Hands-on Activity Algae Blooms Takeover!

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Quick Look

Grade Level: 5 (4-6)

Time Required: 2 hours

(two 60-minute class periods)

Expendable Cost/Group: US $5.00

Group Size: 3

Activity Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Biology, Life Science, Problem Solving, Science and Technology

NGSS Performance Expectations:

NGSS Three Dimensional Triangle
3-5-ETS1-1
3-5-ETS1-2
5-LS1-1
5-LS2-1

A collage of photos showing students’ prototypes before testing begins.
A first round of design ideas.
copyright
Copyright © 2022 Vanessa Beckett

Summary

Algae blooms are a visible phenomenon that affect coastlines and other waterways and can harm local ecosystems. In this activity, students make sense of what causes algae blooms and then design a prototype that helps clean algae blooms. Students work in teams to design a prototype of their choice (for example, a skimmer or filtration system) using common everyday materials. Students make the connection between harmful algae blooms and how they can affect the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems as well as food chain.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Agricultural and environmental engineers apply their skills and knowledge of math, biology, chemistry, mechanics and physics, and electronics to improve methods of agriculture, human and animal health, and energy production. Some engineers aim to reduce the use of fossil fuels by designing low-impact fuels from plants such as algae. However, all engineers help solve problems when it comes to mitigating the effects of unwanted and adverse changes to local ecosystems.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Describe the different causes of algae blooms (such as dead organic matter, slow-moving water, runoff of nutrients, extreme weather, light, and/or temperature).
  • Evaluate the various effects algae blooms have on the terrestrial and aquatic food chain/web.
  • Analyze how the ecosystem(s) are affected by the algae blooms that surround it (terrestrial and aquatic).
  • Design and engineer a solution that will remove algae from water.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

NGSS Performance Expectation

3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. (Grades 3 - 5)

Do you agree with this alignment?

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This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Define a simple design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process, or system and includes several criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

Alignment agreement:

Possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints). The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for solutions can be compared on the basis of how well each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.

Alignment agreement:

People's needs and wants change over time, as do their demands for new and improved technologies.

Alignment agreement:

NGSS Performance Expectation

3-5-ETS1-2. Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 3 - 5)

Do you agree with this alignment?

Click to view other curriculum aligned to this Performance Expectation
This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Generate and compare multiple solutions to a problem based on how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the design problem.

Alignment agreement:

Research on a problem should be carried out before beginning to design a solution. Testing a solution involves investigating how well it performs under a range of likely conditions.

Alignment agreement:

At whatever stage, communicating with peers about proposed solutions is an important part of the design process, and shared ideas can lead to improved designs.

Alignment agreement:

Engineers improve existing technologies or develop new ones to increase their benefits, to decrease known risks, and to meet societal demands.

Alignment agreement:

NGSS Performance Expectation

5-LS1-1. Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water. (Grade 5)

Do you agree with this alignment?

Click to view other curriculum aligned to this Performance Expectation
This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Support an argument with evidence, data, or a model.

Alignment agreement:

Plants acquire their material for growth chiefly from air and water.

Alignment agreement:

Matter is transported into, out of, and within systems.

Alignment agreement:

NGSS Performance Expectation

5-LS2-1. Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment. (Grade 5)

Do you agree with this alignment?

Click to view other curriculum aligned to this Performance Expectation
This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Develop a model to describe phenomena.

Alignment agreement:

Science explanations describe the mechanisms for natural events.

Alignment agreement:

The food of almost any kind of animal can be traced back to plants. Organisms are related in food webs in which some animals eat plants for food and other animals eat the animals that eat plants. Some organisms, such as fungi and bacteria, break down dead organisms (both plants or plants parts and animals) and therefore operate as "decomposers." Decomposition eventually restores (recycles) some materials back to the soil. Organisms can survive only in environments in which their particular needs are met. A healthy ecosystem is one in which multiple species of different types are each able to meet their needs in a relatively stable web of life. Newly introduced species can damage the balance of an ecosystem.

Alignment agreement:

Matter cycles between the air and soil and among plants, animals, and microbes as these organisms live and die. Organisms obtain gases, and water, from the environment, and release waste matter (gas, liquid, or solid) back into the environment.

Alignment agreement:

A system can be described in terms of its components and their interactions.

