LU Title: Polluting the EnvironmentAuthors: Marilyn McCredy/Jo-Ann Williams
Grade Level: 4th GradeSchool Address: PO Box 155, Madison, NY
Subject Area: ScienceSchool Phone/Fax: (315)893-1878/7111


In this learning unit students will *construct a mini-ecosystem *pollute the ecosystem *observe, collect, and record data on the effects of these pollutants on their ecosystem *share their findings with others *draw conclusions. Students will have ample opportunity to access technology as they collect data, organize data on a spreadsheet, create graphs, and design presentations for the Scientific Convention using Microsoft/PowerPoint.


  • How would we apply the Scientific Method to answer questions and solve problems?
  • What defines an ecosystem?
  • What are the implications and consequences of pollution on the ecosystem?
  • How can we promote a better understanding and respect of our ecosystem?
  • What is pollution?
  • How can the information and results be shared with others?
  • What can individuals do to protect the environment from pollution?


  1. Read The Lorax by Dr. Suess and discuss.
  2. Using the excerpts from the book 50 Things Kids Can Do To Save The Earth, discuss pollution.
  3. Show video 50 Things Kids Can Do To Save The Earth and discuss.
  4. Complete a K-W-L chart to collectively identify knowledge of pollutants and effects of pollution.


Content Area: Math/Science/Technology

MST Standard #1-Scientific Inquiry: #2 and #3

MST Standard #2-Information Systems: #1 and #2

MST Standard #4-Science-The Living Environment: #7

MST Standard #6-Interconnectedness: Common Themes-Models #2; Equilibrium and Stability #4; Patterns of Change #5

MST Standard #7-Interdiciplinary Problem Solving


General Declarative Knowledge

How will students get the information, what strategies will be used to help students construct meaning, organize and/or store knowledge? What sill this look like?

  • List the steps in the Scientific Method
  • Define an ecosystem
  • Identify four possible pollutants (salt, vinegar, lemon juice, detergent)
  • Know appropriate vocabulary
  • Record information on a data sheet
  • Draw similarities between student-made ecosystem and world we live in using Venn diagram
  • List procedure for working together in effective student groups
  • Write letters, send e-mail, sharing information with others


General Procedural Knowledge

What strategies will be used to help students construct models, shape the skill and internalize it? What will this look like? How will each learning experience be assessed?

  • Make posters listing steps in the Scientific Method that complement this experiment
  • Make ecosystem-terrarium (see specific learning experience for directions, supplies, etc.)
  • Observe and collect data on growth of plants in ecosystem
  • Observe and collect data on effects of pollution on ecosystem
  • Draw conclusions on results of procedure


Title: Terrific Terrariums

Learning Context: Terrariums will be made for the purpose of allowing the students to use them as an example of an ecosystem, so that they will be able to see the results of pollution on our environment. Students need to know that plants need light and water to grow.

Procedure: Students will construct model ecosystems using plastic 2 liter soda bottles, potting soil, grass seed, rubber bands, and pieces of nylon stocking. Prepare the bottles by cutting completely apart approximately 5 inches from the bottom. The bottom part becomes the container for ground water. Students should add approximately 3 inches of water to the bottom section of the bottle. Students should stretch a piece of nylon stocking over the top of the soda bottle and secure it with a rubber band. This acts as a filter and helps carry the water to the seeds. The top part of the bottle is turned upside down and placed top down, into the base of the bottle. Students fill the top portion of the bottle with about 3-4 inches of soil, and grass seed. Seeds should be covered with debris from outdoors (dead leaves etc.) to make more realistic. This terrarium becomes a model of the ecosystem we live in. Place terrariums on a windowsill and await the growth of grass, which is needed for learning experience #2. This took less than a week. Learning experience could be enhanced by having students track and chart growth of grass at this point. Photos of terrarium construction are available.

Instructional/Environmental Modifications: Students worked in groups and no special modifications were needed when done in a heterogeneously grouped fourth grade classroom.

Time Required:


*Implementation: 40 minutes

*Assessment: Visual

Resources: None

Assessment Plan: Visual-Did the students successfully construct a terrarium?

Student Work: Photos available

Reflection: All students were successful at completing this, and were excited about using the terrariums as the basis for a future experiment.

Title: The Scientific Method

Learning Context: The purpose of learning and using the steps in the Scientific Method is that it is the basis for all scientific investigation. Students will use this later in the year as they prepare their Science Fair Project.

