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Lesson: Where's the Water?

Quick Look

Grade Level: 5

Time Required: 15 minutes

Lesson Dependency:

Subject Areas: Earth and Space

A water drop.
How do we purify water?
Copyright © Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Water_drop_001.jpg


In this lesson, the students conduct an investigation to purify water. Students engineer a method for cleaning water, discover the most effective way to filter water, and practice conducting a scientific experiment.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

One of the greatest problems facing society is the availability of clean drinking water. This lesson and activity provides an opportunity for student teams to complete the engineering design process related to water treatment used by practicing engineers, including constructing and testing their designs. See the related unit's Engineering Connection for further explanation.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Conduct an investigation to purify water
  • Engineer a method for cleaning water
  • Discover the most effective way to filter water
  • Practice conducting a scientific experiment

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)

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This lesson 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:

  • The design process is a purposeful method of planning practical solutions to problems. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Creative thinking and economic and cultural influences shape technological development. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Describe where water goes after it is used in houses or buildings (Grade 6) More Details

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  • Identify the various causes and effects of water pollution in local and world water distributions (Grade 6) More Details

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  • Identify problems, and propose solutions related to water quality, circulation, and distribution – both locally and worldwide (Grade 6) More Details

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Read the following part of the storyline with your students:

Even though hunting has been slow, you have been able to survive the dangers of the Amazon Rainforest on the plants and insects you and your colleagues have collected. But time is an important factor, especially since the pilot needs help badly. You continue on your quest to find Manaus with the hope that each day will bring you a little closer.

"Hey guys, we are almost out of water," you hear Julie say. There are several pools of water nearby according to the map. Maybe some of the water is good enough to drink. You realize that testing the water will be hard with the tools you have and you worry about how to filter the water in case it isn't safe to drink. Or perhaps Julie, a Chemical Engineer, can come up with an idea for a filter design. What will you use? Will it work?

Lesson Background and Concepts for Teachers

None for this lesson.

Associated Activities

Lesson Closure

Ask the students how well their filter worked. Can they think of others ways to filter the water safely? Would they rather drink water from the tap or the water that they filtered? What's the difference?


filtration: The process of removing particles and impurity for a material that is usually water.

purification: The process of removing both particles and germs from a substance that is usually water.


Each student group should complete the associated activity worksheets.

Lesson Extension Activities

Add the following constraints to their filter design solutions:

  • You cannot buy anything and need to work with what you have (i.e. cloth, random tools from the plane, paper, natural supplies from the Amazon).
  • You need to try to filter the water as quickly as possible (i.e. one drip per hour will not be enough).


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2005 Colorado School of Mines

Supporting Program

Adventure Engineering, Colorado School of Mines


Adventure Engineering was supported by National Science Foundation grant nos. DUE 9950660 and GK-12 0086457. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: April 12, 2018

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