Alignment agreement:

  • Make a line plot to display a data set of measurements in fractions of a unit (1/2, 1/4, 1/8). Use operations on fractions for this grade to solve problems involving information presented in line plots. (Grade 5) More Details

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  • Explain that animals, including humans, cannot make their own food and that when animals eat plants or other animals, the energy stored in the food source is passed to them. (Grade 4) More Details

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  • Define a problem, use appropriate reference materials to support scientific understanding, plan and carry out scientific investigations of various types such as: systematic observations, experiments requiring the identification of variables, collecting and organizing data, interpreting data in charts, tables, and graphics, analyze information, make predictions, and defend conclusions. (Grade 5) More Details

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  • Recognize and explain the difference between personal opinion/interpretation and verified observation. (Grade 5) More Details

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  • Describe how, when the environment changes, differences between individuals allow some plants and animals to survive and reproduce while others die or move to new locations. (Grade 5) More Details

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  • Compare and contrast adaptations displayed by animals and plants that enable them to survive in different environments such as life cycles variations, animal behaviors and physical characteristics. (Grade 5) More Details

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Materials List

For the whole class to share:

  • tablet/laptop/computer and projector to show video and images to students
  • digital scale

Each group needs:

  • graduated cylinder
  • measuring cup
  • 3 cups water
  • aluminum pan / plastic tub
  • 2-3 oz. “algae” (such as rubber, small Styrofoam balls, oil with food coloring, wax paper—anything that floats on the water)

Suggested everyday materials for each group to choose from:

  • aluminum foil
  • Popsicle sticks
  • pipe cleaners
  • coffee filters
  • glue
  • tape
  • Styrofoam balls
  • yarn/thread
  • modeling clay
  • Play-Doh
  • cardboard
  • cotton balls
  • food coloring
  • plastic cups
  • wire
  • plastic or paper straws

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/uof-2631-algae-blooms-takeover-engineering-design-activity] to print or download.

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Pre-Req Knowledge

Students should be familiar with algae as an organic material.

Introduction/Motivation

Today we are going to learn about algae blooms, the effect they have on our ecosystem, and why we use engineering to help limit their effects!

To start, I’m going to ask you some questions and for each question I will give you about 2 minutes to discuss, write, or respond. First question: What exactly are algae? (Give students 2 minutes to discuss, write, or respond.) If we know what algae are, what exactly is an algae bloom? (Give students 2 minutes to discuss, write, or respond.) What causes algae blooms to grow? (Give students 2 minutes to discuss, write, or respond.) What effects can it have on an ecosystem? (Give students 2 minutes to discuss, write, or respond.)

We are now going to watch this YouTube video, Harmful Algae Blooms - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=706kZXlHZRw. What new or interesting information did you learn from this video?  (Potential answers: harmful algae come in many different colors, textures, algae are part of the food chain/web.)

In this activity, you are going to become engineers and research, brainstorm, plan, design, create and test a device (or a prototype) that will remove harmful algae blooms from the water.

Procedure

Background

Algae are simple, green aquatic plantlike organisms that have no roots, leaves, or flowers. Algae and other phytoplankton are important because they form the basis for many aquatic food webs. However, when algae grow too quickly they can wreak havoc on an ecosystem.

Algal bloom refers to a rapid rise of the algae population in a body of water. These blooms can become harmful and today harmful algal blooms are tainting waterways across America. The overgrowth of algae consumes the oxygen in the water and blocks sunlight from underwater plants. When algal blooms become excessive in the water, they can potentially devastate aquatic life and the ecosystems around it, foul the air and devastate businesses that depend on tourism and fisheries.

Algal blooms can be caused by dead matter (plants and animals), slow-moving water, runoff of nutrients, light, and/or temperature. A common misconception about algae is that ALL of them are harmful to the environment. This is not the case. Algae have a very important role in the food chain. More information about this topic can be found in this explanation from the Microbiology Society: https://microbiologysociety.org/why-microbiology-matters/what-is-microbiology/microbes-and-the-outdoors/food-chain.html Another common misconception is that harmful algal blooms are a new problem facing our society. There is fossil evidence that suggests blue-green algae have been around for millions of years. Scientists have recorded blue-green algae blooms dating back to the 12th century and they have documented the toxic effects on livestock for more than 100 years.

This image: https://thehappyscientist.com/science-photo/116 is a great hook into algae blooms. Though it looks like seaweed or a plant it is actually a type of macroalgae. After introducing the image, begin asking students these questions.

Another great introduction to the lesson is the interactive Algal Bloom Monitoring Map of the State of Florida: https://floridadep.gov/AlgalBloom

Before the Activity

  • Gather the everyday household/classroom materials.
  • Separate the materials that will be used to represent the algae.
  • Gather containers for the water and algae.
  • Make copies of each worksheet provided in the Attachments section for each student.
  • Have any videos or any other pertinent information ready to review/show students.
  • Divide students into groups of three. Another way to divide students is by prototype choice (for example, a skimmer, water filtration system, a system to move the water around, and/or a miniature water treatment plant).

