MSP:MiddleSchoolPortal/Technology and the Environment: A Middle School Mix

From Middle School Portal

Technology and the Environment: A Middle School Mix - Introduction


When talking about environmental problems, technology can be both villain and hero. We often design, develop, and implement technological solutions to make our lives easier, but these technologies may have objectionable lasting effects on our environment. On the other hand, technology can save the day with efforts to monitor, clean, and repair the environment. If we look at our use of fossil fuels, we can see technology causing and lessening environmental problems. Fossil fuels have been an important source of energy, but our use of them has added pollutants to the air and has contributed to acid rain. To counteract these problems, technological developments have led to innovations in engines and smoke stacks that reduce polluting emissions. Instruments such as air quality monitors and pollution sensors capture data that we can analyze to better understand the extent and nature of environmental problems.

Units about technology and the environment provide perfect opportunities for teachers of technology, science, and mathematics to collaborate. An integrated unit about the environment will allow your students to apply science and mathematics skills and concepts in a different context. Students also learn about the relationship between technology and society and develop reasoning skills to weigh the risks and benefits of personal and industrial uses of technology. When your students study technology and the environment, they have the chance to develop technological, scientific, and mathematical literacy all at the same time. What an educationally powerful experience!

Studying the impact of technology on the environment involves making predictions in how the technology will affect and thus change the environment. Predictions are necessarily based on known scientific laws and observed patterns. Patterns of change is a common theme in science and one that the NSDL Strand Map Service provides detailed guidance. These maps illustrate connections between concepts and across grade levels. An image of the middle grades (6-8) only part of the Patterns of Change map appears below. Clicking on a concept within the maps will show NSDL resources relevant to the concept, as well as information about related AAAS Project 2061 Benchmarks and National Science Education Standards. Move the pink box in the lower right hand corner of the page to see the grades 6-8 learning goals.

We have selected resources to help you and your students see the influence of technology on the aquatic environment, understand how technology facilitates the regeneration of clean water through wastewater treatment, and learn about sources of and remedies for pollution problems. We have also included a comprehensive environmental program that offers your students opportunities to use technology to gather and analyze data. Lessons about technology and the environment can relate to technological, scientific, and mathematical national standards. We offer these resources to kindle your imagination about ways to develop multifaceted cross-curricular lessons about the environment.

Aquatic Environment

Since water covers 70 percent of the Earth, it is especially important to discuss with students the ways in which technology impacts the aquatic environment. Even in the water, balance is the key. These resources will help your students understand how problems result when there are too many or too few organisms. Students can also learn that they may unknowingly contribute to problems in the aquatic environment through routine activities. You and your mathematics and science colleagues might be interested in collaborating to help students understand the skills and concepts involved in these activities.

Wheeling Jesuit University/NASA-Exploring the Environment: Coral Reefs Is technology part of the problem or part of the solution to the global decline of coral reefs? Students who complete this module, which is part of the NASA-sponsored Exploring the Environment web site, will learn that the answer is BOTH. The module follows a problem-based learning approach to help students consider the changes in the environment related to coral reefs. Its jigsaw puzzle metaphor guides students' consideration of some variables that contribute to changes in coral reefs. The module's graphs present an excellent opportunity for students to interpret the meaning found in data displays. In addition, the module contains background information about environmental changes, their causes, and technological methods to detect them.

Building a Bloom Harmful algal blooms, also known as HABs, are increasing in frequency around the world. Why might this be happening? What can be done to find some answers? Students intertwine aspects of technology, science, and mathematics as they conduct this activity. They consider how technology, such as transportation and manufacturing, promotes the development of HABs. Even though students are not necessarily working with harmful algae, they conduct experiments to determine if sunlight and nutrient enrichment have an impact on the increase in algae population size. Students use color and smell as a qualitative measurement and cell counts to quantitatively determine population size. Math skills come into play when they calculate population sizes based on sampling techniques and graph their results.

Activities: Stop Pointless Personal Pollution How can it be that I am polluting just by walking my dog or washing my car? This article and its associated activities help students make responsible decisions about how they perform routine tasks to limit their impact on water quality. The article offers environmentally friendly tips about tasks such as car washing, motor maintenance, and lawn fertilization. You can pick and choose from a list of four activities to help your students study about nonpoint source pollution. Your students can exercise their math skills when they use fractions to determine whether it is better to wash with repeated small dilutions of dirt with water or one big dilution, calculate population density, and read a pie chart. Students strategize ways to reduce the bacteria entering watersheds from pet waste and perform experiments to see the effects of fertilizer runoff on dissolved oxygen in the waterways. Not only will your students learn technology, math, and science, but they will see how applying what they have learned will improve their environment.

