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Stormwater Runoff: Understanding the Ecological Impacts of Changing Land Uses

Originally appears in the Spring 2008 issue

As communities sprawl, new shopping malls spring up on their edges, big parking lots creep across the landscape and signage grows like weeds. Cookie-cutter architecture and big-box stores replace historic downtowns. As the built environment takes on a new look and feel, the natural environment changes too — but how?

I wanted to engage my middle school students in learning about these changes in their community so that they would better understand the consequences of wishing for another fast food restaurant or mini-mall. As a science teacher, I needed to find a way to connect learning about land use and community character with my middle school science curriculum. I decided to build a unit around stormwater, since a leading cause of water pollution is contaminants carried into lakes and rivers by stormwater runoff. Stormwater is also something that students can easily see and do something about.

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Joan Chadde is the education program coordinator for the Western Upper Peninsula Center for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan. She thanks teachers Gary Cousino (Hart Middle School, Rochester Hills, MI), Betty Cangemi (L’Anse High School, L’Anse, MI) and Sharon Bajema (Ottawa Hills High School, Grand Rapids, MI) for their contributions to this lesson. Additional watershed and land use activities by Joan Chadde can be found in the Michigan Environmental Education Curriculum Support (MEECS) Water Quality unit.