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October 24, 2016

Student Reporting Labs STEM Lesson Plan: How well are our wells?

In the PBS NewsHour Extra lesson plan, “Colonia residents demand clean, safe water” students learn how climate change and human activities impact the quality and availability of groundwater by watching a PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs video. Students research a low-cost physical model of a well, choose a part of the groundwater and well problem and propose and defend their solution.


Science, social studies

Estimated time

1-5  x  50 minute class periods, depending on selected activities.

Grade Levels



In the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Lab video,  “Colonia residents demand clean, safe water,” Las Cruces High School students describe climate changes and human activities which impact quality and availability of groundwater, a natural resource of drinking and household water for over 1.5 million Americans.

Students gather information from a low-cost physical model and from USGS (United States Geological Survey) and EPA (Environmenal Protection Agency) internet resources. Students then choose a part of the groundwater and well problem, propose a solution and defend their proposal.

Objectives (based on the Next Generation Science Standards below):

Students will:

Construct an explanation using video evidence, internet resources and a physical model about how a human activity (farming) has impacted the availability of a natural resource (well water).

Evaluate or refine a solution that reduces impact of farming on groundwater resources.


  • Student handout and pen, pencils
  • Computer and projector for viewing the video
  • Student computers
  • Physical model components: (https://www3.epa.gov/safewater/kids/flash/flash_aquifer.html)
    Clear container at least 6 inches deep X 8 inches wide (such as a plastic storage container
    1 lb. of modeling or floral clay
    5 cups of white play sand
    6 cups of small rocks (aquarium rocks work)
    Plastic drinking straws
    A plastic spray bottle with stem on the spray mechanism (be sure to completely rinse out any prior contents)
    1 piece of green felt
    ¼ cup of powdered cocoa
    Red food coloring
    Eye dropper or pipette
    Bucket or tub of water with cup for transferring water
    Scotch tape
    Modifications: additional spray bottles


The following lesson plan activities revolve around completing the handout “How Well Is My Well?”

Engage:  Student handout Part A
Time needed: 5-10 minutes in class or when completed at home prior to the lesson.
Materials: Student handout, pencil, colored pencils if desired.

Imagine that you cut a water-well down its middle all the way to 100 feet past the bottom of the well. Sketch what you think that side view might look like.  Include details like surface and underground features, depth measurements and any others you might think about.

Explore:  Student handout Part B:
Watch the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs video, “Colonia residents demand clean, safe water.”

Explain:  Student handout Part C:
Follow the directions linked below to create a low cost physical model of groundwater with a well. Groundwater flow –physical model with a groundwater contamination lesson: (20 minutes) https://www3.epa.gov/safewater/kids/flash/flash_aquifer.html

Students may use the following links to explain what caused the water scarcity for the New Mexico Natives:

Students can check their understanding with a formative assessment:
Groundwater true/false quizhttp://water.usgs.gov/edu/activity-tf-groundwater.html

Students can better understand wells and how they work:

Students can understand how human activities impact safe, sufficient groundwater:

Agricultural demands on groundwater resources:

USGS Water Science School:

  • http://water.usgs.gov/edu/ provides resources for teachers and students including a glossary, pictures, data, maps, and interactive opinion surveys.

Extend/Elaborate:   Student handout Part D.
Students investigate and propose or refine solutions. (30 minutes)


Students propose how changes to the physical model would affect well water availability:

  • From their revised drawing, circle the components that could be varied (number of wells, well depth, well shape, pumping frequency, plant type, depth of water, light intensity, for example).

Students propose changing a variable of their own choosing and explain their hypothesis about how that change will affect water availability to the well.   For a longer term project (1-3 additional 50 minute periods or at home), students might select one proposed solution to test.


Students present their proposed solutions and explain their hypotheses.  If students tested the proposed solution, they can present their data with analysis and make recommendations for further testing, implementation or revision.

Extension activities:

Standards (Next Generation Science):

ESS3: Earth and Human Activity help students formulate an answer to the question: “How do Earth’s surface processes and human activities affect each other?”

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

HS-ESS3-1. Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.
HS-ESS3-4. Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.

Dr. Andrea Cobb has taught and directed a senior research lab at Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, Virginia, since 2008. Dr. Cobb conducted a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard University and received her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Texas Tech University.

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