Water Pollution Cleanup (Student Instruction)

Students make “contaminated” water and design a filtering system to remove the pollutants. 

Vanesa Martinez Huerta introducing Water Pollution Cleanup activity



Part 1: Polluted Water:

  • Bowl
  • Items to pollute the water
    • dry grass or leaves
    • dirt
    • toilet paper
    • plastic pieces
    • paper
    • What else? Use your imagination!

Part 2: Filteration System:

  • Cups or recycled bottles
  • Items to filter/clean the water which could include:
    • cotton balls
    • coffee filters
    • spoons
    • funnels
    • strainers
    • cloth
    • paper towels
    • sand
    • rocks
    • marbles
  • You might need to pre-rinse items like rocks to remove tiny pieces that could actually add to the dirt in the water.


Part 1: Make your dirty water!

Make some polluted water by mixing water and several pollutants in a bowl. The exact proportions aren’t important.

Part 2: Design Your Filter

  • Brainstorm ideas to clean the water using materials from around the house. Hint: If you have a plastic bottle, have an adult help you cut a plastic bottle in half so that you can use the top half for a funnel and the bottom half as a cup.
  • How can you design a filter system that removes as much of the pollutants as possible?
    • Hint: It will take several layers of filters to do the best job. You might want to figure out how to remove bigger pieces at the start of the system
      so that they don’t block the entire filter.
    • What can be scooped out? What needs to be filtered?
    • If you have a large, 2-liter bottle you may be able to assemble your filter in one system. If you have small cups or bottles you can design a system where you treat the water one step at a time, pouring the results from one step into the next.

Test your Filtration System:

When you’re ready, test your design. How did it work?

  • Did anything clog your filter? Is there a step you can add to prevent this?
  • Does your water look cleaner than before you filtered it? Important: Even if you are able to get the water to look clean there may be microscopic pollutants in it, so don’t drink it!
  • Could you reuse your water treatment system? If not, can you redesign it so that it can be reused?

Make Changes and Try Again!
Think about changes to your design, exploring different materials, or starting over! Engineers rarely get it right on the first try. They learn from their mistakes and keep trying.

Share Your Results with a Teacher, Parent/Guardian, or DiscoverE!
You can email photos to DiscoverE at social@DiscoverE.org

The source of this material is the TeachEngineering digital library collection at www.TeachEngineering.org. All rights reserved.


Supplemental content adapted for Dream Big Activities by the Carnegie Science Center.


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