Environmental Detectives

Grades 5–8

Written by Kevin Beals with Carolyn Willard

This substantial unit for grades 5–8 takes the mystery "hook," used so successfully in other GEMS units like the very popular Mystery Festival, to engage students in exploring a range of crucial environmental issues.

In this case, the "crime" is a mysterious environmental calamity—a fish die-off that began five years ago. The scene of the crime is the "Gray Area," a watershed that includes forests, a city, a town, a coast, three rivers, a lake, and a pond. Student sleuths investigate the many potential causes of the fish dying, including chlorine pollution, acid rain, erosion and sediment pollution, predator-prey relationships, phosphate pollution and algal blooms, and oil pollution.

Environmental Detectives provides students the opportunity to grapple with a complex, interdisciplinary scientific problem. They hear statements of various "suspects" in the crime. They study and discuss reference materials, including records, newspaper articles, charts, graphs, and even "secret documents," and integrate all of this information with their own test results.

Placing science learning in a real-world context, Environmental Detectives conveys solid scientific content and research-related inquiry skills. Students become aware of the interconnectedness of the natural world and the complexity of many environmental problems. They discover that science and society are inextricably linked, and that most solutions require compromise.

Other GEMS units relating to environmental issues include
Acid Rain, Global Warming and the Greenhouse Effect, and River Cutters.

NSTA Recommends   Environmental Detectives
"The real-life problem, so similar to issues that we see in the news, motivates students to solve the mystery with the teacher acting as mentor and guide. Subtle lessons in citizenship accompany the major themes of human impact and population growth. Becoming an environmental detective will help students develop a sense of empowerment to help their community fight pollution as well as making them more confident of their research skills. The activities will challenge the diverse learning styles found in most classrooms. This is a GEM of a module."

–National Science Teachers Association Recommends

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ISBN: Grade Level Format Price



8 Activities,
260 Pages


Lawrence Hall of Science    © 2004 UC Regents. All rights reserved.    Contact GEMS    Updated June 20, 2020