Curricular Unit: Environmental Engineering

Contributed by: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

A series of three children's drawings: A depiction of the water cycle. A polluted Earth. A person drinking water from a polluted water source.
Student depictions of the Earth and pollution
Copyright © Kids Making A Connection, Health & the Environment (KMAC), Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences,


In this unit, students explore the various roles of environmental engineers, including: environmental cleanup, water quality, groundwater resources, surface water and groundwater flow, water contamination, waste disposal and air pollution. Specifically, students learn about the factors that affect water quality and the conditions that enable different animals and plants to survive in their environments. Next, students learn about groundwater and how environmental engineers study groundwater to predict the distribution of surface pollution. Students also learn how water flows through the ground, what an aquifer is and what soil properties are used to predict groundwater flow. Additionally, students discover that the water they drink everyday comes from many different sources, including surface water and groundwater. They investigate possible scenarios of drinking water contamination and how contaminants can negatively affect the organisms that come in contact with them. Students learn about the three most common methods of waste disposal and how environmental engineers continue to develop technologies to dispose of trash. Lastly, students learn what causes air pollution and how to investigate the different pollutants that exist, such as toxic gases and particulate matter. Also, they investigate the technologies developed by engineers to reduce air pollution.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Engineers continually work to prevent pollution so that our air is safe to breathe and our water is safe to drink and use for bathing and recreating. Different types of engineers continue to explore new, creative ideas to lower air emissions, such as designing more efficient vehicles, industrial filters to reduce the amount of particulate matter released into the atmosphere, and indoor air filters to keep our indoor air clean. Engineers design drinking water treatment facilities that bring safe drinking water to our schools, offices and homes.

Environmental and civil engineers guard the quality of our water resources in many ways. They design water and sewage treatment plants that clean water for human use, and design industrial systems and filters that make sure factory-released water is not polluting our environment. Furthermore, environmental engineers help clean up water sources and air that are polluted. They are challenged to clean the groundwater and restore it to a natural or usable state so that it remains free of harmful chemicals that could contaminate the drinking water supply and make people sick.

Another very important type of engineering involves the creative technologies to dispose of the enormous amount of trash produced in the U.S. Engineers design sanitary landfills to prevent groundwater, soil and air pollution. With the mountains of trash winding up in landfills each day, engineers are working to find ways to more quickly break down materials and create methods to reuse what is left for trash.

Whether keeping our water safe or finding ways to reuse water bottles, engineers are very important to our environmental health. Clearly, engineers greatly contribute to our health and safety.

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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 (

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.

  • Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth's systems. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • 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?
  • Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
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Unit Schedule


© 2009 by Regents of the University of Colorado

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder


The contents of these digital library curricula were developed under grants from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education, and the National Science Foundation (GK-12 grant no. 0338326). However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the U.S. Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: July 31, 2017