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The Basics: Introduction to Water Quality

Unit Plan: Water Quality & HealthTime: One 45-minute period Setting: Classroom
9-12Hudson River Ecology
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Use the filter to limit your results.


Students will understand the different aspects of water quality and be able to use water quality test kits to practice testing for pollutants.


    1. Students discuss pollution, what it means, and whether different water uses should have different standards.
    2. Students practice using water quality tests in the classroom on prepared samples.
    3. Students complete a water quality note-taking chart based on what they learned.


    • Water samples in cups or beakers: bottled water, water with vinegar or lemon juice added, water with baking soda, cloudy water from a pond, water with dish or laundry detergent added (phosphates), water with fertilizer (Miracle Gro works well), water that has been boiled and then sealed & cooled (no oxygen), ice cold water, warm water, salty water
    • Water test kits
    • Copies of note-taking sheet
    • Projector or smartboard

    Engagement: Set out several samples of water. One should be tap water, one a bottled water, one should smell different, and one should be an odd color. Ask students if they would drink any of these waters? Ask students why they wouldn’t drink the waters and record results on board. Ask what a weird smell or color could tell about the water. Ask students: If water is clear and doesn’t smell, is it safe to drink? Ask students: would they swim in the water? Is drinking water different from water you swim in? Students might point out that you can swim in salt water but not drink it. Ask students about the animals that live in bodies of water such as lakes and rivers. What do they need to survive? What factors are important for them?

    Exploration: Students will watch and discuss the powerpoint slides from “Water Quality Overview”. They should use the accompanying sheet to take notes.
    Then, divide students into lab groups and make sure that lab safety has been adequately discussed. Each group will rotate around the classroom, conducting water quality tests at each station. Depending on the types of kits you are using, some test kits will take longer than others (for instance, dissolved oxygen, phosphate, and nitrate HACH kits take at least 10 minutes each). Make sure that students have something to do (or read) if they finish with their test kit early. A good alternative is to have microscopes set up with slides of pond water, so that students can observe any plankton in the water. Students should perform the water quality tests according to the directions enclosed in each kit and record their results on notebook paper. This preparation activity will allow you to take your students outside with the confidence that they can perform the tests safely and accurately.

    Explanation: Depending on which variables you want to test, the background readings should provide enough information for you and the students. The following parameters are discussed:

    • pH
    • Dissolved Oxygen
    • Phosphate
    • Nitrate-nitrogen
    • Chloride
    • Macroinvertebrates
    • Turbidity
    • Conductivity

    Extension: Ask if any students have had a fish tank? If so, discuss the different issues that arise when taking care of a fish tank. What is the filter for? What are the bubbles? What tests do you have to do on the water?

    Evaluation: Have students compare table with a partner, and then go over as a whole class. For homework, students should read the background reading entitled “Pollution”.


    Lesson Files

    Water Quality Notetaker
    Water Quality Overview Powerpoint
    Water Quality Parameters Overview

    Benchmarks for Science Literacy

    1B Scientific Inquiry

    NYS Standards

    MST 1 - Mathematical analysis, scientific inquiry, and engineering design, MST 4- Physical setting, living environment and nature of science
    Next Generation Science Standards

    Science and Engineering Practices

    Asking questions and defining problems

    Cross Cutting Concepts

    Cause and effect

    Disciplinary Core Ideas

    ESS2C: The Role of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes, ESS3A: Natural Resources
    New York State Science Learning Standards

    Performance Expectations

    HS-ESS2-2. Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth’s surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to Earth’s systems.