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What’s My Yard Got to Do With It? Chemistry of Nutrient Runoff

Driving or Multi-dimensional Question:

What does my yard/ garden have to do with the fish in the river?

Unit Summary:

In this unit, students will compete to grow the best yard (paint tray) of grass. Also, students will investigate the side effects of nutrient runoff using nitrate, phosphate and dissolved oxygen testing kits. Students will also analyze samples in parts per million and parts per billion (ppm, ppb)

Hook Event:

It’s a competition!
Who can grow the best _________?

Culminating Event:

To begin the study, students will grow grass seed or garden seed in a controlled environment collecting the runoff water and testing the phosphate and nitrate content of water. Students will defend or discredit the use of commercial fertilizers in the manner in which they used these additives to grow the best yard. Students will participate in a field day in collaboration with TVA, TDEC and the US Forestries division. After the field day with the experts, students will build a “public broadcast” to inform the public of the damage misplaced fertilizer can cause.


Science Standards:

CHEM1.PS1: Matter and Its Interactions
7) Analyze solutions to identify solutes and solvents, quantitatively analyze concentrations (molarity, percent composition, and ppm)

Math Standards:

From the ACT standards A 601. Manipulate expressions and equations

ELA and Other Standards:

Daily Activities

For more information on this lesson, please see the Lesson Resources below

ActivitiesDescriptionResources and Materials
Activity OnePlant/ seed the paint tray for the competition- fertilize as wanted. Grow and collect water samples after 1 week. Record plant growth on a Google sheet then shares it with the class and with all chemistry classes.

paint trays
fertilizer – different grades
coffee grounds
Epsom salt
watering cans
Test kits(nitrates and phosphate)

Activity TwoTest water samples for nitrates, and phosphates and record data as a group-generated Google sheet. Then share with the class and with all chemistry classes.
Activity ThreeSend soil samples to Waypoint Analytical Lab for testing  – Guest speaker USDA.
Activity FourMath day of parts per million/parts per billion  video lesson at: with quiz
Activity FiveConservation field day
Activity SixBroadcast day

Technology Integration: Students will use google drive and google docs/Sheets to record the process they choose to fertilize their yard/garden as well as collect and document data on plant growth. Students will also use google docs to write a script for the announcement as well.

Community PartnersContribution to Learning ExperienceContact Information
TVA –  O’Quinn, Terry ShannonConservation field day 
Shawn R. Puckett | Environmental Scientist, Division of Water Resources/Cookeville Environmental Field OfficeConservation field day 

USDA -Soil Conservation Technician-

Andrzej Kaslikowski

Soil testing and guest speaking 

H and H Hardware


Capstone Presentation:

Students will make a “public broadcast” announcement citing actual data or events relating to the project to inform the public of how to be mindful of the effects of runoff nutrients as they seed their yards or plant their gardens. This video will be accompanied by a document scripting the announcement.

Lesson Resources