Finding Solutions to Environmental Issues/Problems

A Suleski
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This open educational resource from Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency (Wayne RESA) in Michigan was developed by a teacher during a professional development workshop. The goal of the lesson is for students to design a solution to a local environmental problem or issue and to share their solution with their peers. Using the 5E lesson plan template, the class first brainstorms a list of world, national, and local environmental issues or problems. From the class-generated list, each team of 3-4 students selects one local problem or issue to research.  Students work both collaboratively and individually to conduct research on their selected topics and then work in teams to design possible solutions within certain given constraints such as cost, location, impact on society, and availability of materials. Design solutions are peer-evaluated prior to developing an actual model. Each team creates either a physical (2D or 3D) or conceptual model to represent their design solution. At the end of the lesson, suggestions are offered for extending and applying the design solutions. Although the context of the lesson is Michigan, the same lesson may be used in any other geographic location. In general, the lesson provides many options for each section of the lesson and does not provide definitive step-by-step instructions. However, the lesson does provide a clear framework for how to incorporate three-dimensional learning in designing a solution to a local environmental problem or issue.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • High School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

HS-LS2-7 Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.

Clarification Statement: Examples of human activities can include urbanization, building dams, and dissemination of invasive species.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The lesson provides a framework that supports three-dimensional learning, but teachers will need to be intentional about guiding the students to real environmental issues and problems in their region that are the result of negative human impact. One way to do this is to ask the students to consider the two questions provided in the resource prior to the class discussion in the “Engage” part of the lesson: What are some environmental issues in the World/United States that maybe you have seen in the news or have read about? Do you believe the environmental problems are the same or different as those in [Michigan] as in comparison to the rest of the United States/World? The teacher may also want to assign the suggested YouTube video as a homework assignment so that students can think about the issues it raises prior to coming to class. Students should be encouraged to be prepared to contribute ideas to the list created by the class during the brainstorming session. Students may find it helpful to be told ahead of time that they will be asked to design a solution to a particular environmental issue or problem. Knowing the goal of the lesson will help engage students in thinking about the type of problem or issue they want to address. Lastly, teachers may want to remind students that the goal of the activity is to reduce the impact of human activities on the environment and biodiversity. Seeing the results of the impact of human activity will help students make the connection to the crosscutting concept of stability and change. Answering the driving questions provided in the “Explore” section will help students to solidify this connection.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Teachers may want to make the engineering design thinking process explicit to students at the outset of the lesson. Page 6 of the NGSS Appendix I – Engineering Design in the NGSS ( ) has an excellent grade-appropriate graphic that will help students to envision the steps they will be taking through the lesson. If students are overwhelmed by creating a solution to a complex environmental issue or problem, then suggest to them to break it down into smaller components. For example, “pollution” is a huge topic. Selecting one specific source of pollution helps to more easily address the problem.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The suggested YouTube video in the “Engage” section lists five significant human impacts on the environment: deforestation, desertification, global warming, invasive species, and over-harvesting. The additional National Geographic website ( suggested in the “Resource Quality - Instructional Supports Comments” at the end of this resource review adds: floods and dams, ozone and pollution, and overpopulation. As students select and study topics like these within their own region, it will be important to emphasize the connection between the phenomenon itself and the consequences on the environment and biodiversity. While students are doing research on their individual topics and then designing solutions, teachers may want to ask questions such as: What change has this human activity made to the environment? What was the environment like before this human activity occurred? What species are most affected by this human activity? How are they affected? How can the negative impact of this particular human activity be reversed? Can it be reversed? How does this human activity affect biodiversity? Linking the specific human activities with the respective impacts on the environment and biodiversity will help students to design a solution.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Teachers may want to use the brainstorming session in the “Engage” section to help students connect human impact with a changing environment. As each environmental problem or issue is listed, the teacher may consider asking students what they think caused the problem or issue. Adding another column with these suggested causes may help students to see that human impact helps to explain why some environmental conditions change. As students dig deeper into their chosen topics, a teacher may want to remind them of the driving questions provided in the “Explore” section and reiterated in the “Explain” section: What causes there to be environmental problems that constantly need to be resolved by some other means? What seems to be the need for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity? Describing the “before” and “after” scenarios of each environmental problem or issue may help students to see how things change and how they remain stable.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The lesson provides opportunities for students to ask questions, to brainstorm ideas about world, national, and local environmental issues or problems, to do research on a chosen environmental issue or problem, to design and revise a solution, to create a model of their solution, to present their solution to their peers, and to evaluate design solutions from other teams. Driving questions throughout the lesson help to deepen understanding about human impacts on the environment and biodiversity. The lesson provides a clear framework for how to incorporate three-dimensional learning in designing a solution to a local environmental problem or issue.

  • Instructional Supports: The lesson provides teachers with a basic framework using the 5E lesson plan template. Within this framework, teachers have freedom to make choices to best accommodate their students’ needs and interests. To engage students with realistic and authentic environmental issues, the author suggests viewing a YouTube video at the beginning of the lesson: This video supplies five significant human impacts on the environment and may help to stimulate student interest and thinking. Another similar resource is National Geographic’ “Human Impact”: This latter resource provides a slightly different list, but also has engaging videos which may prompt student interest and engagement. Each section of the lesson contains specific learning goals and driving questions. In the “Explore” section of the resource, a “guided question sheet” is mentioned but this is not provided. It is possible that this sheet is simply the two driving questions for this section, which are provided. A variety of choices for student responses are provided (e.g., a written response, an oral presentation, a poster, etc.) Teachers may also want to add resources to support student learning and to provide local context for the issues or problems the students are studying. Many opportunities are provided throughout the lesson for students to reveal their own thinking and to provide feedback on other students’ work. The pattern of asking questions, identifying issues and problems, and designing and testing a model/prototype solution is typical of design thinking. Two excellent resources for helping teachers guide students in developing a deeper understanding of the design process may be found at:; At the end of the lesson, a list of suggestions provides guidance for teachers to both support differentiated learning and to extend the lesson in either small groups or in the context of the whole class. Although rubrics are suggested for evaluation, there are none provided with the resource. Teachers will need to consider how to evaluate students depending on the options they choose to use from the lesson, the types of models the students choose to develop, and the types of student responses they ask the students to provide.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Most of this activity is transparent to the teacher so there are many places throughout the activity to monitor student progress. The “Engage” section is a class activity where teachers can see whether or not students have ideas about environmental issues or problems. Teachers may want students to write their own ideas down first so that there is more evidence of each student’s thoughts. Another way to monitor student progress is to ask students to keep either a paper or online journal during the lesson. The brainstorming session during the “Explore” section suggests that each team use a big sheet of white paper to list at least ten possible ideas for solutions to the environmental issue or problem their team wants to solve. The teacher can move from group to group to monitor students’ progress during this activity. The “Evaluate” section of the lesson lists the different ways that students can be monitored and suggests that using both observation and a rubric will help in the evaluation process. A rubric is not provided. Because this lesson was originally designed by a Michigan educator, it may be inferred that the Michigan summative assessment is another way that students will be evaluated.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Technology is not a component of the resource itself; the resource is paper-based. However, the lesson relies on the availability of technology for student research. One link is provided to a YouTube video to watch during the “Engage” part of the lesson: ( ).