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A Living Watershed

By Alonda Droege

Type of Entry:

  • Unit outline

Type of Activity:

  • Hands-on activity
  • Authentic assessment
  • Group/cooperative learning
  • Community outreach/off-site activity

Target Audience:

  • Life Sciences
  • Biology
  • Advanced/AP Biology
  • Environmental studies


Using the local watershed as a classroom, students have the opportunity to understand basic ecological concepts, conduct scientific inquiries, understand the interdependence between science, technology, and mathematics in an urban community, develop competency in the use of technology equipment, and develop co-operative working relations. The unit uses local resources, speakers, print and video materials, as well as standard text materials to study the ecosystem of the local watershed. Labs, field work, research, classroom discussions and the preparation of written documents and oral presentations provide a variety of activities thereby meeting the needs of a diverse population of students. Students acquire lab skills and research abilities, practice with written or oral presentation of materials, team work skills, exposure to career possibilities, and the ability to plan specific actions to solve a problem. The unit provides a unifying theme, establishes a positive relationship with the community, and promotes stewardship for our earth.


This unit on the local watershed is designed to give students an understanding of their local ecosystem, a problem solving method To help define personal actions which can lead to effective participation in a democratic society, and a way to interact with the community. Students not only become aware of the effects that humans have on an ecosystem but also learn a method for community and personal action planning that can be used to address these effects.

Teachers can use any standard biology or ecology text to give students a background on basic ecological concepts and principles and provide labs which will give students basic skills. Resources will be needed to study the local area. Print and video materials can easily be obtained from the ecology, fish and/or wildlife departments at the state level, Native American tribal councils, the local Audubon Society, city and county utility agencies, and other local environmental groups. When requesting materials, ask for enough copies so that each lab group will have access to materials. Field activities can vary greatly depending on location and access. Look for places right on the school grounds, within walking distance and/or within five miles. Discuss the possibilities of integrating the unit with other classes (English, history, government, etc.).

Students will be required to work in cooperative groups. They will need to acquire basic lab and computer skills, do research, prepare written documents, give oral presentations and plan and carry out one action plan to help solve an environmental problem.

Daily preparation time is needed to prepare lectures and labs for a general study of ecology. Additional time is needed to secure resources, locate field sites, and integrate with other teachers. This time can vary with the depth of the unit. Start small and gradually build the unit from year to year to avoid being over-whelmed.

The amount of class time can vary depending on resources. Two weeks to a month is good. Lessons can be expanded for specialty classes.


I. Water - study properties necessary for life.

  1. Activity 1: Blue Drop-Yellow Drop (Source: Science on a Shoestring. Addison Wesley Publishing Co.).

    • Materials: blue and yellow food coloring, detergent, wax paper, toothpicks, dropper bottles.

    • Evaluation/Assessment: Lab report.

  2. Activity 2: Lab: pH Lab (Source: Biology Lab Manual, Miller/Levine, 1993).

    • Materials: variety of solutions, beakers, litmus, pH paper, and/or pH meters.

    • Evaluation/Assessment: Lab report.

II. The Watershed

  1. Activity 1: Mapping a local watershed (Modified by Alonda Droege from Investigating Streams and Rivers, GREEN, Ann Arbor, MI, 1992)

    • Materials: laminated US geographical survey map or local

    • Evaluation/Assessment: Diagram.

  2. Activity 2: Video: "A Living Watershed" (Puget Sound Water Quality Authority, Alonda Droege, lead producer).

  3. Activity 3: Discussion: Ecological Succession.

    • Materials: General biology or ecology text.

    • Evaluation/Assessment: quiz.

  4. Activity 4: Field Observation of ecological succession (field trip to disturbed area)/fish hatchery tour.

    • Materials: Field guide books.

    • Evaluation/Assessment: Report.

  5. Activity 5: Water Quality Testing - Poster presentation. Identification of the nine water quality indices devised by the National Sanitation Foundation. (Source: Field Manual for Water Quality Monitoring, Mark K. Mitchell and William B. Stapp, Thomson-Shore, Inc. Dexter, MI, 1992).

    • Materials: butcher paper, magazines, glue, scissors, markers.

    • Evaluation/Assessment: Performance assessment of visual poster and oral presentation.

  6. Activity 6: Well site visit - hydrology of the watershed

    • Materials: Earth, The Water Planet, Gartrell, et al, NSTA.

    • Evaluation/Assessment: participation.

  7. Activity 7: Wastewater Treatment Facility site visit - study of microorganisms, biochemical oxygen demand.

    • Materials: Wastewater Treatment: The Student's Resource Guide and Video, Water Pollution Control Federation, Alexandria, VA.

    • Evaluation/Assessment: participation.

  8. Activity 8: Mining site visit - geology of the watershed.

    • Materials: rocks of the area.

    • Evaluation/Assessment: participation.

  9. Activity 9: Stream Walk site visit.

    • Materials: Environmental Checklist (SEPA form, Washington State Environmental Policy Act), Hach Kits for dissolved oxygen, sample collection bottles, millipore filter apparatus, pH meter, thermometer, secchi disc, plastic bags for soil samples, plant press, data collection forms.

    • Evaluation/Assessment: Performance assessment of visual poster and oral presentation.

  10. Activity 10: Discussion - Soil formation, temperature variation, aquatic biomes.

    • Materials: General biology or ecology text.

    • Evaluation/Assessment: quiz.

  11. Activity 11: Stream Walk Lab.

    • Materials: Hach Kits for dissolved oxygen, nitrate, phosphate, microscopes, slides and cover slips, electronic balance, plant/soil organisms identification keys, computers.

    • Evaluation/Assessment: Performance assessment of visual poster and oral presentation (combined with Activity 9).

III. Future of the Biosphere.

  1. Activity 1: Discussion of pollution.

    • Materials: General biology or ecology text.

    • Evaluation/Assessment: quiz.

  2. Activity 2: Dilution Lab (Source: "Science Demonstration Projects in Drinking Water", EPA).

    • Materials: watercolor paint trays, food coloring, droppers, tooth picks, water.

    • Evaluation/Assessment: observations.

  3. Activity 3: Environmental Problems (Modified by Alonda Droege from David Tucker, Mt. Baker High School, Deming, WA).

    • Phase I - Identify the present situation for one local environmental problem.

    • Phase II - Write a briefing document about the problem. (Investigative action research)

    • Phase III - Plan action (identify stakeholders and policy makers, draft a policy statement, develop a personal and group action plan).

    • Materials: Library and local print resources, computers.

    • Evaluation/Assessment: Written document and performance of action plans.

  4. Activity 4: Understanding the role of government. (Designed by Nancy Covert, Town of Steilacoom, Alonda Droege and Gary Wusterbarth, Steilacoom High School).

    • Phase I - Panel discussion by representatives of town government departments (administration, planning, parks and recreation, utilities, community service, public information).

    • Phase II - Site visit to town hall to shadow employees on the job.

    • Phase III - Student development and presentation of site visitation information.

    • Materials: Town government publications.

    • Evaluation/Assessment: Performance assessment of visual poster and oral presentation.

Extension/Reinforcement/Additional Ideas

Allow students to come up with a variety of action plans. They can be very creative. Past groups have done pamphlets that the town has mailed with the utility bills, and created public service announcements (PSA) for TV. The local cable company donated time to film, edit and produce the PSA's.

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