The story of a river
This activity provides opportunities for students to identify the short-term and long-term effects of water pollution within a catchment. It also introduces students to some of the decision-making processes involved in managing catchments.
Science and Society
5.3 Students present analyses of the short and long term effects of some of the ways in which science is used.
6.3 Students use scientific concepts to evaluate the costs and benefits of applications of science (including agricultural and industrial practices).
Life and Living
5.3 Students evaluate consequences of interactions which occur between the living and non-living parts of environments.
- One clear container such as a punch bowl or small fish tank filled with water (4-5 litre capacity)
- 16 film canisters (available from some photo labs)
- 16 different substances as listed in Resource Sheet 1 - The Story of a River (PDF, 124K)* (place these in canisters)
- 16 labels - attach to film canisters (see Resource Sheet 1)
- Resource Sheet 2 - The Story of a River (PDF, 93K)* for each student, and one for the teacher
In this activity, students see the accumulated effects of various land uses on a river. As the story (Resource Sheet 2) is read to the class, students pour the contents of film canisters into a clear container filled with water. There are 16 land uses identified in the activity. This number can be adapted to suit the number of students in the class. For example, each land use could be assigned to two students, some land uses could be omitted or more than one could allocated per student, to cater for the size of the group (Some land uses could be omitted if they are not relevant to a particular catchment).
The written student responses at the end of this activity can be used to gauge the level of students prior understandings about this topic. It is good idea to read these responses before finalising a unit plan. They can provide clues to those areas that may need reinforcement. Students may think that, because nutrients are ‘natural’ (e.g. nitrates and phosphates), they are not pollutants. Similarly, students may need help to recognise heat pollution as such.
The title of the river in the story has been left open, so that you may include the name of the local river that runs through your catchment, if you wish. The story can be adapted to include issues relevant to your local catchment.
Introduce the activity by discussing the idea that Australia is the driest inhabited continent and water is very precious, and that many ecosystems are under threat of pollution from human actions. Everyone lives in a catchment and contributes directly or indirectly, significantly or not so significantly to the degradation of our waterways, often without realising the impact they have.
To reinforce the changes that are occurring, you may wish to do some simple water testing as the story unfolds. For instance, salinity or turbidity measurements can be taken. Alternatively, students can record their observations, describing events that happened and changes that resulted.
Time: 30 minutes
- Making and judging observations
- Making links
Students are seated around the container, filled with clear water. Labelled film canisters representing various land uses are distributed to the students. As the teacher reads the ‘The Story of a River’ (Resource Sheet 2), students pour the contents of their canister into the container on cue.
Guided by the teacher, the students discuss their initial responses to the story. Some guide questions could include the following:
- How did you feel about the change in the colour and look of the ‘river’?
- How would you feel about drinking or swimming in this water?
- Why was the water so different in appearance at the end of the story?
- Do you think this is like the real situation? Is this how pollution might occur in our river?
Students individually read a copy of the story and identify the issues that relate to the way in which the area in the story is managed. These issues could include heat pollution, nutrient loading, salinity, soil erosion, litter, and industrial and pesticide pollution. Students share their list with a partner and then form groups of four by joining two pairs to negotiate a group list. Students report their ideas to the class.
Students discuss the following questions in groups:
- List the ways that pollution in a catchment might affect you personally. How might this accumulated pollution affect the coast/beach/ocean/lake and, in turn, you?
- Were any types of water pollution in the activity illegal? If so, why does this happen? If not, why aren’t there laws or penalties to protect waterways more effectively?
- What other kinds of measures could be used to prevent or reduce water pollution?
- Where could this activity be used to raise people’s awareness of water pollution?
Students write their responses to the story under the following headings:
My ideas about:
- problems that can cause water pollution in our area
- what a catchment is
- how people in our area can improve the quality of its creeks, lakes and rivers.
Gathering information about student learning
Sources of information could include:
- group lists of catchment issues
- students’ written responses to the activity
- anecdotal notes of students’ contributions to discussions.
(‘The Story of a River’ is adapted from ‘Who Polluted the Potomac?’, Alice Ferguson Foundation, USA)
* Requires Adobe Reader
Last updated 27 July 2010