This lesson plan features the film and book from the project, No Impact Man, which follows a family in New York City as they examine how they live, exchange old habits for more environmentally-friendly ones, and discover in the process that such changes actually make them happier and healthier. The lesson also incorporates Web site resources that build on themes that emerge from the family’s experiences. Educators can use this lesson to help students learn how to save water and keep harmful chemicals out of drains. This lesson was produced with assistance from our partner Food & Water Watch.
By the end of this lesson, students will:
Civics, Current Events, Geography, Language Arts, Life Science
One 50-minute class period, plus time outside of class to implement water conservation strategies, try an all-natural cleaning product, and journal about their experiences.
“All-Natural Cleaning” (length: 4:18): The clip begins at 38:10 with Colin collecting the bottles of cleaning products in his home. It ends at 42:28 when Colin and Michelle kiss.
To access this video clip, please find the link to it in the e-mail you received when you registered.
1. By a show of hands, ask students to vote for which they think is better – tap water or bottled water.
2. Explain that tap water is better. It is less expensive, and the federal government requires far more rigorous testing and monitoring of tap water. Bottled water causes pollution and uses nonrenewable fossil fuels when the bottles are created, filled, and transported to stores. Empty plastic water bottles often end up in landfills. And bottled water costs hundreds or thousands of times more than tap water. (Compare $0.002 per gallon for most tap water to a range of $0.89 to $8.26 per gallon for bottled waters.) Plus, as much as 40 percent of bottled water is bottled tap water anyway, so we might as well get it from the tap and eliminate the extra expense and pollution!
3. Tell students that there are other ways that we can manage our water resources in a way that limits pollution. One way is to minimize the amount of chemicals that we put in our drains from cleaning and personal care products. These items often contain chemicals that:
(Source: FRONTLINE: Poisoned Waters)
4. Colin Beavan, an environmental writer who lives in New York City, researched some of the other ways that chemicals linger in the environment. Read the book excerpt.
5. Explain that the No Impact project was a year-long experiment by Beavan and his family where they examined their lives, exchanged old habits for more environmentally-friendly ones, and discovered in the process that such changes actually made them happier and healthier. Tell the class that you are going to play a short video clip that shows Beavan at the point in the No Impact project where he is trying out different ways to keep chemicals out of water and conserve energy. Then, show the clip.
7. Tell students that according to the World Health Organization, an estimated 1.7 billion people in the world still lack access to clean water. The privilege of being able to turn on your tap and have drinkable water come out is one that we should be thankful for and protect. Point out that we can take care of our water by not wasting it and by keeping harmful chemicals out of our drains. Challenge students to try two experiments of their own that will help them conserve water and decrease the chemicals that they put in the water supply.
8. For the first one, have students choose one day sometime over the next week when they will reduce their water consumption to the bare minimum. To prepare, students should think about how they currently use water and research strategies to help them reduce, such as:
Students should carefully document in a journal how they both saved and used water throughout the day, and then reflect on which strategies were the easiest and most difficult to do.
9. For the second experiment, students will need to make and try one homemade, all-natural cleaning or personal care product and journal on the experience. Students can consult the recipes for all-natural products that Beavan provides on his No Impact Man blog, or they could simply brush their teeth or wash their hair using baking soda.
10. At the end of the week, collect the journal entries and debrief about the assignment. What strategies do students think they will continue moving forward?
Students can be assessed on:
Find out how Colin Beavan got the idea to do the laundry in the bathtub (as shown in the video clip), and what laundry soap mixture he used to keep toxins out of the drain.
A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.
Colin Beavan provides recipes for all-natural household cleaners.
This FRONTLINE report takes an in-depth look at the pollutants and toxins from modern everyday life that are increasing the hazards to human health and the ecosystem.
Find out the dangers of this common chemical used in products labeled “antibacterial.”
This collection of tips can help you save water inside and outside the home.
These standards are drawn from “Content Knowledge,” a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning).
Behavioral Studies, Standard 1: Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity and behavior.
Geography, Standard 14: Understands how human actions modify the physical environment.
Geography, Standard 15: Understands how physical systems affect human systems.
Language Arts, Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process.
Language Arts, Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes.
Language Arts, Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes.
Language Arts, Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.
Science, Standard 12: Understands the nature of scientific inquiry.
Cari Ladd, M.Ed., is an educational writer with a background in secondary education and media development. Previously, she served as PBS Interactive’s Director of Education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource Web site (now PBS Teachers), and online teacher professional development services. She has also taught in Maryland and Northern Virginia.
This lesson is inspired by the work of Colin Beavan (aka “No Impact Man”), who got tired of listening to himself complain about the world without ever actually doing anything about it. So in November 2006, he launched his year-long “No Impact Man” experiment in which he, his wife, his two-year-old daughter and their dog attempted to live in the middle of New York City with as little environmental impact as possible. They tried to adopt new everyday habits that would be less harmful to the planet, and discovered in the process that such changes also make them happier and healthier. Along the way, Beavan blogged about his adventures and attracted broad public attention to environmental issues, including those related food, consumption, water, energy, and transportation. Beavan’s experiment in lifestyle redesign is the subject of his No Impact Man book and a Sundance-selected documentary by independent film producers Laura Gabbert and Eden Wurmfeld.
Food & Water Watch protects our essential resources by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink and by helping people to take action to make a difference. Food & Water Watch is a non-profit organization working with grassroots organizations around the world to create an economically and environmentally viable future. Through research, public and policymaker education, media, and lobbying, we advocate policies that guarantee safe, wholesome food produced in a humane and sustainable manner and public, rather than private, control of water resources including oceans, rivers, and groundwater.