A Town in Trouble
Original lesson by
Apurva Dave from Middleton High School,
Lisa Peake from Wesley Chapel High School,

Time: 4 class periods
Prep Time: Time to photocopy role & rubric sheets
Materials: Internet & library access, poster board, markers, Role sheets and Rubrics


Responding to a report of contamination of their town’s water supply, students explore and then explain water and wastewater treatment systems to their peers, including the analytical and regulatory issues associated with the use and management of water resources. The students present the information on various aspects of the contamination to a town meeting as specialist groups competing for a consulting contract. The teacher acts as the mayor presiding over the meeting.

Students will:
1. Identify and describe the parameters and analytical techniques used to characterize water contamination in a class presentation.
2. Identify the consequences of high contamination levels in the water supply during a class presentation.
3. Describe the laws that govern the quality of the water they use and explain in a class presentation how water quality standards are enforced.
4. Differentiate in a class presentation between drinking water and wastewater treatment systems and also surface and ground water supplies.

National Science Education Standards
Content Standard A: Science as Inquiry
COMMUNICATE AND DEFEND A SCIENTIFIC ARGUMENT. Students in school science programs should develop the abilities associated with accurate and effective communication. These include writing and following procedures, expressing concepts, reviewing information, summarizing data, using language appropriately, developing diagrams and charts, explaining statistical analysis, speaking clearly and logically, constructing a reasoned argument, and responding appropriately to critical comments.
RECOGNIZE AND ANALYZE ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATIONS AND MODELS. This aspect of the standard emphasizes the critical abilities of analyzing an argument by reviewing current scientific understanding, weighing the evidence, and examining the logic so as to decide which explanations and models are best. In other words, although there may be several plausible explanations, they do not all have equal weight. Students should be able to use scientific criteria to find the preferred explanations.

Content Area E: Science and Technology
IDENTIFY A PROBLEM OR DESIGN AN OPPORTUNITY. Students should be able to identify new problems or needs and to change and improve current technological designs.

Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
Human populations use resources in the environment in order to maintain and improve their existence. Natural resources have been and will continue to be used to maintain human populations.
The earth does not have infinite resources; increasing human consumption places severe stress on the natural processes that renew some resources, and it depletes those resources that cannot be renewed.
Humans use many natural systems as resources. Natural systems have the capacity to reuse waste, but that capacity is limited. Natural systems can change to an extent that exceeds the limits of organisms to adapt naturally or humans to adapt technologically.
Natural ecosystems provide an array of basic processes that affect humans. Those processes include maintenance of the quality of the atmosphere, generation of soils, control of the hydrologic cycle, disposal of wastes, and recycling of nutrients. Humans are changing many of these basic processes, and the changes may be detrimental to humans. [See Content Standard C (grades 9-12) ]
Materials from human societies affect both physical and chemical cycles of the earth.
Many factors influence environmental quality. Factors that students might investigate include population growth, resource use, population distribution, overconsumption, the capacity of technology to solve problems, poverty, the role of economic, political, and religious views, and different ways humans view the earth.
Normal adjustments of earth may be hazardous for humans. Humans live at the interface between the atmosphere driven by solar energy and the upper mantle where convection creates changes in the earth's solid crust. As societies have grown, become stable, and come to value aspects of the environment, vulnerability to natural processes of change has increased. [See Content Standard D (grades 9-12)]
Human activities can enhance potential for hazards. Acquisition of resources, urban growth, and waste disposal can accelerate rates of natural change.
Natural and human-induced hazards present the need for humans to assess potential danger and risk. Many changes in the environment designed by humans bring benefits to society, as well as cause risks. Students should understand the costs and trade-offs of various hazards--ranging from those with minor risk to a few people to major catastrophes with major risk to many people. The scale of events and the accuracy with which scientists and engineers can (and cannot) predict events are important considerations.

Related and Resource Websites

USGS Primary Treatment of Wastewater http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/wwvisit.html
EPA Decision Making - A Mock Town Meeting http://www.epa.gov/OGWDW/kids/grades_9-12_mock_town_meeting.html

Image of a Town Meeting

Days 1-3
1. Share with students the following scenario: The town that you live in is facing a major water pollution catastrophe! Your drinking water supply has recently become contaminated. Your neighbors have complained that the water flowing out of their taps is cloudy, stinky, and tastes bad. Life in your town has become very difficult, and the mayor has called a mandatory town meeting to discuss the exact nature of the contamination.
Interdisciplinary teams have been formed to research multiple aspects of this problem. Each team must be prepared to present and defend their analysis and suggestions at the town hall meeting.

2. Explain to the students they will make up the teams and then divide the class into groups of four. Within each group there will be a biologist, a chemist, an engineer and a policy maker. You may wish to assign roles to each student. Provide each student with a role card. Each role card describes the responsibility of that expert.

Chemist: You are to research and discuss the possible tests needed to characterize the severity of the contamination. You should address methods for testing pH, turbidity, and hardness (EDTA titration).

The rubric then outlines what they should include in an individual report. Each student should produce a report that can, potentially, be shared at the town meeting. As a group they should be ready to present suggestions as to the source of the contamination and an action plan as to how to test their ideas and what the subsequent action(s) should be.

3. Provide Internet and library access for students. Remind them that as they research the various aspects of water management processes they have been assigned, they should also consider the scenario that has been presented to them. Allow them a day to research and then assign a written report for homework plus a discussion during the following class period.

4. Once students have completed their individual assignment they should sit in their groups and summarize what they found and discuss possible implications for the scenario. As a group they should prepare an analysis of the problem and possible suggestions for solutions. Allow half an hour for groups to discuss their analysis and then request that they write down these analysis and their solutions. They should turn these in before the next stage. Each group should prepare to present at the next meeting. They will gather during the next class period for the town hall meeting.

Day 4
This is your opportunity to ham it up a little. As mayor, you present the problem to the students, perhaps while waving a glass of cloudy, smelly water around. Explain, in your role as mayor, that you call upon them as experts to explain what has happened to the once delicious water. Who is responsible for this contamination? What can be done to solve the problem? Each group should make their presentation and then respond to questions from the community (the rest of the students).
When all the student groups have presented, the mayor should lead a vote as to which team presented the most convincing argument and should be given the consulting award.


Arrange a field trip to the community’s water treatment facilities.


If applicable

Embedded Assessment

Students demonstrate their ability to identify and describe various aspects of waste water management through their individual reports and classroom presentations.

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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