Procedure: Present students with a thought-provoking question such as “What happens to the water in a glass that sits out for days?” Lead a discussion on how they know the answer, or how it can be found if they don’t know. Using chart paper, write down ideas as they discuss them. By using age-appropriate questions their responses should be able to be grouped into the following:

  • What question are we trying to answer? Question
  • What do you think will happen? Hypothesis
  • What supplies do you need to find out? Supplies
  • What would you need to do? Procedure
  • What did you observe happening? What data did you collect? Observation
  • What did you learn from this experiment? Conclusion

These are the basic steps that make up the Scientific Method. Students were able to easily remember the steps, as we named our “scientist” Q.H. SPOC, using the first letter of each step as a letter in the name.

Instructional/Environmental Modifications: Reinforcement and practice of these steps were crucial for the students to internalize the process. Two examples of sheets used follow:

Title of Experiment

Scientists _______________________________________

What question were you trying to answer?  What was your hypothesis?What supplies did you need?
What did you do?What did you observe? What data did you collect?What did you learn from this experiment?

The Scientific Method

By ____________________

Scientists use this plan to help them investigate, experiment, and answer questions they have.

1. ______________________________

Do all birds like the same kinds of seeds?

2. ______________________________

I don’t think all birds like the same kinds of seeds.

3. ______________________________

I’ll need some plastic dishes, some seeds, and birds.

4. ______________________________

I’ll put a certain amount of seeds in a dish, and watch which birds eat which seeds.

5. ______________________________

I’ll keep track of which birds eat which seeds and put the information on a


6. ______________________________

I found out that some types of birds liked some of the same food as other

birds. I still don’t know why certain birds like certain seeds. I have a whole

new set of questions!

Students should be able to fill in the blanks with the correct step of the Scientific Method that is described in the sentence below the line.

Time required:

  • Planning: 30 minutes
  • Implementation: Teacher decision (30 minutes or more)
  • Assessment: Did the students correctly fill in the lines?

Resources: VHS #22955 “The Scientific Method” BOCES

Assessment Plan: Verbal review of steps, sequencing of steps using worksheets

Samples of student work: None available

Reflection: This piece proved to be very useful in many areas besides science. It is a terrific organizational tool for many projects, and can easily be adapted to help students organize their thinking while planning.

Title: Polluting An Ecosystem

Learning Context: Students will need to know the steps in the Scientific Method and be able to apply them to an experiment they will conduct using the terrariums they made in Learning Experience #2.

Procedure: The procedure is written as a worksheet that will guide the students in their completion of the task. It can easily be modified for individual classrooms, but seemed most easily understood when written as follows:

  1. Question: What will happen to the plants in our terrariums when we add pollutants to some of them?
  2. Hypothesis: I think our plants in our terrariums will die when we add pollutants to them. Other hypotheses we made as we did our experiment: The terrariums that we polluted with a high concentrate of the pollutant will be affected more than the one polluted with a low concentrate.
  3. Supplies: Our terrariums, pollutants (vinegar, lemon juice, salt, detergent), paper and pencil to record information.
  4. Procedure: Get the three terrariums our group did.

Pollute two of them with the same type of pollutant. Pollute one with a low concentrate of pollutant. Pollute one with a high concentrate of the pollutant. Do not pollute the third terrarium, as it will be used as the control. Every experiment needs a control. The control is the part of the experiment that is not changed. We need a control so that we can compare it to the parts of the experiment that we changed – in this experiment, the two other terrariums that were changed by adding pollutants.

Observation: Observe the grass growth during the next week. Keep data on your observations in your science notebook. What is happening to the grass in each terrarium? Conclusion: What did we learn and what is the significance of our discoveries?


Grass Growth Data CollectionDateABCNotes4/4NoneNoneNonePlanted today4/83 cm.NoneNone A=low concentrate pollutantB=high concentrate pollutantC=controlThis sample sheet was given to each student and together, in class, students reproduced this in their notebook, horizontally, with the spirals at the top. This way they could continue their data collection endlessly by going onto the next page in their notebook. Students were assigned to collect data a minimum of three days per week. Several chose to observed and collect data daily, and therefore needed the extra space. Notebooks were collected by the teacher every week and informally assessed for completion, accuracy, and correct use of measurement units. Students with more advanced computer background were also able to create graphs and/or spreadsheets to organize data collected throughout the experience. These graphs were included in their final presentations at the Scientific Convention.Instructional/Environmental Modifications: none neededTime Required:

