Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

In this lesson plan which is adaptable for grades 4-12, students work collaboratively to explore a challenging puzzle game which simulates a desalination machine.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Explain the importance of clean water for human life.
  2. Use an online simulation puzzle game to build a desalination machine.
  3. Discover and explain how to produce the optimum amount of desalinated water.


  • Computers with internet access for BrainPOP

This lesson plan uses an online simulation called Desalination. It is a game where students investigate one method of converting salt water to fresh water by using a temperature gradient. Students experience connecting different parts of the desalination plant together using the proper devices. This game helps students understand the difference between liquids and gases, as well as what is required to move these substances from one location to another.

We recommend experimenting with the game yourself prior to game play. If you feel that your students may need additional structure or support during game play, preview the game developer's lesson plans and accompanying game worksheets to help students organize their thinking during game play.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Play the Water Pollution Movie for the class.
  2. If needed, you call also play the Water Movie to build student background about why water is essential for human life. Ask students why it is not possible for humans to drink ocean. What would they do if they were stuck on a desert island and needed to create drinking water?
  3. Introduce the term 'desalination', and ask students to imagine that the class is stuck on a desert island or has been affected by a natural disaster and cannot find safe drinking water. Challenge the class to figure out the most effective way to desalinate water and make it safe for drinking using an online simulation.
  4. Explain that the simulation is designed to be a very challenging puzzle. They must work together to figure out how to build a machine that will desalinate water for the class. Tell students they will work in pairs for 5-10 minutes, and then collaborate with other class members.
  5. After 5 minutes of game play (if students are reaching frustration levels) or 10 minutes (if they are finding successful strategies), ask each pair of students to pause in their game play and confer with another team or team of students. Have students share their strategy with the pair they teamed up with. Did they click randomly and observe what happened, read the blurbs and reason based on the information there, experiment with various pipes, or use the help button? Invite the pairs to talk about what strategy seemed to have been most effective, based on how successful each pair was in game play.
  6. Provide an additional 10 minutes of game play time for students to resume with their original partner, or switch partners if they've conferred with another student who wants to explore the same strategy as they do.
  7. After 10 minutes of game play, bring the class back to a whole group discussion to ensure they have the information they need to be successful for finishing the game. Ask questions such as: Which pipes are needed for each connection? (Gas pipes are for transporting gas, water pipes for water, etc.) How do you know when/where a water pump is needed? (You need a pump anytime you pull water out of a reservoir.) Make sure students understand they need to have a green "complete" message for each of the tasks and can then press the "start" button to test out their system. They can hit "reset depths" to experiment with the optimal water flow.
  8. Provide 10 final minutes for game play.
  9. Ask if any students have finished their system and tested it out by pressing "start." If so, have them show or explain the results to the class. Ask them to reflect on how the water temperature affects the efficiency of system. If students have not figured this out on their own, inform them that the optimum intake for cold water is low (400), and for warm water is high (surface.) You may find that students want to adjust their settings to accommodate this information and experience success in the game, and allow a few minutes for that.Bring students back to the original challenge of desalinating water for the class to drink. Have students work collaboratively to generate and solve the answers to relevant questions, such as:

    How much water would your desalination machine have made for the class?
    How do you know if you have enough water for all your classmates?
    How many liters of water does a human being need each day?
    How many liters can your machine produce a day?
    At your current rate of production, how many liters will each person get daily?
    How many days would you need to desalinate water in your machine to provide clean water for the class for a month?
  10. You may want to use the game developer's assessment or the BrainPOP game quiz.

Extension Activities:

How is water desalinated and/or purified in places where there is no easily accessible clean drinking water? Have students research various methods that are being used. You may even want to challenge students to raise funds to support clean drinking water efforts in developing nations.