COOL Biology Projects: Gone Fishing "Students, pretend you are journalists and your magazine assigned you to write an article to help fishermen predict where the good fishing spots will be off the New Jersey coast." What an exciting and rich cross-curricular task! As they work in groups to research the story, students learn about the food web in oceanic ecosystems, scientific and technological careers associated with the aquatic environmental, and tools to collect and analyze environmental data. The students gather information by viewing videos and analyzing satellite images and graphs of data collected with Conductivity-Temperature-Depth and Fluorometer sensors. Reading and interpreting graphs is a key part of this activity. The students write their magazine articles as the culminating activity of the lesson. Make sure to open the teaching tips; they offer great instructional ideas and background information, as well as a rubric for scoring the individual and group aspects of the project.

Wastewater Treatment

The process of treating municipal wastewater is a powerful example of how technology has affected our environment and society. These resources will help you and your students appreciate wastewater treatment and how lucky we are to have it.

Microbe Zoo Have you ever visited a microbe zoo? Most likely you have interacted with microbes in your environment on a daily basis without even knowing it. This site discusses the different microbes that are in the soil, in the water, and even in our food. A special section in the Animal Pavilion, called Poo Corner, describes the microbes that help break down fecal material. It talks about the microbes in septic tanks and community sewage treatment plants. Teachers and parents: beware. If, after visiting this site, your students go for a walk in the woods and ask for plates and glasses, they may be setting up viewing chambers to observe the fungal fruiting bodies sprouting out of herbivorous animals' dung. Choose your tableware carefully.

Challenging Pollution

Although we may not often do it, it's easy to list ways that power plants, automobiles, and handy household products benefit us. But are these and other technology-driven products and services benign—to us, to the environment, and to other living things? Use one or more of the resources in this section to get your students thinking about the causes and effects of pollution and what individuals, communities, and businesses can do to lessen pollution problems.

Acid Rain: Students Site You can't talk about why acid rain exists or what can be done about this environmental problem without addressing humans' use of technology and natural resources. This site from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does just that. It walks students through the basics of acid deposition in two complementary tutorials. You may want students to use one or both. The first takes the form of five questions, including What Is Acid Rain?, Why is Acid Rain Harmful? and What Can You Do? It does a truly excellent job of explaining topics like acidity, the environmental and health effects of acid rain, and the fossil fuel connection. If you want to connect the tutorial to an assignment, here are three ideas:

1. Partner with the social studies teacher and have students learn more about government regulations of air pollution and acid deposition.

2. Ask students to share what they have learned, just as the last section of the tutorial encourages them to do. They can create a product that communicates about acid rain to an audience of their choice (parents, younger students, government leaders, etc.)

3. Have students research the technologies used to control emissions from power plants and include a graph illustrating a key idea in their report.

The second tutorial, called the Acid Rain Animation, uses images and less text to convey some of the same information. Games and activities, which may be too young for some middle school students, are also offered on the site.

Recycle City If your city, formerly known as Dumptown, now bears the esteemed name of Recycle City, you must have made some significant and lasting changes! Visit the Activities page for information and ideas for incorporating one or both of this site's two features (an interactive map and a game) into your classes. By clicking around in the quadrants of this fictitious place, students can check out myriad examples of the sound environmental practices that are now the norm in Recycle City. In the Dumptown Game, students become the city manager who needs to transform Dumptown (a name like that can't be good for the citizens or the local economy!). Students choose which programs to implement, and then watch Dumptown change as the programs go into effect. Bar graphs display the resulting reductions in waste, and the total cost of the programs is shown. Like the site suggests, consider giving your students a goal to achieve as manager that corresponds to the particulars of your curriculum. Reading graphs and working with a $200,000 budget to clean up Dumptown are just two examples of the mathematics embedded in this excellent web site. Use it to prompt your students to think about how products and actions can have positive and negative effects on the environment. Ask them to consider how their own family, school, neighborhood, and city are making cumulative changes to their local environment. What's going well, and where do they see room for improvements? Is there an area in which they can influence change?

