Teacher Area

Lesson Plan 3: Water Contaminant Removal Systems


This lesson/activity will be used to design a system to remove contaminants from water. This activity will provide the students with an opportunity to try methods of removing water contaminants. A management system must be developed to get the work done and design the final system. Each team would be responsible for a final report to discuss the science behind the water clean up, the design of the solution, the materials available and used and the construction of the prototype.


  • Provide students with the opportunity to experience working as a team of engineers/designers and also build a system to solve a problem.
  • Provide students with the opportunity to learn methods of removing contaminants from water.

Students will be able to:

  • Work on a design team.
  • Identify the pollutants in a water sample using sight and smell.
  • Discuss the effectiveness of different types of filtration systems.
  • Design, build and test a water filtration system.
  • Use data based on observations to construct a reasonable design of a water filter.
  • Compare a model of a water filter with what it represents.
  • Understand the role of engineers in water treatment systems.
  • Create a presentation board with a set of working drawings, plan of procedures, flow chart to show system function, Bill of Materials, cost analysis and 3D model.
  • Review and provide comments/feedback on their partner class' proposal

Materials and Resources
  • Computers with internet access
  • Power Point: Problem Solving and the Design Process
  • Power Point: Introduction to Systems
  • Water Contaminant Removal System Clues
  • Water Contaminant Removal System Instructions
  • Water Contaminant Removal System Participation Rubric
  • Water Contaminant Removal System Action Plan
  • Water Contaminant Removal System Ranking
  • Water Contaminant Removal System Test
  • Water Contaminant Removal System Test Rubric
  • Portfolio
  • Portfolio Rubric
  • EPA Water Filtration Activity

    Material List for Activity:

    Each group should have:

    • Rubber gloves (1 pair per student)
    • Portfolio for documentation
    • 1 ruler
    • 1 pair of scissors
    • 10 pH paper strips (to test after each stage of filtration)
    • 2 2-liter bottle cut in half horizontally
    • 1 2-liter bottle not cut in half
    • 2 1-liter bottle
    • 1 3-inch square of mesh (fine nylon screen, fine cheese-cloth, etc.)
    • 1 rubber band
    • 1 paperclip
    • 1 teaspoon or other stirring utensil (chopsticks work well)
    • 1 tablespoon for alum
    • Filter materials:
      • 2 tablespoons of alum (potassium aluminum sulfate available in the spice isle at grocery stores)
      • Filter paper or large coffee filter (at least 6" in diameter)
      • 12"x12" cheese clothe
      • 10"x10" plastic wrap
      • 6 cotton balls
      • 2 sponges
      • 2 pair stockings
      • 2 cups fine sand
      • 2 cups coarse sand
      • 1 dozen large and small pebbles (total)
      • 2 cup activated charcoal (used for potting plants and in aquariums)
    • 1 Measuring cup
    • 1 Measuring spoon or teaspoon
    • 1 large jug/jar (approximately 1 gallon size - plastic gallon milk jugs with lids are great), for mixing/storing "Polluted Water" (recipe follows)
    • "Polluted Water" materials:
      • 1 ½ gallon jug of "Polluted Water" (made by mixing the following, two days in advance and setting in the sun. You may want the students to watch you make the mixture so they know what is in it. (Create a story to explain how each contaminant got into the water.)
      •   Water (enough to fill the jugs/jars approximately ¾ full)
      • Green food coloring (1 teaspoon)
      • Organic matter (grass clippings, orange rinds, etc.) (1/4 cup)
      • Dishwashing detergent (1 teaspoon)
      • Vinegar (1 teaspoon)
      • Mineral Oil (teaspoon)
      • Salt (1teaspoon)
      • Pepper (teaspoon)
      • Pieces of polystyrene foam (foam peanuts) (1/4 cup)
      • Small pieces of newspaper (1/4 cup)

    Make the solution the same for each team so that the end result can be compared against each other.


New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards

  • Standard 5.4: Nature and Process of Technology
  • Standard 5.6: Chemistry
  • Standard 5.10: Environmental Studies
  • Standard 8.2: Technological Literacy

ITEA Standards for Technological Literacy

  • Standards: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15

National Science Content Standards

  • Unifying Concepts and Processes in Science
  • Science as Inquiry
  • Physical Science
  • Life Science
  • Science and Technology


  • The instructions would be used to explain the activity.
  • The rubric would be used to access student participation during the activity.
  • The action plan document provides guidance for the students to plan out their approach to the problem they are solving.
  • The instructor uses the rank document to document the students' output from their system.
  • Use the follow up open-ended question for students to address the methods they used in their system. Each student could then provide their individual understanding of the previous experiences.
  • Use the rubric to assess the depth of their answer to the open-ended question.

Time Frame: 1 day

Grab the students' attention with a cup of dirty water and a digital camera sitting next to a planter of dirt (spare the plant) at four stations. Have the students at one of the four stations. Ask students to describe the level of cloudiness of the water in the cup. Pour the water through the plant and catch the run off through the bottom of the plant and compare the difference between the water poured in and the water poured out. Have the students take a photograph of the water prior to going in and then coming out. Pour the water through several times and photograph each capture. Download the photos and arrange them on a one-page document so they can observe the difference. Ask them to describe the changes and how the changes took place. Explain to the students that the earth is a natural filter for water on earth. Also, make them aware that water can also drag contaminants into the water.

