for the sites until they observe an unacceptable water quality
parameter, at which point the site should be eliminated and
the students will have to reevaluate the suitability of the
5. Make sure the students state why each site was rejected on
the worksheet. After the team members reach a consensus,
instruct the students to write a short paragraph detailing
why that site is the best location including: what issues they
had expected to encounter at the site, what tests they conducted, and the results they reviewed.
6. After all of the teams have finished, have the groups discuss
why they chose certain tests ( i.e., herbicide testing south of
the farmlands), and make sure everyone understands which
site is the correct choice.
At the end of the activity, the students can submit their worksheets
Approximately 50 high school students participated in the initial
implementation of this activity. Following the activity, a survey
was administered using quantitative Likert Scale rankings and qualitative open-ended responses to gauge student’s perceptions of the
activity. The survey utilized Internal Regulation Board–approved
questions (Clemson University IRB #2016-295). Of the 43 respondents, 85.4 percent of students felt the role play activity was engaging.
The students overwhelmingly enjoyed participating in the activity
and believed it helped to clarify many of the concepts they had been
learning in class. For example, one student felt the activity “helped
expand my knowledge of the topic.”
Students reported that it was important to consider all aspects
of a site as “sometimes the most unlikely place will actually have
the best water quality. My group didn’t even test the water next
to the industry because we thought it would have the worst water
quality, when, in fact, it didn’t.” The critical thinking component of
the activity and freedom to choose how they would pick a site
encouraged students to take a more invested interest in the outcome of the game and increased conversations within the groups.
This, in part, along with the small groups and competitive nature
of the game, created a sense of comradery where students felt
encouraged to speak up in their groups about their thought process
and what test results they should purchase next; “it allowed my
group to make decisions based on limited information.” Further,
many of the students expressed excitement in knowing that the
game was similar to the process that consulting firms actually use
to evaluate water quality for purposes such as building a recreation
area or assessing the impacts of certain activities, which seemed to
increase the students interest in the process of water quality assess-
ment; “I felt that a lot more goes into city planning that has to do
with environmental science or at least it should be this way.”
Scenario-based games help students to apply isolated concepts
they have learned in the classroom to real-life problems, thinking
through all of the resulting consequences of the decisions they make
in a realistic setting. These activities help students expand from a sin-
gle idea—What is water quality?—to integrate concepts across disci-
plines, develop complex strategies, and assess; “How do different
human activities influence water quality and what are the implica-
tions for human health and community planning?” The issues that
face community planners and scientists often lie at the intersection
of multiple fields of study and, because no decision is ever made
in a vacuum, can have multiple direct and indirect outcomes for
local populations. Many areas want to improve their local economy,
but these activities may adversely affect the environmental health of
the surrounding area, which in turn can limit recreational activities
or even endanger public health. Studies such as Bell and Lederman
(2003) demonstrate the importance of developing student under-
standing of science and its application to their everyday lives and
the decision-making process when facing issues as a citizen of the
greater community. This activity highlights these objectives, while
integrating many of the themes covered by the AP Environmental
Sciences exam (Table 1), and enriches student learning.
This activity was designed for use in an AP Environmental Science
course but can be modified for middle school students or for use in
a university setting. Potential opportunities include:
• Ask students to consider discussion points provided in Table 2.
• Simplify the analysis by reducing the number of variables students can assess for each site.
• Ask the students to calculate the EPT index themselves using
the macroinvertebrate list and worksheet provided.
• Ask students to integrate environmental policy into their analysis,
citing which areas violate applicable state and federal laws.
Table 2. Discussion points to promote in-depth exploration of topics and issues applicable to all of the
potential recreation sites.
Site A: Below highway, within city
Issues: High chlorophyll a; high BOD; low DO; high arsenic and lead (priority pollutants); high benzene,
tetrachloroethane, toluene, and trichloroethylene (VOCs); fair EPT.
Discussion Points: Sedimentation caused from increased erosion or “sanding” highways in the winter along with
increased nutrients from city sewage can lead to high levels of algae (measured as chlorophyll a
concentration). Increased bacteria from sewage and storm water run-off increase the biochemical
oxygen demand (BOD) and lower the amount of dissolved oxygen. Metal priority pollutants often
arise from storm water run-off, because they are used in many industries and in vehicles or can be
washed downstream from old or current mining sites. VOCs can enter the water through storm