Hands-on Activity: Thinking Green!

Contributed by: GK-12 Program, School of Engineering and Applied Science, Washington University in St. Louis

Photo shows two hands holding a seedling plant in soil.
Thinking like an engineer, what solutions can you imagine to address an environmental challenge?
copyright
Copyright © 2012 Iowa Senate Democrats http://www.senate.iowa.gov/democrats/community-grants-for-beautification-2/seedling/

Summary

Students show their creativity and think like engineers as they design products or services that can be used to improve environmental problems in the community. While being aware of the steps of the engineering design process, students are challenged to consider all aspects of their products/services, including their costs, and impacts on the environment and people in their communities. They present their "green" solutions, in the form of advertisements, to the class for critical review of their feasibility.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Many systems in place today were created using a "thinking green" approach. Engaging students to think critically about the products and services in their lives, or those they might imagine to solve community challenges, gives them experiences in thinking like engineers to carefully consider and analyze all aspects, implications and consequences of their ideas. "Green" solutions are those that consider the long view by protecting the health and vitality of our environment. As engineers follow the steps of the engineering design process, they consider the requirements, limits, constraints, feasibility and sustainability of potential solutions, and fold into their designs the critiques and suggestions from others.

Pre-Req Knowledge

Have students complete the Introduction to Environmental Engineering lesson before conducting this activity.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Describe the dependency of human activity on people and our natural environment.
  • Think critically about environmental engineering and the implementation of environmentally friendly products and services.

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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.

  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • The management of waste produced by technological systems is an important societal issue. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Humans can devise technologies to conserve water, soil, and energy through such techniques as reusing, reducing, and recycling. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Each group needs:

Introduction/Motivation

We have discussed several examples of real-world problems that environmental engineers are challenged to solve and ways environmental engineers are addressing these problems.

Using what you learned, design a product or service that people in your community can use to help solve an environmental issue.

Here are some questions to help you out:

  • What big, environmental issue do you want to solve?
  • What specific part of this environmental issue are you looking to fix?
  • What exactly will your product/service do to help solve this problem?
  • What information do you need about the issue in order to design your product/service?

Vocabulary/Definitions

engineering design process: The iterative process through which engineers develop solutions to meet objectives. The steps of the process include: identifying a problem, brainstorming, designing, constructing, testing, analysis and evaluation, redesigning, retesting, and sharing a solution. Science, mathematics and engineering science concepts are applied throughout the process to achieve the best solution for the situation.

feasibility: Making sure that an engineering design is not only physically possible, but also achievable in satisfying all design requirements (such as, cost, efficiency, profitability, timeline, safety, ethics, etc.).

green: As relates to environmental science, being concerned with or relating to conservation of the planet's natural resources and care for the ongoing health of our shared and interdependent environment.

sustainability: As relates to environmental science, the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.

Procedure

Summary

This activity is simple and straightforward. Divide the class into groups. Give groups time to fully develop their ideas, as well as create advertising schemes for their products or services. Relate what students are doing in this activity to the steps of the engineering design process.

Before the Activity

With the Students

  1. Divide the class into groups of three or four students each.
  2. Hand out the worksheets.
  3. Review the steps of the engineering design process to give students a sense of the overall approach they are taking. Thinking like engineers means following the steps of the engineering design process, which include: identifying and understanding a need or problem, brainstorming different designs, selecting the best design, planning, creating and testing, analyzing and improving (re-designing as many times as necessary) before communicating and implementing.
  4. Direct groups to brainstorm environmental issues that face their communities. Give them five minutes to generate a list of issues. Remind groups to write down ALL the ideas mentioned—there are no bad ideas when brainstorming!
  5. Give groups another minute to agree on which ONE of their listed environmental issues is the issue for which they will design a product/service to help solve the problem. As students work together to brainstorm ideas for their products or services, remind them to consider the questions on the top of the worksheet. These questions help guide them through the process of choosing and designing products and services.
  6. If students feel they need information about their environmental issues, give them time to conduct internet research. Have them document on their worksheets the information they find (and sources).
  7. Once they have completed their research, have groups draw on the worksheets designs of their products or services.
  8. Next, direct students to work as teams to answer the questions on the second page of the worksheet and then write advertisements (radio spots, TV commercials, web ads, etc.) for their products or services that describe how they will help to solve their environmental problems.
  9. Have student groups read aloud or perform their advertisements for the class, and engage in critical and constructive peer review, as described in the Assessment section.
  10. Have groups hand in completed worksheets for grading.

Attachments

Assessment

Getting Started: To motivate students for the activity, ask them:

  • What are some examples of new technologies that you might use in your everyday life to help save environmental resources? (Example answers: Energy-saving light bulbs such as CFLs, hybrid vehicles, low-flow toilets and faucets, programmable thermostats, etc.)

Worksheet: Use the attached Thinking Green! Worksheet to guide the activity by having groups answer its questions as a team. Review their answers to gauge their depth of involvement and comprehension of the subject matter.

Share and Evaluate the Solutions: Have groups present their products or services to the class in the form of advertisements (radio spots, TV commercials, web ads, etc.). Encourage their classmates to give critical and constructive feedback on the feasibility of the ideas and ease of implementation. Consider all aspects of the product/service, including its cost, positive and negative impacts on the environment, and any adverse effects to the people in their communities. Is it feasible? Is it affordable? Is it "green"? Is it sustainable? What steps remain if we were to complete the engineering design process for each proposed product or solution?

Contributors

Jessica Ray; Barry Williams; Carleigh Samson

Copyright

© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2010 Washington University in St. Louis

Supporting Program

GK-12 Program, School of Engineering and Applied Science, Washington University in St. Louis

Acknowledgements

This curriculum was developed with support from National Science Foundation GK-12 grant number DGE 0538541. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: September 7, 2017

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