GLOBE Program

If you'd like for your students to do more than take the occasional dip into learning about the environment, consider latching on to this phenomenal program and using it for all the rich learning opportunities it provides. Because it is an entire program, we decided to feature it in its own section.

The GLOBE Program Students as scientists—that's the claim that the GLOBE program makes and delivers on. In this K-12 science program, students don't just read about science—they do it, which means that mathematics and technology are in the mix, too. Measurement skills and geometry concepts are key math topics applied in the field sampling activities. Additionally, students collect, represent, and analyze data for many of experiments—the question of when will we ever use this math should never be raised! Technology comes in the form of data-collecting instruments and the capabilities of the GLOBE web site. The program is truly global in at least two ways. Students study the Earth system, its soil, atmosphere, water, weather, land cover, and more. And the participants are a global network of students, teachers, and scientists who collaborate and share data online.

Students collect data about their local environment, submit the data to the free GLOBE site, and then use tools on the site to analyze and visualize their data and the data gathered by other student scientists—past, present, nearby, and far away. And the program doesn't end there; with such an array of data sets, the inquiry options and research collaborations are nearly endless for your students. Required workshops are held for teachers who want to participate fully in the program, and loads of teacher supports are on the site. Check out the Learn About Globe section and then click on over to the GLOBE videos page to watch a 10-minute program overview. You just might get hooked!

SMARTR: Virtual Learning Experiences for Students

Visit our student site SMARTR to find related science-focused virtual learning experiences for your students! The SMARTR learning experiences were designed both for and by middle school aged students. Students from around the country participated in every stage of SMARTR’s development and each of the learning experiences includes multimedia content including videos, simulations, games and virtual activities.


The FunWorks Visit the FunWorks STEM career website to learn more about a variety of science-related careers that combine technology and the environment such as meteorologist and environmental scientist.

Latest Science News from the New York Times

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National Standards

These excerpts from the Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (STL) connect to the topics and resources discussed in this publication.

The Nature of Technology

Standard 3: Students will develop an understanding of the relationships among technologies and the connections between technology and other fields of study.

Technology and Society

Standard 5: Students will develop an understanding of the effects of technology on the environment.

Abilities for a Technological World

Standard 13: Students will develop abilities to assess the impact of products and systems.

National Science Education Standards

These excerpts from the National Science Education Standards speak to the interrelationships between science, technology, society, and the environment.

Science and Technology

As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop


  • Perfectly designed solutions do not exist. All technological solutions have trade-offs, such as safety, cost, efficiency, and appearance. Engineers often build in back-up systems to provide safety. Risk is part of living in a highly technological world. Reducing risk often results in new technology.
  • Technological designs have constraints. Some constraints are unavoidable, for example, properties of materials, or effects of weather and friction; other constraints limit choices in the design, for example, environmental protection, human safety, and aesthetics.
  • Technological solutions have intended benefits and unintended consequences. Some consequences can be predicted, others cannot.

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of


  • Human activities also can induce hazards through resource acquisition, urban growth, land-use decisions, and waste disposal. Such activities can accelerate many natural changes.


  • Technology influences society through its products and processes. Technology influences the quality of life and the ways people act and interact. Technological changes are often accompanied by social, political, and economic changes that can be beneficial or detrimental to individuals and to society. Social needs, attitudes, and values influence the direction of technological development.

Read the entire National Science Education Standards online for free or register to download the free PDF. The content standards are found in Chapter 6.

NCTM Principles and Standards for School Mathematics

Making the leap from classroom mathematics to real-world situations is often a challenge for math teachers. Working on an interdisciplinary environmental project with science and technology teachers is an excellent opportunity to engage students in mathematics that applies the concepts and skills found in the Data Analysis and Probability Standard, Connections Standard, and Representation Standard for grades 6-8.

Author and Copyright

Judy Ridgway, Carolee Barber, and Judy Spicer formerly of Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Science and Mathematics Education, Instructional Resources. Judy Ridgway was ENC's Assistant Director of Instructional Resources. She is a veteran educator in the biological sciences. Carolee Barber was a science education resource specialist at ENC. She has taught a variety of science courses and worked for a conservation organization. Judy Spicer is the mathematics education resource specialist for digital library projects at Ohio State University. She has taught mathematics in grades 9-14.

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Copyright May 2007 - The Ohio State University. Last updated September 19, 2010. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0424671 and since September 1, 2009 Grant No. 0840824. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.