Planning: 30 minutes

Implementation: 30 minutes per day/5-7 days to observe and collect data

Assessment: 45 minutes per day/5-7 days for presentation of information (see next Learning Experience)Resources: Science Anytime (Harcourt Brace & Company), 1995; Reference Section – pages R14-R19″Working Like A Scientist”Assessment Plan: Student notebooks will be collected every two or three days for informal evaluation by the teacher. They will be checked for completion, accuracy, and usage of correct measurement units. Also see “Presentation Rubric” in assessment sectionStudent Work: availableReflection: This piece was an extremely worthwhile experience for the students. They were able to put into practice what they had learned and make sense of it all!Title: Preparing for a Scientific ConventionLearning Context: This Learning Experience fits into the unit as a preparation for the final assessment piece.Procedure: Students will be grouped for this activity. Depending on class size recommended group size should be between 4-6 students. The following procedure is shown as it would be on a worksheet given to the student groups as they prepare their presentation.Decided, as a group, what you will write for the following sections, each student should answer each number, then after everyone understands all four parts, the work can be split up.Title: incorporate your question into this – for example, “The effects of salt water on grass”Hypothesis: (Predictions)
a) pollution vs. non-pollutionb) high concentration vs. low concentration (will on die faster?)Procedure with materials list: Briefly list materials used and describe briefly what was doneAdding pollutant – type and concentrationDescribe observationsResults: How many days until affected? Which one was affected first? How was the grass affected?Conclusion: Ecological significance:
Lemon & vinegar=acidSalt=road saltDetergent=factory pollution (chemicals)

What we added is not part of the healthy ecosystem.

Some things added seriously hurt an ecosystem.

Other things may not hurt it as badly.

We learned the real affects of pollution.

What could we do to improve/change the experiment?

How can we tell others what we learned?Instructional/Environmental Modifications:Time Required:

Planning: 30 minutes

Implementation: Heterogeneously grouped fourth graders completed this piece of the learning unit in approximately 8 class days of 45 minutes/day. This time included each group practicing the presentation for the teacher in preparation for final Scientific Convention.

Assessment: Presentations were approximately 15 minutes each. Total time will depend on amount of groups.

Resources: none

Assessment Plan: As the final learning experience in this unit this piece is the one used for formal assessment. See Presentation Rubric in the assessment section. This is used at the Scientific Convention, which is when the student groups present their findings to the rest of the student groups. Assessment could also be done by peers, following presentation, depending on time restraints. Self-assessment could also be a part of the activity as students could be assigned to write a brief self-assessment entry in their science notebooks.

Student Work: Examples of student work and/or photos of student work are available.

Reflection: It was my experience that this was an extremely valuable Learning Unit. It clearly showed the students the reality of small amounts of pollutants. Students in fourth grade are old enough to connect a project such as this to a more global concept.


Scientific Findings Convention: In groups, students will present their findings to other student groups using their posters, which explain their experiments in the Scientific Method format.

School Display: Students will display their posters and ecosystems in the school for other students to observe and learn from. They can also invite classes of younger students to their display and explain their project. A photo of this display is available.


Writing: Students will write letters to local newspapers and/or environmental groups explaining their findings and sharing the ecological significance of their research. These letters will be written on the computer and/or sent via e-mail.

School-wide Science Fair: Topics selected by students for school-wide Science Fair could be based upon the knowledge learned in this learning unit. Several students chose their projects (ie: seed germination, plant growth) and carried them out using this exact format.


Assessment is an ongoing process rather than a single event. All Learning Experiences in this unit provide evaluative information from the students. Informal evaluations throughout this unit should be used. Formal assessment can be done using the Presentation Rubric below. This can be modified to fit varying situations.

Presentation Rubric


  • It is obvious that there was a lot of planning in this presentation.
  • It is obvious that the group practiced and was prepared.
  • More planning could have made a noticeable difference in this presentation.
  • This presentation lacks planning.
  • No project


The visual shows skilled work. The actions, colors, etc. are attractive, interesting, and well done. The visual shows some skilled work. The actions, colors, etc. could have been made more attractive and interesting. The visual shows little skilled work and is unattractive. No Project


This presentation was difficult. It took a lot of time and planning. This presentation was fairly easy to do. It took some time and planning. This presentation was easy. It took little time and/or planning. No Project

Points Scan:

9 points=A – The presentation was excellent.

7,8 points=B – The presentation has one or two weak spots but it is still a good presentation.

6 points=C – The presentation has some weak spots.

4,5 points=D – The presentation has many problems.

0,1,2,3 points=F

Further reading: How to Write a Lesson Plan: 7 Steps