Environmental Risk

Nancy Fields, El Centro College
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In this lab, students differentiate between perceived risk and actual risk, identify factors that influence perceived risk, and conduct a public survey of environmental issues. They analyze their survey data and present their findings to the class.

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Learning Goals

Content/concepts goals
Students should be able to:

  1. Differentiate between perceived risk and actual risk.
  2. Identify factors that influence perceived risk.
  3. Conduct survey of environmental issues.
  4. Analyze and present results of survey data.

Higher order thinking skills goals
The higher order thinking skills goals are analyzing and ranking data, comparing and contrasting data with other students in the class, and evaluating data.

Other skills goals
Other goals include searching the EPA MyEnvironment website, working in groups of 2-3 conducting a public survey, oral presentation, and working in groups in-class.

Context for Use

Type and level of course
This is a lab activity for an introductory environmental science course for non-science majors.

Skills and concepts students should have mastered
Understanding the steps of the scientific method and demonstrating the ability to collect and analyze data.

How the activity is situated in the course
This lab is conducted during a 3-hour meeting with some whole-group discussion, individual-work, and small-group work. It can be completed as a stand-alone exercise.

Description and Teaching Materials

The first lab activity begins with individual work and then small and whole-group discussion examining perceived and actual risks. In the second lab activity, students work in pairs or groups of three examining environmental risks. Each small group surveys individuals from the public about selected environmental issues, collects and analyzes the data, then conducts oral presentations to the class of their findings. In the last lab activity, students individually search the EPA MyEnvironment website.
Environmental Risk Ranking (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 60kB Jun5 15)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Opening the beginning of the lab with a short discussion (providing a few examples) of actual and perceived risk is helpful, as well as reading aloud and discussing as a whole-group some of the factors (and examples) that influence risk that have been identified by researchers (page 3 of Activity 1). Some of the questions are based from the Environmental Science lab manual by Wagner and Sandford (please see Resources section).


The lab consists of questions and tables that address each of the areas the students are expected to cover, e.g. perceived risk, actual risk, environmental issues, group work and group presentations.

References and Resources

Some questions based on the Environmental Risk Ranking lab and Local Environmental Risk Problem Set from the Environmental science, 2nd Edition lab manual by: T. Wagner and R. Sandford; ISBN: 978-0-470-08767-1

EPA My Environment website: http://www.epa.gov/myenvironment/