May 3, 2010

Use the EPA in Classroom Reseach Projects

by Heather Falconer

It’s no secret that finding quality information on the Internet can be hit or miss. As educators working with a large body of students, helping students conduct online research can leave you needing a time out in the teacher’s lounge! And yet, data collection and analysis is such an important part of learning about science that it can’t be skipped. Fortunately, many government bodies and environmental organizations are working to make quality, reliable information easier to come by. Today, we’re highlighting the wonderful resource that the Environmental Protection Agency has put together.

First off, the EPA home page gives easy links to current news events. Today’s page highlights the latest information on the EPA’s response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, comments from Administrator Lisa P Jackson (yes, she tweets), and a list of the most popular topics people are concerned about.

The Learn the Issues page lets visitors gather comprehensive, detailed information on water and water pollution, climate, green living, ecosystems and other areas of concern. This is a particularly good starting place for students who are in their general information gathering phase. The page also lists a series of popular questions posed to the EPA, with complete answers.

The Science and Technology page provides information on research that the EPA is currently conducting. Today’s articles include a discussion on the use of nanotechnology for breaking down pollutants, and tracking air pollution.

But, probably the most useful tool for your classroom is the EPA’s featured item: MyEnvironment. For such a great feature, it can be a little difficult to find. On the home page, down near the bottom (in the middle), is the small green ‘MyEnvironment’ text with an empty box for inserting a zip code or town name. Type in the information for a specific US location, et voila! What you get is a page filled with information on everything from pollutant risks for the area, to air quality, to the locations that report data to the EPA. There are lists (by street) of businesses that use hazardous materials in their work, statistics on ozone and radon concentrations, even a list of what EPA cleanups are taking place in the community. For example, the image above shows the cancer risks for midtown Manhattan in 2002 (the latest statistics).

This compendium of information is easily accessible and may just be the key to helping your students on their next data collection project. If you want to direct them in their environmental research and fact-gathering, but don’t have the time for weeding through reliable resources, make this your first classroom stop.

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Heather Falconer

Written by

Heather Falconer holds undergraduate degrees in Graphic Arts and Environmental Science, as well as an MFA in Writing and an MLitt in Literature. She is currently completing her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition, with an emphasis on rhetoric in/and/of science. Heather has worked internationally in academic publishing as both an author and editor, and has taught a wide range of topics – from research writing to marine biology – in the public and private educational sectors.