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Surveying and Assessing
the Environmental Compatibility of a
Building Construction Site

By Jan Barbee


Type of Activities:

This project requires a vast amount of hands-on experimentation, data analysis, cooperative/interdisciplinary learning, community involvement, and job shadowing/career awareness as students examine an area of land and assess its suitability for construction purposes.

Target Audience:

I utilize this project in biology classes after the students have completed a unit of study on ecosystems. This project is designed to apply all of the knowledge and skills that the students have mastered. This project would also be very well suited for environmental studies.

Background Information

This is the final project after an extensive study of ecosystems. I spend nearly nine weeks on ecosystems. I cover plants and animals, climatology, types of ecosystems, components of ecosystems, cycles in ecosystems, and changes in ecosystems. Only after the students have completed these tasks are they able to carry out this project.

The Project

The students will be assigned an area of land. This land must be closely examined and studied to assess its suitability for construction purposes. I have the luxury of team teaching this activity with our building trades instructor. We combine our classes for the duration of the project. I teach the biological aspects of the project while he focuses on the construction and business side of the project. We select an actual future construction site. The stages of the project are listed below.

  • Stage 1: Surveying - The students must use their mapping and surveying skill to scientifically mark and map the selected area. Once the rough area survey is completed, the students must contact our local University's Geography/Geology department (Indiana State University) to obtain any geological surveys or data pertaining to the designated area. The biology students use this information to assess the biological and geological aspects of the construction site while the building trades students examine accessibility to utilities, explore potential building difficulties, and seek out possibilities for future expansion/growth potential.

  • Stage 2: Testing - The biology students begin testing procedures on the land by starting with a soil survey. Once a soil profile has been collected and analyzed, the students use this data to determine if the land is suitable for proposed building. Soil profiles, combined with other geological documentation, could predict potential problems such as cracked foundations and other structural flaws, flooding, or poor drainage problems. If the local resources cannot meet the needs of the proposed building, then a new location should be explored.

  • Stage 3: Analysis - While the building trades students explore whether or not the proposed area would indeed be a good building site, the biology students must determine what impact the construction site might have on the local environment. If the building site poses a threat to the environment, the biology students must suggest ways to minimize or eliminate the problems.

  • Stage 4: The Proposal - The students, both from building trades and biology, must prepare a presentation to the board of directors for the new building (in our case, the school board assists us in selecting land to build and sell the houses in the building trades program). The students must take a position on whether or not construction should proceed. The students must have a formal presentation, with portfolios (including all of the data and a comprehensive report), visual aids (charts, graphs, transparencies, photos, etc.) and other related materials - just as if they were in the real business of construction. The board will then make a recommendation based on the joint proposals.

This is a time consuming and extremely intricate project, but highly worth while. It gives the students the opportunity to see how what they have learned actually works in everyday life. They become exposed to new careers and meet many professionals in their endeavors to find answers to their problems. I have my students actually contact outside resources in both business and industry and in environmental studies. We have had many volunteers to speak to and work with the students.

Our project works well because the building trades students must have a project home or business to build every year. While they are building the current year's project, my students begin assessing the following year's project. This activity has been beneficial. For example, due to this project, it was determined that a basement would not be built as a part of a home because of the high risk of flooding. The report prepared by the students clearly showed scientific proof that the proposed building area had geologic features that would contribute to flooding.

Students also learn the art of compromise. Any construction site is going to have an impact on the on the environment. The students must come to terms with how much change is acceptable to live with. This activity has sparked a lot of imagination and a great deal of debate, but overall I believe the students gain a multitude from the experience.

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