Environmental engineers are involved in a wide range of projects due to the countless intersections between the natural and human-made environments. Their challenges may involve pollution, waste disposal, recycling, land use, saving wilderness areas, product packaging, new energy sources, and how we use the planet's natural resources. Engineers find innovative ways to conserve our air, water and land resources, sometimes in the form of improved fuel and energy efficiencies. Engineers use their understanding of natural cycles to design and build systems that provide clean water and protect water supplies. This may take the form of gigantic infrastructure or creative "low-tech" solutions for remote communities. Some engineers devise better ways to get rid of our everyday garbage — a challenge that includes everything from reducing initial waste to transforming existing trash into usable materials. Engineers clean up contaminated soil, water and air; as well as modify systems to prevent future environmental destruction. They create landfills that don't add to pollution, devise recyclable materials and better industrial processes, and create smarter packaging. Engineers contribute to community land use design, planning neighborhoods, water treatment facilities, traffic flow and public transportation systems, striving to minimize harm to the environment. Engineers apply their understanding of energy to harnessing renewable solar, wind and water resources to create electricity. For example, designing wind turbines requires consideration of the Earth's surface, wind direction, average outside temperature, the impact by and on birds and insects, and extreme forces on the turbines. Engineers usually work as part of teams, and need to communicate and listen well. They consider all viewpoints, weigh pros and cons, investigate solutions, and propose strategies. Engineers also suggest behavior and policy changes. They document their work in the form of drawings, prototypes and test results, and explain technical concepts to various audiences.
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Students expand their understanding of solid waste management to include the idea of 3RC: reduce, reuse, recycle and compost. They look at the effects of packaging decisions (reducing) and learn about engineering advancements in packaging materials and solid waste management.
Students extend their knowledge of matter and energy cycles in organisms to engineering life cycle assessment of products. They learn about product life cycle assessment and the flow of energy through the cycle, comparing it to the flow of nutrients and energy in the life cycles of organisms.
In this lesson, students learn about the three methods of waste disposal in use by modern communities. They also investigate how engineers design sanitary landfills to prevent leachate from polluting the underlining groundwater.
Students brainstorm, identify and explore the pathways where their food, water and energy originate, and where wastewater and solid waste go. After creating a diagram that maps a neighborhood's inputs and waste outputs, closed and open system concepts are introduced by imagining the neighborhood enc...
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.
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.
- Make a claim about the merit of a solution to a problem caused when the environment changes and the types of plants and animals that live there may change. (Grade 3) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment? Thanks for your feedback!
- Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment? Thanks for your feedback!
- Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment? Thanks for your feedback!
- 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? Thanks for your feedback!
- Draw a scaled picture graph and a scaled bar graph to represent a data set with several categories. Solve one- and two-step "how many more" and "how many less" problems using information presented in scaled bar graphs. (Grade 3) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment? Thanks for your feedback!
- Fluently multiply multi-digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment? Thanks for your feedback!
Overview of topics by lesson: 1) the concept of an environment and its interconnectedness, as well as the role of environmental engineering in our society; 2) environmental issues and opinions, including the perspectives commonly referred to as preservationist and conservationist; 3) renewable and non-renewable natural resources and evaluation of their distribution and waste; 4) how we process solid waste (trash, landfills) and its effects on the environment; 5) 3RC management of solid waste (reduce, reuse, recycle and compost), including packaging decisions and landfill biodegradation; 6) causes and effects of water pollution through models and scientific investigation; 7) air pollution and engineering clean-up and prevention technologies; 8) community land use; 9) renewable energy resources (solar, water, wind); and 10) the role of communication, especially for engineers.
The following schedule provides a suggested order of the lessons and activities. However, you may choose to only teach some of the activities – as your time and priorities permit.
- Interactions Everywhere! lesson
- Environmental Interactions activity
- Moebius Strips activity
- I've Got Issues! lesson
- Issues, Issues Everywhere activity
- Issues Awareness activity
- Cool Views activity
- Naturally Speaking lesson
- Is That Natural? activity
- The Great Divide activity
- I Feel Renewed! Earth Resources Distribution & Population Impact activity
- Solid Waste Takes Over lesson
- Trash Talkin' activity
- This Landfill Is a Gas! activity (45 minutes on the first day for initial demonstration and landfill models, 10 minutes per day for 3 days for observations, 15-20 minutes on the last day.)
- 3RC (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Compost) lesson
- It's all In the Package activity
- Composting – Nature's Disappearing Act activity
- Test & Improve: Making Tall & Strong Recycled Towers activity
- Splish, Splash, I was Takin' a Bath! lesson
- What's Gotten Into You? activity
- The Dirty Water Project: Design-Build-Test Your Own Water Filters activity
- Got Dirty Air? lesson
- How Should Our Gardens Grow? lesson
- This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land activity
- Renewable Energy lesson
- Solar Power activity
- Wind Power activity
- Water Power activity
- Keep Spreading the News lesson
- Write On! Making Books or Newspapers to Share—Like Engineers activity
ContributorsSee individual lessons and activities.
Copyright© 2005 by Regents of the University of Colorado
Supporting ProgramIntegrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
The contents of this digital library curriculum 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 Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.
Last modified: September 25, 2018