Human Impact and the Environment

Driving or Multi-dimensional Question:

How does regular human activity affect the environment?

Unit Summary:

According to the Cross Cutting Concept for Cause and Effect, students will routinely search for cause and effect relationships in systems they study. Based on the days of lessons and the Science and Engineering Practices, the students will create and identify evidence-based arguments and consider whether an argument is supported by evidence or relies on opinions or incomplete representations of relevant evidence. Explanations will be derived from the activities practiced in the course of several days as well as the culminating event regarding the student projects and presentations.

Hook Event:

Watch the video on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (pause 6:45).
-Allow students an opportunity to construct a solution to the garbage in our oceans.
-Students may want to discuss changes that they are already making to their daily lives.
-This could easily turn into a more in-depth writing activity.

Culminating Event:

Students will use their knowledge of resources (natural, renewable, and non-renewable) as well as human impacts to develop an informational presentation. This PBL addresses the culminating event as a poster, but could truly be altered to fit a more specific need in the classroom. This might also be an opportunity to connect more technology into the classroom.

Students should use their experiences learned through the activities to influence their poster. Students will select one of the many human impacts that have been studied and how it affects the environment. Students will continue further research (as needed) to create a poster. The poster will include a description of the human impact, connections to student learning, sample solutions to the impact, personal thoughts/arguments, and any key vocabulary used. Students may also want to include drawings or pictures for their presentation.



Science Standards:

4.ESS3.2 Create an argument, using evidence from research, that human activity can affect the land and ocean in positive and/or negative ways.

Math Standards:

ELA and Other Standards:

4.FL.SC.6 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when speaking and conventions of standard English grammar and usage, including capitalization and punctuation, when writing.

Created By: Emily Wong and Brittany Crouch
Grade Level or Subject: 4th Grade

Tennessee Academic Standards for Science Connection

Disciplinary Core Idea: Earth and Human Activity
Science and Engineering Practices: Engaging in an argument from evidence
Cross Cutting Concepts: Cause and Effect

21st Century Skills

  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication Skills
  • Collaboration (Team Building)
  • Creativity and Innovation

Daily Activities

For more information on this lesson please see the Lesson Resources below

  Activities Resources and Materials
Activity One

Freddy the Fish—Students will see the impact of the pollution entering our oceans, and other waterways.

-Read: Oil SpillBy: Melvin Berger

-Freddy the Fish Directions/Instructions:

Book: Oil Spill


-one-gallon jar

-sponge cut in shape of a fish

-fishing line tied to a pencil (Freddy should hang in the middle of the jar)

-small amounts of: soil, pancake syrup, salt, paper dots, brown sugar, soapy water, red and green food coloring

-copy of Freddy the Fish note cards

Activity Two

Conservation vs. Replanting—Students will see how industry can affect different aspects of the environment, and investigate and form an opinion (based off of evidence) regarding forest conservation and replanting.

-Read: The LoraxBy: Dr. Seuss

If you don’t have the book, here is a link to a read aloud:

-Use the book to discuss cause and effect using a T-Chart. 

-Here is a fun website specific to the Lorax that has other activities and information:

-Separate students into small groups and allow them to research reforestation and forest preservation. Students will utilize the information within the articles to form an opinion to answer the following question: Should we preserve (maintain)/keep the forests we currently have, or replant trees to make up for deforestation?

 –Students will cite their evidence by creating a graphic organizer to represent their thinking. They will need to present their information and reasoning behind their answer to the given question.

Book: The Lorax

Activity Three

Soil Erosion—Students will study the positive and negative effects of farming.

-This website offers information on how farming/agriculture positively affects the environment:

-This website offers information on how farming/agriculture negatively affects the environment:


-Writing Prompt:

“How does farming positively and negatively affect the environment?”

*Students must use evidence from experiments and/or research.


-3 2-liter bottles


-hot glue

-planting soil

-3 20 oz. bottles

-seed packet

-twigs, bark, leaves, dead roots


Activity Four

Water Management in Tennessee—Students will research how the TVA manages our water supply, discuss water management, and see it in action.

-This video is about how much water we actually use:

*Did you know that the Tennessee Water System is the most used water source in the United States?

-This is TVA’s website that discusses its stewardship to managing Tennessee’s water supply:


Students will navigate the best way to stop a water leak in a pipeline with this activity.

-Field Trip:

Visit your local dam to discuss water management and see it in action.,class,dam.cfm


-small disposable cups

-tongue depressors

-masking tape

-plastic straws

-real towels (in case of major leak)

Activity Five

Mining—Students will use what they know about resources to show how mining can change the land.

-This is an amazing activity that describes the aspect of mining and the affect that is has on the land:

-This is another activity where students will study the impact that mining has on the environment and ways to mine in a more environmentally friendly way:


-This is a site that will give students a better idea of where Appalachia actually is (in reference to the video):

-Virtual Field Trip:





-cookie mining sheet (attached to activity site)

Technology Integration: There are various websites, videos, and virtual fields trips/experiences that students will take part in. Students will also utilize online information to conduct research to further their understanding.

Community Partners Contribution to Learning Experience Contact Information
Waste Management

Discuss with students how our waste is transported to the landfill, where landfills are located, and what kinds of precautions they take to ensure little impact on the environment.

TVA Water Supply Manager

Discuss with students the continuous efforts the TVA implements to manage Tennessee’s water supply levels.

Gary Springston 423-751-7336
Environmental Lab Manager (local water company) This person tests river water, storm water, drinking water, and waste water  

Capstone Presentation:

As a summative assessment, students will work towards a project that meets the disciplinary core idea for this PBL. Students will work independently to create a visual (poster) to show their understanding of the human impact and how it affects the environment. Students will also be asked to extend their thinking by continuing further research and implementing their own personal thoughts and arguments. Depending on teacher discretion, students may be asked to present their findings.

Lesson Resources