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Exploring School Building Data: Water

60 minutes
Primary subjects: 
Engineering, Environmental Education, Science
Grade: 
9, 10, 11, 12
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About

This lesson uses an online building performance data platform to explore how schools use water, the relationship between water use and greenhouse gas emissions, and the differences in water use between an average school and a high-performance green school.

Key objectives for students
Explain how and why a school uses water
Explain the relationship between water use and sustainability
Identify the differences in water use between an average school and a high-performance green school
Secondary subjects
Career Technical Education (CTE), Mathematics
Topics
Water, Water Efficiency
Skills
Critical Thinking, Systems thinking
Values
Curiosity
Methods
Design Thinking, Multi-Disciplinary, Real-World Application, Technology Integration
Background information for teachers

This lesson explores how a school uses water, the relationship between water use and greenhouse gas emissions, and the differences in water use between an average school building and a high-performance school using the Arc Digital Playground. Arc is an online building sustainability management platform that tracks and analyzes five aspects of a building’s performance: water consumption, energy consumption, waste production, transportation, and human experience.

The Digital Playground is a demo version of the Arc platform, where teachers and students can learn about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts using a set of sample schools, pre-loaded with data on energy, water, waste, and other key metrics.

If you are inspired by this lesson, you can apply the same concepts and tools to understand your school data and make a difference in the real world. Arc is free for all schools and getting started is easy:

  1. Create an account or log in to find your school on ArcSkoru
  2. Organize and enter your performance data
  3. Analyze, score, and improve your school

If you want to continue engaging students in investigating and improving their school's sustainability, check out Building Learners- a full-support K-12 education program that includes curriculum, Arc, trainings for teachers, and access to a green building professional. Building Learners engages students through real world, project-based learning about environmental and human health impacts. Pairing standards-aligned, hands-on lessons about sustainability, such as this lesson, and a robust building sustainability benchmarking and tracking tool, Arc, this program uses your own school building as a laboratory to teach STEM topics as well as engage students in action projects that develop skills and knowledge that can be applied across a range of subject areas and career pathways.

No matter what grade level you teach, these lessons can be used to envision how the Building Learners program may be implemented in your classroom. We suggest for anyone interested in Building Learners review these lessons to envision using school sustainability data with your students. We additionally suggest that all 9-12 grade teachers implement these lessons in the classroom before applying for the program.

In Advance
  • We suggest that teachers try each link to ensure that student computers may access the sites and anticipate any navigation questions.
Materials needed
  • Worksheet, one per student
  • PowerPoint
  • Access to the internet
  • Computer device, one per student or one per two students
Time Exercise Description
20 minutes How does a school use and measure water consumption?
10 minutes What are the different types of water and where do they come from
5 minutes What is the relationship between water use and greenhouse gas emissions?
20 minutes What are the differences in water use between an average school and a high-performance green school?
15 minutes Impacts on water consumption
Implementation

1. How does a school use and measure water consumption?
At the beginning of class, pass out the worksheets and ask students to silently consider the ways schools use water and create a list of the different ways water is used in schools. After students have finished their list (1-2 minutes), compile student examples on the board by asking for volunteers to share their lists.

Once the class is satisfied, explain that schools provide safe and comfortable conditions for learning. Proper amenities and resources, such as running water, safe drinking water, and restrooms are pivotal components in ensuring the comfort of students, staff, and faculty at a school. All of these amenities rely on water, and, while important, there are several ways to reduce the water a school consumes.

In order to reduce overall water use and consumption, let’s first more specifically understand how and why schools use water. Before water reaches a school, there are many steps to treating and transporting water. How the water is actually used, or the final step before it enters the sewage system, is referred to as “end-uses.” The most common end-uses are domestic consumption, which is used through the form of water fixtures, faucets, bathrooms, and kitchens.

Refer to the list you created at the beginning of class and ask which water uses on the board could be classified as domestic. Circle those items in a color that represents those items.

Outdoor water use, such as landscaping consumption, is another form of water end-use.

Refer to the list you created at the beginning of class and ask which water uses on the board could be classified as outdoor water use. Circle those items in a new color that represents those items.

Lastly, water is often used for building systems like heating and cooling. This is called process water consumption.
Refer to the list you created at the beginning of class and ask which water uses on the board could be classified as process water consumption. Circle any items in a new color that represents those items. The class may not have included any examples, so it’s suggested to add “heating and cooling” to the list for the purpose of this lesson.

The way water use is measured is simple—by finding the difference in how much water goes into the school (from the public water utility) and how much water is produced by the school. More simply, water consumption is measured by the volume of water that is used.

2. What are the different types of water and where do they come from?
In an average school, water goes into the building for various end uses, and then is sent to the sewer when the water has been used. In a green school, however, the flow of water may not be so linear. A school can reduce its water use by re-using some of used water. In order to understand how water may be re-used, it is important to understand different water types and where they come from.

The most common water types are:

  • Potable Water: This is the water we drink and is most often obtained from a public water supply. Potable water is most commonly used for domestic use but can also be used for processes and landscaping.
  • Reclaimed water: This is “used” water that has been partially treated. Reclaimed water has not been treated enough to drink but is clean enough for other uses, such as landscaping and toilet water.
  • Greywater: This is “used” water that has not been treated. Greywater may be reused for non-drinking purposes, such as water collected in heating and cooling systems. Greywater is often created from showers, sinks, and washing machines.
  • Blackwater (a form of wastewater): This is “very used” water. Blackwater comes from toilets and urinals. It needs to be heavily treated before reuse.
  • Stormwater: This is untreated water from precipitation that flows over land and impervious surfaces, typically in an urban setting. Stormwater can be used for domestic and process purposes, however, is most often used for landscaping purposes.

