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Aquatic HabitatsAquatic-Habitats

  • Subject:
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Three class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. The way a community disposes of its wastewater may negatively affect local aquatic habitats.
2. It is possible to find wastewater-disposal methods that do not pollute local aquatic habitats.
3. Both governments and citizens can take action to ensure that waste water will be disposed of in a way that is not destructive to aquatic habitats.


For this lesson, you will need:
Computer with Internet access
Books and articles concerning wastewater-disposal methods that pollute aquatic habitats or that prevent pollution
A listing of local government officials including their mailing or e-mail addresses


1. Discuss with students the definition of the term wastewater. Make sure they understand that wastewater includes not only water we dispose of after washing clothes or dishes or flushing the toilet but also water used by various industries. For example, water is used to refine gasoline, to clean fruits and vegetables before canning or freezing, to air-condition factories, and to cool the steam used in producing electric power. Most of the water used by industry is piped back to the rivers or lakes from which it is taken.
2. Make sure students understand that most wastewater is disposed of through sewage systems after being treated and purified. But some communities dump untreated wastewater into lakes and rivers. This untreated waste contains harmful chemicals as well as disease-producing bacteria.
3. Ask students how they think the dumping of untreated wastewater would affect an aquatic habitat, such as a lake, pond, or river. How might the plants and animals living there be affected? (Plants and animals are killed.) Students should also understand that some types of wastewater treatment are harmful. To kill bacteria, some treatments use substances that serve as food for tiny aquatic plants that, in turn, use up oxygen as they decay. If too much oxygen is used, fish and other plants in the water die. There are, however, additional treatment methods that remove oxygen-consuming wastes from water.
4. Provide time for students to read the materials you have provided and to become more informed about different methods of wastewater disposal and how they affect aquatic habitats.
5. Ask students if they know how wastewater is disposed of in their own community. To help them find out, suggest they do research in the library or on the Internet. In addition, provide them with a list of local government officials. Discuss with students which people on the list would be able to give them information about their community's wastewater-disposal strategies. Plan with the students to invite one of the people they choose to be a guest speaker in your classroom.
6. Before inviting their chosen speaker, students should meet in groups to formulate a list of questions to ask the speaker. Students should base their questions on the research they have done and the background material they have discussed in class.
7. Have a member of each group present the group's questions to the class. The class as a whole can then choose 8 to 10 questions to ask the speaker.
8. Appoint two or three volunteers to draft a letter to the speaker, inviting her or him to visit your class. Suggest that they include the following in the letter: the topic they would like the speaker to address, the name and location of your school, the grade level of the class, and the telephone number of a person to whom the invited speaker may respond. It would probably be best to ask the invited speaker to choose a time and date that would be convenient. You might distribute copies of the draft to the class so that other students may suggest corrections or additions before a final copy of the letter is sent. (In the event that you cannot obtain a speaker, students could write to several government officials asking them to answer the questions in writing.)
9. After the guest speaker's visit, or after receiving one or more written responses, discuss the responses with the class. Ask students if they think their community employs satisfactory wastewater-disposal strategies. Do they have any other ideas for how to handle wastewater?
10. Encourage the students to reconvene their groups to write proposals to local government officials either suggesting ways to improve the current strategies for wastewater disposal or commending the government on what it is already doing. The groups may send their letters to the guest speaker or to other officials in the local government.

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Adaptations for Older Students:
Before formulating questions, students might write individual or group research reports on methods of wastewater disposal.

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Discussion Questions

1. Do you know where your region's urban and agricultural runoff ends up? Propose various changes in the activities of your region that would reduce the amount of this runoff, and debate which solutions would be the most practical and useful.
2. Hypothesize the effects of continued runoff pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay. What might eventually happen to the bay if the current situation doesn't change? What might happen to the communities that neighbor the bay?
3. Discuss and debate the biological and economic reasons why the Chesapeake Bay and the Everglades ecosystems are worth preserving. Explain which reasons you think are the most compelling.
4. Look at a map of Florida to see if there are any large cities or towns near the Everglades. Discuss the ways in which cities near the Everglades might have an impact on the Everglades ecosystem.
5. Think of another type of ecosystem you've learned about, such as the rain forest or the desert. What types of environmental problems is it facing? Is the Everglades facing similar problems, or is it different? Could similar solutions help both ecosystems, or are different tactics necessary?
6. Discuss the roles that you would choose to play if you were to become active in helping to preserve wetland ecosystems such as the Chesapeake Bay or the Everglades. Would you prefer to be involved in education, scientific research, lobbying the government, or other types of conservation work? Why would you choose those activities in particular? Which activities might be most effective?

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You can evaluate your students on their groups' questions and responses using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points: specific, well-phrased questions that will elicit interesting, informative answers; well-organized response letters that reflect careful research of the topic, use clear and persuasive language, and demonstrate correct grammar, spelling, and business-letter form
  • Two points: specific, well-phrased questions; response letters that reflect adequate familiarity with the topic; quality of writing needs improvement
  • One point: vague questions likely to elicit only yes or no answers; letters need improvement in form, content, and quality of writing You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining what types of questions are likely to elicit the most useful and interesting answers.

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Tourism in the Everglades
Hold a class debate on the pros and cons of tourism in the Everglades. First, discuss positive and negative impacts of tourism on ecosystems in general. After having students conduct research on the Everglades ecosystem and the current status of tourism in and near Everglades National Park, assign or have students choose sides in a debate for or against expanding tourism facilities there. Before the debate, have each student write a paragraph summarizing her or his position on the issue. During the debate, allow students to raise their hands and respond to specific points made by the other side. After the debate, vote to see how the class feels about this issue. Discuss the types of tourist activities that would be the best and the worst for the Everglades ecosystem.

