MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Monitoring pollution in a freshwater environment

Monitoring pollution in a freshwater environment

Sheila Sullivan
Great River School
St. Paul, MN
based on IBESS standards
Author Profile


This is a student lead research project. After learning the direct methods and indirect methods of measuring pollution students will choose a method to monitor pollution while manipulating one variable. That variable may be shaded area vs. mostly sunny, a particular area monitored with season variation or other student developed ideas determined before the students set out to do their research. Students will site a spot at a measured distanced from a permanent marker (e.g. tree), in a determined direction using a compass. The other area(s) will be chosen by the student depending on what research question the student is working on. Presentation of their findings will be given to a small group of other students.

Learning Goals

The goal for this lab is to have a research question that is inquiry based and driven by the curiosity of the student. While accomplishing this students are also becoming familiar with direct and indirect methods of monitoring and measuring pollution. The presentation of their findings will allow students to practice organizational skills and communication skills as well as stir the imaginative juices of the other students.

Context for Use

This inquiry lab will be used at a school that is near to a freshwater source. At this school I have the luxury of asking for large time segments several times during the year for this type of inquiry lab. Other senior high teachers will also be able to accompany our class and act as supervisors. Of course if a student decides they need to take a winter sample, other materials will need to be figured out (e.g. auger).

Subject: Environmental Science:Water Quality and Quantity
Resource Type: Activities:Lab Activity
Special Interest: Field-Based Teaching and Learning
Grade Level: High School (9-12)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Enhancing your Teaching:Teaching in the Field, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Environmental Science, Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Water

Description and Teaching Materials

This lesson will begin with a lecture and reading on what are direct and indirect methods of monitoring and measuring pollution.
Next students will be given instruction on how to measure the following:
Direct methods and Indirect methods
Measuring nitrate, ammonium Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD)
and phosphate ions using test kits *Use of a biotic index
Using Simpson's diversity index
Dissolved oxygen

*In some cases students can use the biotic index of an indicator species if the teacher is familiar with these species in the area or an expert is brought in.

Teaching Notes and Tips

I have not done this activity yet but intend to almost immediately in the fall. I am guessing I will need permission from the DNR or St. Paul Parks and Rec before my students start to walk around in this city lake.
I believe most of this lab will be done as a pre-lab and post-lab. In other words, time at the freshwater environment will be solely to take data or samples. I believe it will run much smoother is the organization is in place for each group before we venture out.


Lab report including: topic, question, procedure, data, analysis, conclusion

Standards Formulate a testable hypothesis, design and conduct an experiment to test the hypothesis, analyze the data, consider alternative explanations and draw conclusions supported by evidence from the investigation. Explain how human activity and natural processes are altering the hydrosphere, biosphere, lithosphere and atmosphere, including pollution, topography and climate.
For example: Active volcanoes and the burning of fossil fuels contribute to the greenhouse effect.

References and Resources