Teachers and families across the country are facing a new reality of providing opportunities for students to do science through distance and home learning. The Daily Do is one of the ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families with this endeavor. Each weekday, NSTA will share a sensemaking task teachers and families can use to engage their students in authentic, relevant science learning. We encourage families to make time for family science learning (science is a social process!) and are dedicated to helping students and their families find balance between learning science and the day-to-day responsibilities they have to stay healthy and safe.
Interested in learning about other ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families? Visit the NSTA homepage.
Sensemaking is actively trying to figure out how the world works (science) or how to design solutions to problems (engineering). Students do science and engineering through the science and engineering practices. Engaging in these practices necessitates that students be part of a learning community to be able to share ideas, evaluate competing ideas, give and receive critique, and reach consensus. Whether this community of learners is made up of classmates or family members, students and adults build and refine science and engineering knowledge together.
Middle school students, as scientists, investigate a new method of ammonia production to answer the following driving question: Should our city’s wastewater treatment system produce ammonia? Students obtain information from the Our Beautiful Planet: Liquid Gold film, two data sets, and resource materials from their local wastewater treatment agency. Students describe the effects of traditional ammonia production on the environment and compare them to the new method. Students evaluate this information and their previously built understanding of Earth Science ideas to construct an argument about whether their local wastewater treatment system should adopt the new method of ammonia production proposed in the film.
Click the Download PDF button above for the complete Lesson Plan.
Wastewater Treatment System Research
Required Student Prior Knowledge
We recommend using this lesson after or near the end of a unit about human impacts on the environment. Students should bring an understanding of
Tell students they are going to analyze several different graphs that represent large data sets showing changes over time. Direct students to create T-Charts and label one side of the chart “Notice” and the other side of the chart “Wonder.” Share the Part One Data Set (page 1) with students. Instruct students to begin writing their noticings and wonderings in their T-Charts.
Using chart paper, an interactive projection screen, a board, or another option that allows all students to see what is written, create a “Notice and Wonder” chart for the class. Have students share what they have noticed and wondered from the two data sets.
Students will probably ask what arable means. Once students surface this question, share with them the definition: used or suitable for growing crops.
Some student observations and questions could include these:
Point out that many students have asked questions about how the population growth happened. Also, note that some students suggested that the amount of food available is probably connected to the number of people, since humans need food to survive. Tell students that to continue thinking about the food-population connection, they will focus on the farming practices that have supported human population growth. Tell them that they will analyze additional data and add to their Notice/Wonder charts. Direct students to the Part Two Data Set (pages 2–4).
Repeat the process of having students share their observations and questions.
Some student observations and questions could include these:
Tell students that now they will watch a film that discusses how scientists are investigating many of the questions they have asked. Play the entire Our Beautiful Planet: Liquid Gold film. Instruct students to continue to add to their Notice/Wonder charts as they watch the video.
Lead an initial ideas class discussion of questions about Liquid Gold. Create a class record of information shared on a poster, slide, or board. Encourage students to think about ways their city could help reduce the impact that producing ammonia has on the environment.
Student questions should converge on a question similar to Should our city’s wastewater treatment system produce ammonia? If students are struggling to generate questions, consider posing the following questions:
Inform students that they will construct an argument to answer their question in the next section of the lesson.
Teacher Note—Connecting to Students' Background Knowledge and Prior Experiences
If time allows, consider starting the discussion by making connections to their prior experiences:
Teacher Note—Class Discussions
For more information about different types of class discussions and class discussion facilitation, consult the OpenSciEd resource 3 Discussion Types.
Tell students that they will now work with a partner to consider adopting Will Tarpeh’s method of producing ammonia at their local wastewater treatment plant. They will use evidence from the film and the data sets and resources from their local wastewater treatment system to construct an argument. The argument should take into account the cause-and-effect relationships between each method of producing ammonia and its impacts on the environment.
Provide students with the Wastewater Treatment Resources you chose and the Evaluation Handout.
Students will likely share the following information obtained from the film, resources, and data sets:
Teacher Note—Class Discussion of Arguments
If time allows, consider bringing groups or the whole class together to discuss their arguments. The following questions could be used in the discussion:
Ask students to consider the question below. Ask for volunteers to share their ideas with the class.
What additional information would you need to make a stronger argument?
Student answers could include the following:
Will Tarpeh is an Assistant Professor in Chemical Engineering at Stanford University. Tarpeh’s research involves reimagining liquid waste streams as resources and enabling more efficient, less costly approaches to reduce harmful discharges to the environment. He is developing novel technologies to capture pollutants in effluent streams so that they may be used as valuable inputs to other processes. For example, municipal wastewater contains resources like energy, water, nutrients, and metals. The Tarpeh Lab develops and evaluates novel approaches to resource recovery from “waste” waters at several synergistic scales: molecular mechanisms of chemical transport and transformation; novel unit processes that increase resource efficiency; and systems-level assessments that identify optimization opportunities. His team employs understandings of electrochemistry, separations, thermodynamics, kinetics, and reactor design to preferentially recover resources from waste. They leverage these molecular-scale insights to increase the sustainability of engineered processes in terms of energy, environmental impact, and cost.
This lesson is based on information provided in the film Our Beautiful Planet: Liquid Gold. Our Beautiful Planet is a fascinating new series highlighting the work that climate scientists around the country are doing to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues. These dedicated scientists are seeking to better understand and plan for the realities of our changing climate. Using cutting-edge technology and innovative problem solving, their answers are sometimes found in rather surprising and unexpected places. The series transports the viewer to some of the most important field work being done today, taking the science out of the classroom and into the world. These compelling stories will not only teach viewers crucial scientific principles, but will also inspire them to use science to examine the issues their own communities face in this changing world and climate. Through these films, the producers hope scientists and citizens alike can come together to safeguard our environment and to protect our beautiful planet. Productions by Kikim Media. Support provided by Kennebunkport Climate Initiative.
NSTA has created a Should Our City's Wastewater Treatment System Produce Ammonia? collection of resources to support teachers and families using this task. If you're an NSTA member, you can add this collection to your library.
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