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Lesson: Working Together to Live Together

Lesson developed by the University of Houston for


In this lesson, student teams in grades 8 to 10 experience civil and environmental engineering by planning a housing development while also protecting the native species that live there. They conduct research, draw plans, make brochures, and give presentations, with each four-member team having a project manager, civil engineer, environmental engineer, and graphic designer. The best designs creatively balance the needs and resources needed to support both the native species and human infrastructure.

Grade level: 8 – 10
Time: 3 hours

Cost per group: $1

Engineering connection

Civil and environmental engineers are responsible for drinking and wastewater infrastructure, electricity, road planning and construction, minimizing environmental impact, and much more when designing and building new housing developments.

Pre-requisite knowledge

Students should already have an understanding of biomes, including the characteristics of and ability to identify abiotic and biotic factors. They should also be familiar with species interactions, including competition and interdependence.


Next Generation Science Standards (Grades 9-12)

  • Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.
  • Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural system

International Technology Education Association

Standard 10. Students will develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Assess the responsibility of human competition with native species.
  • Describe adaptations of species specific to certain biomes.
  • Recognize resources necessary for the long-term survival of species.
  • Demonstrate how environmental conservation may limit impact on ecosystems.


Each group needs:

  • 1 sheet typing paper (have a few extra sheets available in case groups need to start over)
  • 1 sheet chart paper (large size, for map making)
  • pencils or other coloring tools
  • ruler
  • access to a computer with Internet access (for research)
  • research journal (notebook of lined paper), one per person
  • Student Worksheet, one per person
  • Biomes and Species List, one per class


Now that you are in or about to enter high school, you need to start considering careers to help you make wise decisions in choosing a college. In today’s activity, you will learn about civil and environmental engineering while also saving the natural environment. You may discover talents you didn’t know you had until now! How do you feel about the environment? If you don’t care, then how do you feel about the ability to have indoor plumbing? If you still don’t care, how do you feel about creating something that you are proud of? And if none of those made you smile, how do you feel about telling others what to do? You will get the chance to explore each of these aspects in the activity that we are about to do. You will also prove to me how much you have learned about ecosystems and engineering, and make me smile in return!

Let’s get started by thinking generally about housing developments. Why do we see new housing developments appear where none existed before? (Listen to student answers; possible responses include population growth, people want newer houses, people want less-expensive houses.) What happens to native species when humans encroach on their habitats? (Listen to student answers; possible responses includes species’ populations decrease, species die, habitats are altered.) Who works to ensure that environmental impact is considered in a new housing development? (Answers: Civil engineers, environmental engineers, planners.)

Project Overview

Today, you are responsible for designing a new housing development for a certain area. But there’s a catch! The local environmental group is in an uproar about your development because of a species native to the area that the environmentalists are concerned about. So, you must practice responsible engineering by reducing the impact of your development on an animal species. Typically, engineers evaluate and design for many possible effects that a development might have on a biome, and think about multiple plant and animal species. Today, you will focus on protecting just one species, and get a taste for civil and environmental engineering while doing it!


Before the Activity

  • Quiz students about the concepts covered in the Vocabulary/Definitions section, specifically biomes, ecosystems, species, populations, communities, civil and environmental engineering, to ensure that the terms are appropriately applied throughout this project.
  • Gather materials and make copies of the Biomes and Species List (one copy for the class), Student Worksheet (one per student).

With the Students

  1. Have students prepare for the activity by creating research journal entries to initiate the project.
  2. Elicit student curiosity by asking them: What happens to native species when humans encroach? Write the question on the board. Give students several minutes to reflect on the question and enter responses into their research journals.
  3. Engage students by introducing the project. Tell them to take notes in their research journals as you explain the overall activity project.
  • The class will be divided into groups of four students each.
  • Each group will be assigned a biome: a deciduous forest, desert or grassland.
  • Each group will be assigned a species native to its biome.
  • Each group member will be assigned a role: project manager, civil engineer, environmental engineer or graphic designer.
  • Each group will be responsible for designing a housing development of 50 houses located in its biome that takes into account the needs of its native species. Local environmentalists are incredibly upset that people are planning to place a housing development where this native species lives, and the group must consider the needs of the species in its planning.
  • Students will conduct research on their species and methods they can incorporate into their planning to reduce environmental impact caused by a housing development.
  • Each group is ultimately expected to create three products: a pamphlet advertising its housing development plans to buyers, a map showing the proposed housing and city services, and a presentation during which the group “sells” its housing development plans to the class (who acts as the buyer).

4. Divide the class into groups of four students each and assign each different biome: deciduous forest, desert or grassland. If you have more than three groups in your class, assign multiple groups to each biome.

5. Remind students that they are to plan their housing developments for implementation in their specific biomes, and will be assigned one species to protect that is native to that biome. For example, one group might work to protect bees in their grassland housing development plans, while another group focuses on designing a development in grasslands that protects armadillos, etc. Then assign (or permit students to pick) the species to protect from the Biomes and Species List.

6. Give students research time to explore strategies that engineers and developers use to minimize environmental impacts when planning for a new housing development. If students are confused about what types of problems housing developments can cause on species and the environments, get them thinking about humans introducing noise pollution to a nesting ground, or bulldozing a road through an area where animals hunt, or polluting water with toxic landscaping chemical runoff, or filling marshlands with soil! Countless examples exist for how humans impact environments when we plan and build new developments; talk to students about some of these examples to get them on the right track. Give students 20 minutes to conduct Internet research in the computer lab. Remind them to take notes on their findings in their research journals. TIP: If students get stuck, suggest they perform searches on “green housing developments” and “green neighborhood design.”