With the Students

Engineering Design Process Steps: Ask, Research and Brainstorm

  1. Read through the Introduction/Motivation section. Ask students to discuss with each other what they know about the engineering process.
  1. Connect algae blooms and the engineering process by asking:  What are some ways that algae could be removed from lakes, oceans, rivers, etc.? (Let students share their ideas. Potential answers: skimmer, water filtration system, a system to move the water around, and/or a miniature water treatment plant.) Why is it important for engineers to continue to design new methods to remove algae from lakes, oceans, and/or rivers?
  2. Pass out the Research and Brainstorm Ideas Worksheet to the students. Read aloud the problem that the students are going to solve. (It is also located on the top of the page of Research and Brainstorm Ideas Worksheet).

Problem: You and your family recently went to your favorite place on the water to spend the day fishing and swimming but as you neared the water you noticed warning signs saying it was unsafe to enter the water due to the presence of toxic algae.

  1. Have students answer the first “Ask” question on the Research and Brainstorm Ideas Worksheet. (This is to make sure students understand WHAT problem they are trying to solve.)
  2. Divide students into groups of three. Note: Another way to divide students is by prototype choice (e.g. skimmer, water filtration system, a system to move the water around, and/or a miniature water treatment plant).
  3. Give student groups time to research the problem and answer the two “Research” questions on the Research and Brainstorm Ideas Worksheet. Note: The website U.S. National Office for Harmful Algal Blooms: https://hab.whoi.edu/ is a great resource for students to use to begin their research. You can also provide students with links to various resources/websites or allow students to find their own and cite their sources.
  4. Give student groups time to answer the two “Brainstorm” questions in the Research and Brainstorm Ideas Worksheet.

(Optional breaking point)

Students research causes of algae blooms using various reliable websites and brainstorming ideas for their prototype using the graphic organizer provided with the lesson.  Afterwards, students gathered materials and assembled their prototype based on their prototype sketch.
Researching the cause of algae blooms using the engineering design process.
copyright
Copyright © 2022 Vanessa Beckett

Engineering Design Process Steps: Plan and Design

  1. Hand out the Plan and Design Worksheet.
  2. Read the instructions aloud to the class.

Instructions: Your goal as an engineer is to plan, design, create and test a prototype that will remove 75% of the harmful algae blooms from the water. You will only get class time to work on this project AND you can only use materials provided by the teacher.

  1. Show students the materials available for creating their devices.
  2. Read through the Essential Questions with the students:
    • What materials can best be used to create a prototype? 
    • Why did I choose these specific materials?
    • How will I create a design that explains how my prototype will remove harmful algae from water?
  1. Have each team choose a design they want to prototype based on what they learned from their research and from their brainstormed ideas. Have each team roughly sketch their chosen design in the first question on the Plan and Design Worksheet.
  2. Based on the design chosen, have students select the materials they want to use for their prototype. Have them list their materials in question two on the Plan and Design Worksheet.
  3. Have students draw a prototype of their choice in Google Drawings or using the Prototype Sketch Worksheet provided.
  4. Have students answer the two “design” questions on the Plan and Design Worksheet to justify and explain their material choices.
  5. Have students turn in their written explanations and design drawing to the teacher. A rubric is already included in task one for students to refer to during the design drawing process. 

Engineering Design Process Steps: Build and Create

  1. Teacher should provide feedback on each team’s design drawing.
  2. Once feedback has been provided by the teacher on their design sketch; students can begin creating their prototype. Remind students that during the engineering design process engineers follow their original design sketch and make modifications later!
  3. Hand out one Create Worksheet to each team.
  4. Go over the rubric provided and answer any questions students may have about building their prototype.
  5. Allow students at least one class period to build their prototype. Facilitate as needed to each group and answer any questions students might have.
  6. Have students answer the questions on the Create Worksheet.

A collage of photos showing students’ prototypes before testing begins.
A first round of design ideas.
copyright
Copyright © 2022 Vanessa Beckett

Engineering Design Process Steps: Test and Redesign

  1. Before testing their prototype, each student group measures out three cups of water into an aluminum or plastic tub. They then create their “algae” and place into the water. Note: The algae can be (a) anything that will float on top of the water, (b) have the appearance of seaweed, or (c) you can use actual algae. Students will add (2-3 ounces) of the chosen “algae” to the water.
  2. Have students write down the measurements for their calculations in the table in the Test and Redesign Worksheet.
  3. Have students test their prototypes, write their observations and problems they encountered down, then calculate whether they removed 75% of the algae from the water using in the Test and Redesign Worksheet.
  4. After testing their prototypes, students then move onto the “improve portion” of the engineering process. Students analyze then begin brainstorming new ideas on how to redesign and improve their prototype based on their results. 

(Optional breaking point)

A collage of students who tested their prototypes after measuring out 3 ounces of algae blooms and adding it to water.
Students test their prototypes and think about iteration.
copyright
Copyright © 2022 Vanessa Beckett

Further Analysis

  1. Once students finish their prototype, they begin the mathematics portion Analysis Worksheet. In this task, students will compare various algae blooms concentrations near major Florida cities using place value relationships. This mathematical concept will require students to have some background knowledge of how to interpret each place value position.  