3. What is the relationship between water use and greenhouse gas emissions?
Now that we understand how water is used, where it comes from, and different types that exist, we can explore the implications of water use. While we know that water is essential for every living organism on the planet and access to safe drinking water is a human right (UN Water), water is also connected to the health of our planet through greenhouse gas emissions. Remember, greenhouse gasses trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere, leading to global climate change.

Water use contributes to greenhouse gas emissions in many ways. Two primary avenues are:

  1. Water treatment
  2. Use of energy to heat and transport water

Treating water is no small task. Before releasing wastewater back into the environment, water must be treated in order to prevent harm from pharmaceuticals, biohazards, and more that are present in wastewater. Read more about GHG emissions from wastewater treatment here.

Greenhouse gasses are also produced when water is heated by natural gas and transported. To learn more about Natural Gas’s effects on global warming, see Arc’s Digital Playground Energy lesson.

4. What are the differences in water use between an average school and a high-performance green school?
Now that we understand the implications of water use, how it’s used, where it comes from, and the different types that exist, let’s explore how schools can reduce their water use. For this analysis, let’s turn to the Playground to examine water consumption in a Green school and an Average school.

Let’s start with exploring the real water data from an average high school:

  1. Click here to go to the Digital Playground
  2. Click Buildings on the left panel, then My School, and then Average High School
  3. Click on Credits/Actions, then Data Input, then Water Data.

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Allow students a few minutes to navigate and explore the water data (5-10 minutes). While they explore the platform, explain that they should be looking to answer the following questions on their worksheet:

  • What patterns do you notice about the data?
  • Why do some months have a lower water consumption level than other months?

Next, let’s explore the real water data from a green High school:

  1. Click here to go to the Digital Playground
  2. Click Buildings on the left panel, then My School, and then Green High School
  3. Click on Credits/Actions, then Data Input, then Waste Data.

alt text

Allow students a few minutes to navigate and explore the water data (5-10 minutes). While they explore the platform, explain that they should be looking to answer the following questions on their worksheet:

  • What patterns do you notice about the data?
  • Why do some months have a lower water consumption level than other months?
  • How does the Average school’s water data compare to the Green School’s water data?
  • Why do you think the two school’s water data are different? What actions from either school could lead to this difference?
  • Which of these schools should we use as an example of a good water management? Why?

5. Impacts on water consumption
Lastly, let’s explore how school water can be impacted by school conditions:

  1. Click here to go to the Digital Playground
  2. Click Buildings --> My School --> Average High School
  3. Click on “Models” tab on the left, then choose “Water” on the top bar.
  4. Set starting metrics based on your classroom or school-wide level (or use the baseline school’s performance).

Explain that for each of the scenarios below, students will predict whether the Arc Performance score will increase or decrease, then use the model to confirm their predictions and hypotheses:

  1. If occupancy increases by 50% and water use stays the same, the Arc Performance Score will ______________ and the building is _______________. [Answer: increase; more water efficient]
  2. If occupancy decreases by 50% and water use stays the same, the Arc Performance Score will ______________ and the building is_______________. [Answer: decrease; less water efficient]
  3. If occupancy increases by 50% and water use increases by 25%, the Arc Performance Score will ______________ and the building is ____________. [Answer: increase, more water efficient]
  4. If occupancy decreases by 50% and water use decreases by 25%, the Arc Performance Score will ______________ and the building is ______________. [Answer: decrease; less water efficient]

As students finish the modeling section, they should answer the following questions on their worksheet:

  • Does occupancy or water use impact the Arc Performance score the most? Why do you think that is?
  • What are three ways you can reduce your water consumption?

After the class is finished with the modeling section above, come together as a class to discuss the following questions:

  • What are some ideas on a classroom or school-wide level to increase water efficiency?
Reflection Questions
  • How and why does a school use water?
  • What are the different types of water and where do they come from?
  • What is the relationship between water use and greenhouse gas emissions?
  • What are the differences in water use between an average school and a high-performance green school?
Technology

This lesson was made for students to use their own device to explore the Arc Digital Playground. This lesson can be modified so that the teacher displays the Playground for all students to see and follow along.

In the lessons, students will use their own or shared device to navigate the Arc Digital Playground. There is no login required and students can manipulate the data within the platform without permanently editing the data.

Professional Development Opportunities

If you want to learn more about using your school data to teach sustainability and STEM concepts to students, check out the Building Learners program.

Building Learners engages students through real world, project based learning about their school's environmental impact and sustainability. Pairing standards-aligned, hands-on lessons about sustainability, such as this lesson, and a robust building sustainability benchmarking and tracking tool, Arc, this program uses your school building as a laboratory to teach STEM topics as well as engage students in action projects that develop skills and knowledge that can be applied across a range of subject areas and career pathways.

Building Learners comes with five training modules, as well as curriculum and access to a green building professional who can support a teacher's classroom work.

Think the Building Learners program would help take your work to the next level? Visit the Building Learners page to learn more.