Summer Research Program for Science Teachers



David Friedman


General Douglas MacArthur High School

GRADE 9-12


What does Erin Brockovich teach us about pollution?



Objectives of this unit:

Students will:

1. Learn about various types of pollution.

2. Learn about ground water flow.

3. Learn about the local water supply.

4. Research an environmental catastrophe that may or may not have affected drinking water supplies.

5. Watch the movie Erin Brockovich to further understand the significance of pollution.



1) The unit will begin by learning about pollution in general and then will focus on water pollution.  A lesson or two will be included on ground water flow.  The hydrologic cycle will be reviewed in class and students will be required to draw out a detailed water cycle diagram and write out the path of a water molecule through at least 10 different phases/ locations, ie. one change could be rain water infiltrates the soil and enters the ground water.  (CONTENT STANDARDS A & D)

There will be a lecture about ground water hydrology, which will include: aquifers, hydrolic head, monitoring wells, pump and treat, and plume flow.  Call local water district and have them send a representative for a lesson on water!


2) We will then visit the local water district where the students will listen to a lecture about the local water supply, which will include sources, treatment, and quality analysis of our water.  (CONTENT STANDARD F)


3) Upon returning from this trip students will compare and contrast water quality from various locations by using internet resources. They will also research local and other areas of their choice for various pollutants using the website, as well as EPA websites.   (CONTENT STANDARD E)


4) Students will then have to research and write a paper (approx. 5 pages) that will focus on an environmental catastrophe, which may or may not have directly affected water supplies.  Topics may include: Love Canal, Exxon Valdez, Denora smog, London smog, Gulf War burning oil fields, Usho rice incident, Roman aquifer’s and lead…. The papers must include 5 sources and be type written.  The paper must investigate the cause of pollution, the type of pollution (specific chemicals if possible), health and environmental effects (immediate and future).  A rubric for this paper will be supplied at the time the paper is assigned. (CONTENT STANDARD G)


5) The movie Erin Brockovich will be shown to the class, in its entirety.  We will discuss the underlying scientific principles brought up in the movie.  Several activities will be done to enhance understanding of pollution and the importance of public awareness.




Aim:  What does Erin Brockovich teach us about pollution?


Ask:  What are some concepts in Erin Brockovich that we have learned about in our pollution unit?

            List responses on board.


Have students work in small groups for several minutes to discuss their feelings about the movie and the issues it presents.


Utilize Generic Translation:

Have students choose a scene from the movie and create a newspaper article out of it, one that could have been written during the actual situation.  Students will submit articles and they will be displayed in class.

Discuss as a class how students were affected by each form (movie/article) and whether there was a difference between the video and articles.


Utilize Cross Media Comparisons:

Have students acquire news or magazine articles written about the real issue at the time it was happening.

Have students work in groups to compare the written word to the video.  They should discuss what is gained/lost by each format and share with class.


Utilize Attracting Audiences:

Ask students to work in groups and determine who the movie was targeted to and why.  Ask students how to target environmental issues to different segments of the population to increase awareness and improve the situation.  Have groups share with the class.

Have students work in groups to make a commercial, change to the movie or create a written document that targets a group of their choice.  This will be presented to the class.



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