Place-Based Education on the Asarco Smelter


A community education project on the Asarco Smelter through student compilation of data, ideas, thoughts, and connections in a blog.

NGSS Standard:
HS-ETS1-3 – Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including costs, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

Activity types:
Read text, view Images, view presentation, research, debate, simulation?, Data Based Inquiry, Historical Prism, Create a Map, Complete Charts and tables, write an essay, develop a knowledge web, engage in civic action, take notes, explore a topic, observe phenomena, distinguish observations from inferences, select procedures, organize/classify data, analyze data, collect samples.

To learn more about activity types, click here!

How does this unit support learning?
Students are to do many of the practices that environmental scientists would make use of in order to research and form an evidence-based opinion.  This unit would be taught with discovery learning and emphasize the transfer of knowledge and understandings they have gained about heavy metals, their natural occurrence, their link with industry, their monetary benefits, and their health issues towards forming an opinion around industry in populated areas.  This is also an exercise in using the technology that would be used by the environmental scientist to create understandings and connect with data and prior knowledge to fill in gaps and create a visual argument that is valuable in today’s age.

How does a blog help my students meet the learning objective?
Students are asked in this project to Evaluate a solution. To evaluate, students need access to the data that they are gathering and need to look at the issue from multiple perspectives.  Students need time with the data to evaluate the solution that was decided on by the city of Tacoma and create their own opinions as to how the solution could have been changed and whether this “problem” was a problem that needed a solution. To do this, we are looking at the smelter from a variety of positions –  cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts. To take such a holistic approach to evaluate the solution, students must have access to both present and past work by a variety of individuals.  A blog is a space online that anyone can access and add to.  It is a space that can be read by others and demonstrates the thoughts of the individuals who add to it.  A blog can remain in that space as long as the author wants it.  It can contain all different shapes and sizes of data that can be accessed, most importantly by students when they have access to computers.

Why is this technology appropriate?
This project would occur at the end of the year, at a time when students have already had practice using microsoft word, excel, email, google docs, and the class blog.  For this project, a new blog will be created – designed in large part by the students. They will need scaffolding on how to create a blog and will utilize prior knowledge around blogs to create an accessible blog that details the information so that the community can make use of it and see how their ideas are impacted by the evidence that is being gathered.

For this project to work, I need to make sure that everyone has a job as we create the blog and that these jobs are switched periodically so that students can get experience around different aspects of blog management.  To have experience creating a blog is something that they can also say (on resumes) that they have had experience working on and setting up a blog (as it’s a very valuable commodity now a days). I would have to consider the type of blog that would be most valuable for them to learn, but would not take so much time to learn that we can get into the curriculum as well. For more information on how I would set up the blog, see the following link.

As a result of this unit, students will be able to:

  • Science:
    • Evaluate the solution to stop & remove pollution from the Asarco smelter
    • Evaluate benefits and reasons why the Asarco Smelter was placed where it was.
    • Evaluate the disadvantages that come from placing the Asarco Smelter where it was.
    • Calculate the monetary benefits to the Asarco Smelter while it was in use.
    • Calculate the monetary costs to the Asarco Smelter, the city of Tacoma, and inhabitants of Tacoma and surrounding areas from having the Asarco Smelter be in use.
    • Field Trip to University of Washington Tacoma to learn how to analyze dirt samples (collected by students from different areas all over Tacoma) for heavy metals.
    • Analyze the evidence that says there were no health disadvantages to having the smelter.
    • Analyze the evidence that says that there are health disadvantages to having the smelter through analysis of data in soil and water samples.
    • Obtain and create a collage to show a comparison of the Ruston Waterfront with the Asarco smelter and without. Create a class-wide compilation of data that gets the community to reflect on which is more aesthetically pleasing – with the Asarco Smelter or without.
    • Debate on whether or not Asarco Smelter was “worth it”.
    • Extend debate towards arguments for industry vs. health.  What do civilians need to think about when an industry wants to move into their neighborhood.  What should they be aware of? What would be some useful skills to have? If you were to become involved in the argument, what knowledge and observations would be useful?
    • Pretend a new smelter wants to move into your neighborhood.  Write a letter to your mayor providing your opinion on whether we should allow the smelter to be built.  Include evidence from the Asarco Smelter that would back up your opinion.


    • Create a blog (Notes would be compiled onto a blog throughout the unit – as new information is found, it would be placed on the blog.  There would be separate sections for each portion of the unit.)
    • Utilize google search to find images, opinions, articles, and data
    • Utilize Microsoft word and google docs to create documents
    • Utilize Microsoft excel and google docs to create spreadsheets and graphs to show comparisons.

Assessment Evidence for Blog:

  • Individual will contribute to the blog by posting:
    • 1 method that describes how Asarco plans to diminish pollution & 1 comment on someone else’s method that was found.
    • 1 benefit of having the smelter in Tacoma & 1 comment on someone else’s benefit.
    • 1 disadvantage of having the smelter in Tacoma & 1 comment on someone else’s disadvantage.
    • 1 complete student reflection on the advantage of knowing how to collect, analyze, and interpret dirt samples for heavy metals will be turned in to the teacher, refined, and then posted on the blog.
    • Students each create two collages to show a comparison of the waterfront and then ask 15 members of the community which collage they prefer (or some class agreed upon question) data is added to the class excel spreadsheet on google docs and then added to the blog.
    • Letter to mayor is posted on the blog after refinements.
  • Whole class will contribute to the blog by:
    • Students collective examination of data showing profits will be displayed on blog.
    • Students calculations of average yearly profits during the operation of the smelter will be displayed on blog.
    • Students generate collective list of possible costs from the Asarco Smelter and, in groups use the internet to focus on one of those costs, and obtaining figures from those costs and results will be posted on the blog.
    • Students calculate average yearly cost of having the Asarco Smelter through the use of excel.
    • Profits and costs are placed into excel spreadsheet to show a comparison – these spreadsheets will be displayed on the blog.
    • Students learn how to analyze dirt samples and reflect on why this could be useful in the future on blog.
    • Students split into groups to look at evidence that shows various benefits or disadvantages of having a smelter nearby, group evidence is typed up in google docs and then placed on the blog.
    • Debate on Asarco smelter, and then extended debate to help frame “letter to the mayor” in class.
  • Not to mention – any pre-assessment evidence.

For data on the Asarco Smelter, click here!

A video of the Asarco Smelter demolition:


One thought on “Place-Based Education on the Asarco Smelter

  1. Pingback: Unit plan & ideas for meaningfully integrating technology | Investigations in Our Town

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