MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Water Quality

Water Quality

Jennifer Krings, Ridgeway Community School, Houston, MN
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This activity is an introduction to water quality. The students will go out into the field to do testing and observing. Then students will design an investigation to begin at the site. They will choose another site to test back at school with samples brought in by the teacher.

Learning Goals

Students will: observe the local aquatic environment; use appropriate tools to test water quality for given contaminants; document observable pollution and formulate hypotheses for chemical contaminants; draw generalized conclusions regarding the water quality of the observed location; generate a testable question based on their experiences at the test locations that can be researched in the classroom with collectable samples (samples can come from any accessible, local water source); appropriately convey data collected at original site(s) and data from secondary source including drawn conclusions. Vocabulary - dissolved oxygen, pH, nitrate, ammonia, tolerant, intolerant, turbidity, pollution, refuge

Context for Use

This investigation is for use in the field, with fourth and fifth grade students. The time frame is one day for initial investigation with a break for lunch at an appropriate time, and 1-2 weeks for follow-up investigations and presentations. The following equipment would be good to have: water testing kit (Pondwater Tour, Water Quality Index Field Trip, etc.), buckets, nets, ice cube trays, pipettes, forceps, hand lenses, thermometers, secchi disks, writing utensils, science notebooks, other miscellaneous supplies including rulers, natural objects that float such as sticks or leaves, rope, stopwatches, and cameras are optional.

Subject: Environmental Science:Water Quality and Quantity, Geoscience
Resource Type: Activities:Field Activity, Classroom Activity
Special Interest: Field-Based Teaching and Learning
Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Enhancing your Teaching:Teaching in the Field, Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:K12, Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Water, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Environmental Science

Description and Teaching Materials

Students will be bussed to at least one aquatic location (number of locations depends on cost of transportation - samples from lake location will be brought to river location if second stop is not possible) to perform appropriate investigations.

Once at the river location students will begin observing the environment on their own, silently for 10 minutes. Observations can come in the form of drawings, notes, data tables, expository writing, etc. After observing students will be broken into small groups (3 students each) and given the investigation equipment to do their own investigations of the area. Only one set of the chemical testing supplies will be given out. Students will have 20-30 minutes to do this portion of the investigation.

After students have investigated on their own, we will reconvene as a large group to discuss observations. The students can share what they have observed, and pose questions to the group. We will discuss the "critters" that will probably be collected, locations of collections, etc.

When the students have finished organizing their data, come back together as a large group to discuss results. Did everyone find the same information? What made the results the same or different? etc. Allow 10 more minutes of observation to document visible pollution in the area. If allowed/approved students may collect the garbage for appropriate disposal. Come together as a large group again to discuss pollution.

Students will now be introduced to the next part of the investigation. The students must now create a testable question dealing with water quality. Study of visible pollution is allowed, but will not be the main focus of the investigations. Pictures can be taken of the collection site to be viewed during class time. Groups will be given the opportunity to test their question at the river location, the lake location, and one other accessible local aquatic location. The water/sediment from the location of their choice will be collected and brought to the classroom later in the week. Before beginning their investigations, students must have their questions approved and demonstrate how data will be recorded.

Allow students to investigate at river location, then drive to lake location, or bring out the water/sediment from the lake location. Before heading back to school, students must discuss the location of their choice with the teacher and discuss how the water will be brought to school.

At school on the second day of the investigation, allow time for students to organize the data they have collected at the first two sites. On the third day, water of the students choice will be brought to school. The students will be allowed to test this water for two days. Day five will consist of organization of data, and discussion of presentations. Students will need to complete a written summary of their findings and make a presentation to the class summarizing their investigation and results.

Teaching Notes and Tips

It should be clearly stated that no students will go into the water, or past a certain point, depending on your comfort level. I am very excited to do this with my students, it will be a first for all of us.

Options - With this investigation, you could include a macroinvertebrate study. Students can collect and catalogue them, and add the relation between the chemistry and macroinvertebrate population into the tests they come up with.

Adaptations for Special Needs - If students in your class have special needs, choose a location that is very easily accessible with either a dock, or a very gradual slope. If writing is a problem, students could partner up so one could do the transcription, or a small voice recorder could be used.

Potential Problems - Weather could be a key factor in this investigation. River location does not have sheltered area, if needed lake location could become primary location for use of sheltered facilities. Samples from all locations could be brought to school incase of very inclement weather.


Students will be assessed on cooperative learning, participation in small group and large group discussions, data collection as evidenced in journals, and summative writing and presentation.

Standards Observations, Investigation, Collect evidence, Human interactions with natural systems

References and Resources