Vocabulary/Definitions

adaptation: The action or process of adapting.

algae: A simple, nonflowering, and typically aquatic plant of a large group that includes the seaweeds and many single-celled forms. Algae contain chlorophyll but lack true stems, roots, leaves, and vascular tissue.

algae bloom: A rapid increase or accumulation in the population of algae in freshwater or marine water systems.

data collection: A systematic approach to gathering and measuring information from a variety of sources.

disruption: Disturbance or problems which interrupt an event, activity, or process.

ecosystem: A biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.

energy transfer: Transfer of energy from one object or material to another.

engineering design process : A series of steps that guides engineering teams as we solve problems.

food chain: A hierarchical series of organisms each dependent on the next as a source of food.

habitat: The natural home or environment of an animal, plant, or other organisms.

observations: A remark, statement, or comment based on something one has seen, heard or noticed.

prototype: A first model of something, especially a machine, from which other forms are developed or copied.

Assessment

Pre-Activity Assessment

Think-Pair-Share/Whole Group Discussion or use the Pre/Post-Quiz provided.

  • What are some common causes of algae blooms? (Answer: Dead matter (plants and animals), slow-moving water, runoff of nutrients, light, and/or temperature).
  • Do algae have any effect on its ecosystem? (Answer: Harmful algae blooms affect both the terrestrial and aquatic food chain/web).
  • Do all algae blooms negatively affect an ecosystem? (Answer: There are thousands of species of algae; most are beneficial and only a few of these produce toxins or have other harmful effects. Algal blooms produce food for various organisms)
  • Can scientists and engineers predict the spread of harmful algal blooms? If so, how? (Answer: Yes, scientists and engineers are able to predict the spread of harmful algal blooms through satellite imagery, field observations, models, public health reports, and buoy data).

Activity Embedded (Formative) Assessment

Students will have four tasks to complete during this assignment. They can be done separately or as a packet. The Plan and Design Worksheet requires students to explain their material choices and label their prototype drawing. The Build and Create Worksheet provides students with a rubric to refer to as they begin building their first prototype. The Analysis Worksheet is the mathematics portion. Students will measure out and create their algae for the water. The Test and Redesign Worksheet will have students testing their prototype, completing an observation log, and writing down any changes they want to make to their prototype.  

Post-Activity (Summative) Assessment

Students can re-take the Pre/Post-Quiz to determine the students’ growth.

  • What are some common causes of algae blooms? (Answer: Dead matter (plants and animals), slow-moving water, runoff of nutrients, light, and/or temperature).
  • Do algae have any effect on its ecosystem? (Answer: Harmful algae blooms affect both the terrestrial and aquatic food chain/web).
  • Do all algae blooms negatively affect an ecosystem? (Answer: There are thousands of species of algae; most are beneficial and only a few of these produce toxins or have other harmful effects. Algal blooms produce food for various organisms)
  • Can scientists and engineers predict the spread of harmful algal blooms? If so, how? (Answer: Yes, scientists and engineers are able to predict the spread of harmful algal blooms through satellite imagery, field observations, models, public health reports, and data).

Investigating Questions

1. What materials can best be used to create a prototype? Why did I choose these specific materials?
2. How can I create design drawings to explain how my prototype will remove the harmful algae from the water?
3. How can I use my chosen materials and design drawings to design a prototype to remove at least 75% of the algae from the water?
4. How is mathematics connected to the engineering process?
5. What improvements can I make to my prototype to reach my goal of removing 75% of the harmful algae blooms from the water?

Troubleshooting Tips

Disposal of algae blooms: If actual algae was used during the activity just add 10% of bleach to the water and let it sit for 24 hours before rinsing the solution down a sink drain. Another way to dispose of algae is to place algae in an area without sunlight/light for 24/48 hours. This method does not allow for photosynthesis which will eventually kill the algae.

Activity Scaling

  • Students in lower grade levels (e.g. 1st-grade, 2nd-grade) can design a skimmer prototype while upper-grade levels or advanced students can design a more complex prototype (e.g. water treatment plant, water filtration system).

Copyright

© 2022 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2022 University of Florida

Contributors

Vanessa Beckett

Supporting Program

Multidisciplinary Research Experiences for Teachers in Elementary Grades (MRET), College of Engineering at the University of Florida

Acknowledgements

This curriculum was based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under RET grant no. EEC 1711543— Engineering for Biology: Multidisciplinary Research Experiences for Teachers in Elementary Grades (MRET) through the College of Engineering at the University of Florida. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Special thanks to Sarah Furtney, Kevin Li, Peyton Turinetti, Andres Rubiano, Chelsey Simmons, Renee Simmons, Marlina Romano, Kayla Sutcliffe

Last modified: November 10, 2022

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