Public Relations Ads
Have students create television public relations ads in which they pretend they are fishers, ecologists, or others who want to preserve the Chesapeake Bay or any nearby body of water. They should first research the body of water and the problems it is facing. They should then determine how they want to present the ads—for example, fishers lamenting the loss of their livelihood, concerned citizens warning of threats to the region's economy, school children expressing concern about the loss of plant and animal life. The ads should send a strong message in favor of protecting the bay's ecosystem and attempting to elicit the help of the general public. Have students perform their ads for the class or, if possible, with the use of a video camera.

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Suggested Readings

Islands in Space and Time
David G. Campbell. Houghton Mifflin, 1996.
An ecologist visits the Everglades and nine other beautiful but endangered wilderness areas across the globe, reminding his readers of the fragility of these vital areas.

Life in the Chesapeake Bay
Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.
This revised edition of the 1984 classic expands the previous discussion of wetland habitats with the addition of 116 species from the eight distinct habitats of the Chesapeake.

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National Park Service
A variety of information about the Florida Everglades. Includes educational resources, additional links, and excellent graphics.

Cheasapeake Bay Life
Sponsored by the National Aquarium in Baltimore

Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Virginia
Includes information on York River Reserve Sites.

Habitats: The Chesapeake Bay Program
Information on the five major categories of habitat in the Chesapeake Bay.

The Everglades
Descriptions and pictures of animals indigenous to the Florida Everglades.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    anhinga
Definition: Any of a genus of fish-eating birds related to the cormorants but distinguished by a longer neck and sharply pointed rather than hooked bill.
Context: The anhinga, an Everglades bird that is also known as a darter, lacks water-repellent oils on its feathers, so it has to spend a lot of time with its wings outstretched to dry.

speaker    ecosystem
Definition: The complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit.
Context: The Chesapeake Bay ecosystem is the combination of all forms of life in the bay; they all interact with and depend upon each other in various ways.

speaker    estuary
Definition: A water passage where the tide meets a river current.
Context: The Chesapeake Bay is really an estuary; it's a body of water at the end of a river system, where fresh water meets the ocean.

speaker    manatee
Definition: Any of a genus of chiefly tropical aquatic herbivorous mammals that differ from the related dugong especially in having the tail rounded.
Context: A manatee is a rather large mammal that lives in the waters of the Everglades; it resembles a seal or sea lion.

speaker    mangrove
Definition: Any of a genus of tropical maritime trees or shrubs that send out many prop roots and form dense masses important in coastal land building.
Context: Mangrove trees can often be seen on the shorelines of tropical or subtropical coasts, including the Everglades.

speaker    skipjack
Definition: A sailboat with vertical sides and a bottom similar to a flat V .
Context: Fishermen use skipjack boats when they're looking for oysters and clams in the Chesapeake Bay.

speaker    watershed
Definition: A region or area bounded peripherally by a divide and draining ultimately to a particular watercourse or body of water.
Context: The five major rivers and many smaller streams that flow into the Chesapeake Bay, and the land surrounding these rivers and streams, make up the bay's watershed.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: life science
Understands how species depend on one another and on the environment for survival.
Knows ways in which species interact and depend on one another in an ecosystem (e.g., producer/consumer, predator/prey, parasite/host, relationships that are mutually beneficial or competitive).

Benchmark: Knows that all individuals of a species that occur together at a given place and time make up a population and that all populations living together and the physical factors with which they interact compose an ecosystem.

Benchmark: Knows factors that affect the number and types of organisms an ecosystem can support (e.g., available resources; abiotic factors such as quantity of light and water, range of temperatures, and soil composition; disease; competition from other organisms within the ecosystem; predation).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: life science
Understands the cycling of matter and flow of energy through the living environment.
Knows how energy is transferred through food webs in an ecosystem (e.g., energy enters ecosystems as sunlight, and green plants transfer this energy into chemical energy through photosynthesis; this chemical energy is passed from organism to organism; animals get energy from oxidizing their food, releasing some of this energy as heat).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: geography
Understands the characteristics of ecosystems on Earth's surface.
Knows changes that have occurred over time in ecosystems in the local region (e.g., natural wetlands on a floodplain being replaced by farms, farmlands on a floodplain being replaced by housing developments).

Benchmark: Knows the potential impact of human activities within a given ecosystem on the carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen cycles (e.g., the role of air pollution in atmospheric warming or the effect of growing peas and other legumes, which supply their own nitrogen and do not deplete the soil).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: geography
Understands how human actions modify the physical environment.
Understands the environmental consequences of people changing the physical environment (e.g., the effects of ozone depletion, climate change, deforestation, land degradation, soil salinization and acidification, ocean pollution, groundwater-quality decline, using natural wetlands for recreational and housing development).

Benchmark: Understands the ways in which human-induced changes in the physical environment in one place can cause changes in other places (e.g., the effect of a factory's airborne emissions on air quality in communities located downwind and, because of acid rain, on ecosystems located downwind; the effects of pesticides washed into river systems on water quality in communities located downstream; the effects of the construction of dams and levees on river systems in one region on places downstream).

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Betsy Hedberg, former middle school teacher and current freelance curriculum writer and consultant.

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