Protecting Nature with Technology
OverviewYou might have read about the negative impacts modern human civilization has had on the environment, like pollution, deforestation, and extinction of animal species. How can we use modern technology to help protect the environment? In this project-based lesson students will design an electronic circuit that can measure something in the environment like water quality and light pollution, and develop a plan for how their circuits could be used to solve a real-world problem.
- Design, build, and test an environmental monitoring circuit
- Understand how feedback from the circuit can be used to help protect the environment
- Present a plan for how the circuit could be used in the real world
NGSS AlignmentThis lesson helps students prepare for these Next Generation Science Standards Performance Expectations:
- HS-ESS3-4. Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.
Science & Engineering Practices
Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions. Design, evaluate, and/or refine a solution to a complex real-world problem, based on scientific knowledge, student-generated sources of evidence, prioritized criteria, and tradeoff considerations.
Engaging in Argument from Evidence. Make and defend a claim based on evidence about the natural world or the effectiveness of a design solution that reflects scientific knowledge, and student-generated evidence.
Obtaining, Evaluation, and Communicating Information. Communicate scientific and/or technical information or ideas (e.g. about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (including orally, graphically, textually, and mathematically).
Disciplinary Core Ideas
ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems. Scientists and engineers can make major contributions by developing technologies that produce less pollution and waste and that preclude ecosystem degradation.
Stability and Change. Feedback (negative or positive) can stabilize or destabilize a system.
Each group of students will need:
- Electronic Sensors Kit, available from our partner Home Science Tools.
- Additional materials depending on which project they choose. Please read the
section, which describes the different options in more detail, so you can decide what materials to make available to your students. Examples include (but are not limited to):
- Tubs of water
- Popsicle sticks and aluminum foil to make moisture probes
- Potted plants or dirt
- Aquarium or pond water
- Small, clear, plastic cups for water samples
- Cardboard boxes
- Bromothymol Blue Indicator solution 0.04% (w/v); available from Amazon.com. Changes color depending on pH of water.
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Background Information for TeachersThis section contains a quick review for teachers of the science and concepts covered in this lesson.
Human activity can impact the environment in a variety of ways, ranging from air or water pollution to the destruction of animal habitats. This lesson plan will allow your students to explore how some of these impacts can be measured electronically using the parts in the Electronic Sensors Kit, and develop a plan for how feedback from their sensor can be used to help the environment. You can decide whether you would like your students to choose from the following suggested topics, think of their own topic, or focus on a single activity for the entire class. Links to related Science Buddies project ideas provide more background information about each topic.
- Light pollution/air quality: the kit contains a light sensor called a photoresistor. A photoresistor is a type of resistor whose resistance depends on light. This resistance can be measured with a multimeter and used to determine the brightness of a light source like in the projects How Does the Intensity of Light Change with Distance? or How Bright Is Your Glow Stick? Measure It!. You can measure how airborne particulate matter (smog, smoke, etc.) affects the light sensor reading, or how artificial lighting affects the light sensor reading outdoors at night. How does human activity impact light levels? How does this change in light affect plant and animal life or human health?
- Water quality: you can also use the light sensor to measure water quality. How much light water absorbs depends on its color (darker water will absorb more light). The projects How Do You Take Your Tea? Make a Simple Electronic Device to Measure the Strength of Tea, How Blue is Your Sports Drink? and Adsorption: Dyeing Fabrics with Kool-Aid all make use of this fact. Water with suspended particles will scatter more light, as shown in From Turbid to Clear: How Flocculation Cleans Up Drinking Water. You can even use chemical reactions to cause water's color to change based on its pH, as shown in Get Energized with Cellular Respiration! and Dealing with Diabetes: The Road to Developing an Artificial Pancreas. Can your students use this information to measure water samples from a classroom aquarium or a local body of water? How does human activity affect the water quality? What impact does water quality have on plant, animal, and human health?
- Conductivity meter: the chemical makeup and moisture content of a material can influence its electrical conductivity. The project Electrolyte Challenge: Orange Juice Vs. Sports Drink explores this phenomena with sports drinks and electrolytes, but you could do this experiment with wet soil instead. How does the soil's moisture content affect its conductivity? How does human activity like deforestation or irrigation affect soil moisture, and what effect does this have on plant and animal life?
- Water level detector: a circuit can be used to detect the presence (or absence) of water, as shown in Green Technology: Build an Electronic Soil Moisture Sensor to Conserve Water. This can be useful in a house, for example to detect an overflowing sink or a flooding basement. What about monitoring water levels in the environment? For example, detecting whether a pond has dried up, a reservoir is full, or a river has overflowed its banks? How does human water consumption affect water levels in the environment?
This is a very open-ended lesson. While there are specific instructions for building each circuit, how they use the circuit will be up to the students, and they will need to develop a plan for how it could be used in the real world. They will need to do some additional research on their own in order to complete the project.