Review PowerPoint Presentation with students: Introduction to Problem Solving and the Design Process Review PowerPoint Presentation with students: Introduction to Systems

Time Frame: 5-6 days

Students will be put into a role-playing situation to design a system to remove multiple contaminants from water. Use Water Contaminant Removal System Instructions. Important: Prior to the start of this lesson, the Project Leader will assign partner schools. These schools will work together for the remainder of the project. First, by reviewing each other's proposals in this lesson and then working on the design and production of a water purification system in lesson 5.

Activity Steps:

  1. Prepare dirty "polluted" water in advance if desired. Consider any students' allergies before creating the dirty water sample. Use the materials listed under "Polluted Water" below if allowing the students to create the dirty water.
  2. Use clues to put activity in motion.
  3. Share instructions for activity
  4. Share participation rubric with students
  5. Describe expectations of the guided portfolio in the area of the design plan.
    • Expect students to create a diagram of the order that they want to remove the various contaminants.
    • Expect students to identify what materials they would use to develop this component of the system and remove each contaminant.
    • Expect students to provide multiple sketches of what that part of the system will look like to remove the contaminant. Multiple contaminants may be removed at once.
    • Expect students to provide a rationale for the design selection for each component of the system.
  6. Give action plan guide to Systems Engineer
    • This step is crucial for the planning of the team effort. They need to discuss how to get the purification system built in a systematic way. Time is crucial.
    • They may want to make changes and don't want to run out of time for improvements. Often students work up to the last second and never get time for redesign.
  7. Give each team "Swamp Water" in the one liter bottle with a cap. Have students describe the appearance and smell of the water. 
  8. Remind students of the steps for filtration.
  9. Safety Issues - Remind the students that when they are making observations they should only use sight and smell; they should never taste the solution, even if it looks "clean."
  10. Troubleshooting Tips - Be sure to have paper towels/rags on hand in-case spills occur. Help the students to fold the filter paper correctly. They will also need to pre-wet the paper so that it sticks to the sides of the "funnel." You may want to have an eyedropper and some tap water available for this purpose.
  11. Remember to dispose of the waste from this experiment properly! Most times the "polluted" water can just be washed down the drain; however, if you have used any chemicals, you will need to dispose of it according to proper disposal methods.
  12. Collect design documentation.
  13. Maintain copies of design documentation to submit to CIESE if necessary.



Important Content: If you have ever done any research on different countries, you may have noticed that different countries grow different crops and livestock. Just as these countries have different plants and animals, they also have different natural resources such as trees, and minerals. The climate is different and some countries have more or less rainfall. Different resources provide different opportunities. And a lack of resources sometimes provides hardships.

So far you have established the fact that the human body needs water and lots of it. You have also noted that some countries are struggling to obtain clean water and now face other water related issues. Many different contaminants can get into the water sources. The water is then not usable for human consumption. The removal of these contaminants is not always easy, especially when water contains multiple contaminants at once.

Civil, chemical and environmental engineers along with project managers work together to make existing water treatment systems better, or to develop new water treatment systems. Some systems are for long-term usage while other systems can for basic survival and for short-term use. Chemical and industrial designers often work together to create short-term systems.

Civil engineers would have a background in surveying, water biology, environmental chemistry, water supply and treatment operations, fluid mechanics and hydraulics, water works operations, water distributions systems, and water/wastewater plant management.

Chemical engineers would have a background in water chemistry, contaminants and contaminant removal, and the design and maintenance of chemical processes. Chemical engineers solve problems involving the production or use of chemicals.

Environmental engineers use biology and chemistry principles to develop solutions to environmental issues on a local and worldwide level. They are involved in water and air pollution control, recycling, waste disposal, and public health issues. Where water is concerned, they design municipal water supply and industrial wastewater treatment systems. They conduct research on the environmental impact of proposed construction projects, analyze scientific data, and perform quality-control checks.

A project manager would organize and direct teams of engineers, technicians, and craftsmen, turning concepts into reality by designing, constructing, and operating process systems at pilot through full scale. A project manager has to be experienced in project scheduling, procurement (obtain and purchasing), construction supervision, and estimating construction and annual overhead and management costs for new plants. Project managers must be well versed at writing engineering reports, startup and operating procedures, and developing process safety plans.

Support sources:

Systems Engineering is an interdisciplinary approach and means to enable the realization of successful systems. It focuses on defining customer needs and required functionality early in the development cycle, documenting requirements, then proceeding with design synthesis and system validation while considering the complete problem:

  • Operations
  • Performance
  • Test
  • Cost & Schedule
  • Training & Support
  • Manufacturing
  • Disposal

Systems Engineering integrates all the disciplines and specialty groups into a team effort forming a structured development process that proceeds from concept to production to operation. Systems Engineering considers both the business and the technical needs of all customers with the goal of providing a quality product that meets the user needs.

What is systems engineering? International Council on Systems Engineering. 1996-2008. 27 April 2008

Bahill, A. Terry and Frank F. Dean. What Is Systems Engineering? A Consensus of Senior Systems Engineers. 1994-2007. 27 April 2008