Summer Home


An edited version of an individual lesson plan developed by

William Miller, East Northport Middle School, East Northport, Long Island, NY

Courses for Which the Lesson is Intended:

Earth science classes.

Chemistry classes.

Types of Teaching/Learning Activities Employed in this Lesson:

A thought experiment in which students imagine themselves facing a practical decision in building a summer home. Students are instructed to make a decision, articulating the most important factors leading to that decision.

Category that Best Describes this Lesson:

Social issues.

Ethics/Values Issues Raised by this Lesson:

Environmental responsibility; long vs. short term consequences; ethics and punishment.

Lesson Plan:

Students are asked to find definitions of the following terms (providing examples for each in order to make definitions more understandable):

pollution               eutrophication
organic                 decomposition
biodegradable       organism

Students are asked to read the following and answer the accompanying questions. This can be a written assignment, a class discussion, or both.

You are having a small summer house built on a lake in upstate New York. You have chosen this spot because of its isolation and the beauty of the lake. The lake is active with plant and animal life and covers an area of about 1.5 square miles. On its north side many small streams enter the lake carrying runoff from the area, while on the south side many small streams carry away some of the lake's water. Because of poor drainage in the area, it is necessary to have a septic tank installed. In order to have the septic tank do its job for a longer period of time, it is suggested to you, by the builder, to let all waste water (showers, sinks, garbage disposal, etc.), with the exception of the toilet empty into the lake. Since only you and two or three other people will be using the house and the lake is fairly large, you decide to give it some thought.



This lesson invites students to apply basic concepts they have learned in Earth Science ('pollution,' 'eutrophication,' etc.) to contexts in which individuals make practical decisions. The questions following the scenario invite students to reflect on the values underlying the decision they recommend. Factor 7 (consideration of likely future use of other property around lake) deserves special attention. The scenario describes the present situation. However, it is important to ask whether it can be assumed that things will remain the same. (After all, how is it that you were able to acquire the land? Won't others want to do the same?)

Another question to invite students to consider is why they might consider the environmental effects of allowing their wastewater running into the lake to be negligible, while agreeing to install a septic tank for effluent from the toilet. Further, might there be other ways to' extend the septic tank's useful period of time? This is a good opportunity to discuss various alternative ways in which people might more efficiently take care of their refuse in environmentally friendly ways (e.g., composting).

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