7. Lead a class discussion in which a representative from each group is called on to explain to the class what his/her team has learned about strategies that engineers and developers use to minimize the environmental impact of housing developments. Below are possible techniques and talking points to guide the discussion:

  • Green-building techniques used for homes (solar panels for solar hot water and electricity, programmable thermostats, Energy Star certification, high-efficiency fireplaces that function as primary heat sources, ultra low-flow faucets and showerheads)
  • Native species landscaping and shading
  • Gray water reused for low-water, native landscaping
  • Placing houses closer together to minimize individual yard space, while maximizing shared/common spaces and open/green spaces
  • Planted roofs to reduce rainwater runoff and prevent erosion
  • Rainwater catchment systems
  • Mass transit/public transit/shared car systems to keep people off the roads and ensure that the streets are as narrow as possible
  • Habitat restoration and conservation plans
  • Multi-family buildings to minimize housing footprints through compactness
  • Porous asphalt street systems for managing rainwater and preventing runoff
  • Tree planting and preservation of mature trees, which are crucial bird habitats
  • Community gardens and orchards

8. Assign each group member one of four possible roles: civil engineer, environmental engineer, graphic designer or project manager. Give students five more minutes to research what his/her assigned professional does for work.

9. Instruct students to record their findings on the first page of their worksheets.

10. Explain to students how they will function in their roles during the rest of the activity:

  • Project manager: Serves as editor of the wording on the pamphlet, checks in with other group members to make sure they are accomplishing their tasks.
  • Civil engineer: Considers city services and maps the development layout, including placement of roads, sewers, sidewalks, parks, open space, etc.
  • Environmental engineer: Becomes an expert about the groups’ assigned biome and native species to protect. The environmental engineer approves the civil engineer’s designs and provides pamphlet information.
  • Graphic designer: Sketches the development design on chart paper and the pamphlet cover design.

11. Give students 20 more minutes to conduct Internet research pertaining to their responsibilities. The project manager helps the civil engineer research how housing developments are planned and layouts are decided upon. The graphic designer helps the environmental engineer research the groups’ assigned biome and native species to protect.

12. Instruct students to fill out the second page of the worksheets.

13. Give students time to brainstorm at least three possible alternative housing development plans (remember, for 50 houses) for their biome that minimize impact to their assigned species. Remind them to record their ideas in their research journals. Give students time to sketch their initial plans on the paper, and time for evaluation and analysis of the options. Encourage students to really discuss and dissect the trade-offs of development features versus conservation success for each design. Instruct students to choose one final plan, and defend the choice they made with explanations documented in their research journals. Mention to students that engineering teams often use the process of first brainstorming many wild ideas, followed by evaluation of the pros and cons of the ideas, and then selection of the best idea (or combination of ideas) for a given situation.

14. Have students elaborate on their findings by creating pamphlets about their developments, as well as larger-scale, finalized maps that show strategies in environmental conservation (see Example Student-Designed Development Plan). Suggest that students create tri-fold brochures, with the front displaying the development name and logo created by the graphic designer. Inside, have the left panel describe the amenities that the development offers, the middle panel explain their environmental engineering conservation efforts in regard to the protected native species (displaying knowledge of the adaptations and resources required for said organism), and the right panel provide information about the biome. Have them place on the panel that folds inward the group member names, roles and job duty descriptions.

15. Have each group make a presentation of its findings and proposed neighborhood development plans to the rest of the class (who serve as the client). See the attached Grading Rubric for ideas on how to grade the final products. Students who are not presenting evaluate the presentations on their creativity and success in conserving resources for native species and providing amenities in the development. Have students record their thoughts in their research journals. Make things more fun by creating awards, such as “most creative,” and “most organized.” After all groups have presented, have students vote for the “people’s choice” award—the development they think is best. Announce the winner, and discuss as a class why that development won. Focus the discussion on the developers’ success in balancing the conservation of resources for native species with the need to provide amenities for peopl

16. After watching all presentations and receiving feedback from classmates on their designs, have students talk with their teams for five minutes, and come up with at least two ways that they could improve upon their development designs. Mention to students that engineering teams make it a point to learn from customer feedback and the testing results of their best designs, leading them to re-design and make improvements. Have them describe their ideas in their research journals

Activity Extension

Have students extend their learning by considering real-world projects, such as actual community developments being proposed and considered. For example, Wal-Mart received approval to build in the Heights of Houston, considered a historic and small business ownership-oriented region of the city. Have students write letters to developer offering solutions to lessen the impact to the community or species of interest.

Activity scaling

  • For lower grades, permit some errors in municipality planning (such as bad sewer or water lines, etc.) in the grading rubric.
  • For upper grades, require that students create higher-quality pamphlets (on a computer, using graphic design software applications) as well as more technically accurate maps, drawn to scale.

Contibutors: Myla Van Duyn, author, (Davis High School, Houston Independent School District; created through the University of Houston, Cullen College of Engineering’s NSF Research Experience for Teachers [RET] Program), Marissa H. Forbes, editor.

© 2009 by the University of Houston, National Science Foundation GK-12 and Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Programs

5 Responses to “Lesson: Working Together to Live Together”

  1. The “working together to live together” lesson plan is awesome but the student worksheet, species list , and sample community cannot be accessed. Message says they cannot be found.

  2. Help – most of the links in this AWESOME lesson plan do not work. Can someone fix them or send me all the documents like the student handout and student examples.


  3. The links to the Biomes/species list as well as the student worksheet does not have anything on it 🙁

  4. Thanks for letting us know! The links have been corrected.

  5. Love the site & this LP. Hope to use it ASAP. But new at my school & in very traditional setting. Maybe it can be set up as a whole group project with individual roles for 20 students!

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