Working Together to Live Together

Myla Van Duyn (Davis High School, Houston ISD); Marissa H. Forbes; University of Houston’s Cullen College of Engineering’s NSF Research Experience for Teachers Program
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan , Project
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 classroom activity from TeachEngineering, a collaborative online digital library, engages students in three-dimensional learning as they explore the phenomenon of human impact on a selected environment. Students use engineering design to plan a housing community within a desert, deciduous forest, or grassland, while also considering ways to protect native species. The lesson uses the 7E instructional model (Elicit, Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate, Extend.) Students work in teams of four where each student has a particular role (project manager, civil engineer, environmental engineer, graphic designer.) As a team, students conduct research on their selected biome, on environmentally conscious engineering plans and designs, and on the needs of native species. Students brainstorm a variety of plans for the housing community, evaluate their ideas, and select their best designs to create a pamphlet, which they then present to the class. Students use a provided rubric to peer review the presentations based on their creativity as well as consideration of the designs’ benefits to both people and native species. Afterwards, students regroup in teams to consider feedback and to come up with at least two ways to improve their design. Throughout the activity, students document their work in research journals. Extension ideas are offered to encourage students to explore beyond the lesson. Links are provided to additional resources for both learning and assessment.

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-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 point of this activity is for students to design a housing community that has minimal impact on native species. Teachers may want to first engage students with examples of community housing plans familiar to them. Using local online or newspaper articles gives students an opportunity to ask questions, elicit possible prior knowledge, and to engage in making sense of the phenomenon of human impact on the environment. Teachers may also want to ask questions about students’ understanding of the importance of the environment and/or biodiversity. For example, “Does it matter if a housing development changes the environment? Why or why not?” Teachers can find additional guiding questions in the Introduction/Motivation section. Further, teachers may want to review with their students the basic concepts behind engineering design. These are described in Appendix I of the NGSS. The figure on page 6 may be particularly helpful for students to visualize the engineering design process.

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
The activity engages students in the process of designing, evaluating, and refining a solution to the problem of planning a housing community within a particular environment with minimal impact on native species. Teachers may want to begin the lesson by asking students to clearly articulate the problem their housing community design is trying to solve. Students may answer that they are trying to make money or provide homes for people. The importance of biodiversity should be emphasized from the start. After articulating the problem, the opportunity to brainstorm several possible solutions would help ensure that students are thinking about solutions as they start the activity. A gallery walk, where students post their ideas about solutions for others to see, will allow students the opportunity to see the ideas of the other student groups, to ask questions, and to provide peer feedback.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This activity engages students in making decisions about using land for housing in ways that minimize the impact on native species. Teachers may want to start the lesson with questions like, “Do you think that all people depend on the environment around them?” or “Do you think people that live in cities depend on ecosystem services? Why or why not?” Questions like these will reveal students’ thinking about human dependency on the living world. At the end of the activity, the same questions could be asked to assess if students have grown in their understanding of this critical relationship.

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
As students plan their housing community design and evaluate competing ideas, teachers may want to encourage students to list the positive/negative reasons for selecting certain options and specifically how these choices may impact local species. Being explicit about the impacts and benefits of their choices will help students to evaluate their designs and to consider ways to improve their designs. Using technology may help this process. For example, students could create a table or a spreadsheet and use various columns to write down their thoughts about how each design choice would impact native species and benefit humans.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
In the lesson plan, teachers are encouraged to provide opportunities for students to share their thinking as they explain the design of their housing community. Teachers can also use questions to help students construct explanations about how different choices may impact native species and/or benefit humans. Teachers may help students to connect their designs with the concepts of stability and change with questions like, “Do you think that the choices you are making stabilize or change the environment?” A gallery walk is also recommended as a way for students to extend their thinking and modify their explanations.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This activity does an excellent job of incorporating three-dimensional learning into students’ explorations of the phenomenon of human impact on a selected environment. Students make sense of this phenomenon by creating and evaluating a variety of community housing designs while they consider potential human impact and how this impact may change or maintain the stability of the existing environment. The lesson plan could be strengthened by more clearly connecting the purpose of the activity to a real-life situation, by including questions to elicit prior student understanding, and by providing more opportunities for students to ask questions.

  • Instructional Supports: The lesson plan and additional resources provide good instructional support. Clear learning goals, alignment to the NGSS, background information, and additional resources all support instruction. In addition, ideas about extensions, modifications, and assessment are offered. Instructional support is further strengthened by including a sample student design, explicit identification of required student prior knowledge, opportunities for students to both represent their ideas and to respond to peer and teacher evaluation, and suggestions for differentiated instruction.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The activity does elicit observable evidence of students’ three-dimensional learning as students record their research, brainstorm ideas, plans, and feedback in their research journals and on the student worksheets. All of these ways provide opportunities for formative assessment. Multiple opportunities are built into the lesson for students to express their thinking through peer groups and class discussion. Teachers will want to consider embedding formative assessment questions throughout the lesson and also spend time listening to students as they make choices about design options. The lesson could be improved by the addition of more scoring guidance and by providing more accessible options for students of varying abilities.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This is not an interactive, technology-based resource.