Decision Making: A Mock Town Meeting on a Proposed Tank Farm

United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Graph , Lesson/Lesson Plan , Map
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.




Students will represent the citizens who live and work in a small town called Priceford. A major business development company called Zanec Corporation has asked Priceford for permission to install five 10,000 gallon Underground Storage Tanks (USTs) on their property just outside of Priceford. This proposed tank farm will supply fuel and manufacturing chemicals to an existing Ball Bearing Factory. Students will divide into several groups each having very different interests, and will hold a town meeting to discuss and vote on Zanec's proposal.


Students will gain experience in recognizing potential hazards to a community's water supply and weighing the risks and benefits of community development, and will practice decision-making skills in a mock town meeting.


While no expectation of time is given on the lesson, this may take one, 45-minute class period.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
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-ESS3-4 Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.

Clarification Statement: Examples of data on the impacts of human activities could include the quantities and types of pollutants released, changes to biomass and species diversity, or areal changes in land surface use (such as for urban development, agriculture and livestock, or surface mining). Examples for limiting future impacts could range from local efforts (such as reducing, reusing, and recycling resources) to large-scale geoengineering design solutions (such as altering global temperatures by making large changes to the atmosphere or ocean).

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students play the role of one of several stakeholders in the fictional city of Priceford. Each group must research the risks and benefits that their group would support or be concerned about. This activity is presented as one round of discussion where stakeholder groups address four issues as presented in the student handout. The Performance Expectation can be more fully addressed if a second round of debate is added that allows the students representing the company to research solutions to the questions raised by the various stakeholder groups. One source of background information on underground storage tanks can be found on the Environmental Protection Agency website here:

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
Students will divide into special interest groups that each have differing interests. Students representing the company will present their plan for installing the underground storage tanks. The remaining student groups will question the company plan based on the components of the plan that will positively or negatively affect their group’s interests. The Practice can be more fully addressed if the lesson is modified to allow for two discussion sessions: one as written in the lesson and one additional discussion session that allows the student group representing the company to modify their plan based on any objections raised by the remaining student groups.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students assigned to the Town Council must take into consideration a range of constraints in order to make their decision about the Zanec Corporation proposal. While aesthetics are not addressed as part of four issues the other student groups must address, teachers could direct students to also think about the aesthetics related to the area proposed for the underground storage tanks.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Two of the four discussion points groups are addressing directly relate to this disciplinary core idea. The first, “What are the risks related to this proposal?” should have students investigate the risks of underground storage tanks in producing pollution. The second, “How can the risks be minimized to protect groundwater?” should have students investigate other technologies in underground storage tanks that prevent potential pollution. Background information on underground storage tanks can be found here:

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students representing the company will present the company plan for installing the underground storage tanks. The remaining students will question the plan based on their group’s main interests. The design of the company plan should be modified to address the concerns raised by the various special interest groups.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students are required to use a science and engineering practice, constructing explanations and designing solutions, in order to solve the problem of the best placement of an underground storage tank while taking into consideration tradeoffs (disciplinary core ideas) as well as the structure of the underground storage tank (crosscutting concept) in order as to prevent possible future problems for the community (disciplinary core idea). In order for the various student groups to make an effective argument, they must use all three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards, to create their four minute presentations.

  • Instructional Supports: Students may not have much prior knowledge with water pollution, its causes, and ways to prevent it. Teachers will need to build in these supports as none are provided in the teacher’s guide. Multiple opportunities exist through discussion for students to both clarify their ideas and receive feedback. No components are included that support differentiated instruction. It would be up to the teacher to develop any tools to support struggling students. Teacher may have to edit the included map to add labels so that the map is more easily used by students. One addition would be the inclusion of quadrant names on the map. They are currently not listed, but it is assumed they follow typical convention (quadrant 1 is top left, quadrant 2 is top right, quadrant 3 is bottom left, and quadrant 4 is bottom right).

  • Monitoring Student Progress: While some questions are provided to guide students in the analysis of the company plan, it would be up to the teacher to develop other guiding questions for struggling students. No scoring guides or rubrics are provided

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Teachers will need a computer with internet access to download the lesson.