Billion Oyster Project

Neighborhood Nitrogen Mapping


Nitrogen Cycle Investigation



Class Periods




Subject Areas



Students use a library of resources in the classroom to determine what are some of the neighborhood’s sources of nitrogen that eventually ends up in the estuary.  Then they go outside to actually find and map these sources of nitrogen.


  • Connect nitrogen source information in text and diagrams to what can be observed outside the school.

  • Design a map of nitrogen sources based on observations.

Materials and Resources

Teacher Resources


  • Projector

  • Blank paper

  • Cameras

  • Printed student photographs and posterboard OR presentation software (e.g. Prezi, PowerPoint)

Before you get started

Tips for Teachers

  • Students will take their own photographs and then construct a Neighborhood Nitrogen Map.  If you plan on printing out the pictures and having the students arrange them on posterboard, you could consider having groups of 4-5.  If the students will be using digital photographs arranged on something like Powerpoint or Prezi you should consider having students work in pairs.


  • If students use hard copy of their photos to make their Neighborhood Nitrogen Map, you will need to do this lesson over two class periods and print the photos in between.

Instruction Plan


  1. Students get into small groups and get the handout, Nitrogen Sources in New York City Neighborhoods.

  2. Students read through the information in the handout and write a list sources of nitrogen they find.  

  3. Discuss as a class what students found.  

    • What nitrogen sources on your list do you think we’ll see in this neighborhood? (e.g. cars, other things that burn fossil fuels, storm water that can runnoff)

    • What sources of nitrogen might be in stormwater runnoff? Landscaping? CSOs? wastewater treatment plants?

    • What’s getting fertilized in this neighborhood? By whom?

    • What do you think are the largest nitrogen sources in our neighborhood?  Why?  Which nitrogen sources do you think are less significant in our neighborhood? Why?


  1. In this activity, students will go outdoors and look for nitrogen sources using a camera for documentation.

  2. It would be great if students had the opportunity to work outside on a day when it is raining or has just rained, but it is not necessary.  If the weather is uncooperative, don’t delay in getting your class outdoors!

  3. Students get into small groups.

  4. Give each group a blank piece of paper, a camera and a Nitrogen Inputs Photograph Record.  

  5. Go outdoors! Define the students’ work area.  

  6. Students work as a team to draw a sketch of the area they are working in. Include landmarks such as the school, streets, sidewalks, other buildings, parks, playgrounds, etc. Label the sketch!

  7. (optional) Students come up with a method for ranking the different sources of nitrogen they find, according to how much nitrogen they think each source ultimately contributes to the estuary.  The ranking can go from “most nitrogen ending up in the estuary” to “least nitrogen ending up in the estuary”.

  8. Next, students take photographs of nitrogen sources and fill out the Nitrogen Inputs Photograph Record as they take each photo.

  9. Bring students back together. Ask the groups which nitrogen inputs they think are there, but have been unable to photograph.  

  10. Brainstorm as a class how to obtain the images they need. For example, students may suggest drawing a picture or using photoshop.


  1. Back in the classroom, students connect the sources of nitrogen they observed outdoors with sewershed maps of where some of that nitrogen goes.

  2. Show the class the Open Sewer Atlas NYC wet and dry weather sewershed.  Zoom in on the neighborhood of the school.

  3. Discuss the difference between the dry weather sewershed and the wet weather sewershed.

    • In dry weather everything that goes down the drain either in a building or in the street should end up at a wastewater treatment plant.

    • In wet weather some of what goes down indoor and outdoor drains will end up at a wastewater treatment plant and some will end up going out a CSO (combined sewer overflow) into the Harbor.


  1. Students can take additional photos or create additional drawings in order to fill any gaps in their nitrogen inputs.

  2. Discuss the following with the class:  

    • Did we leave out any nitrogen inputs?

    • What do you think are the most significant sources of nitrogen in our neighborhood?  How does that list compare with what our readings suggested about the most significant sources of nitrogen?

    • Where does the nitrogen go besides into the sewershed?

    • Where does the estuary and the location of our Oyster Restoration Station (ORS) fit into our story of nitrogen?


  1. In this activity, student groups create a Neighborhood Nitrogen Map using their photographs.

  2. Students can use printed photographs and posterboard to create their maps OR presentation software.

  3. Each group should have their neighborhood sketch, their Nitrogen Input Photograph Record and one complete set of photographs to work with.   

  4. To begin, students label each photograph.

  5. Students either re-draw their neighborhood sketch on posterboard or re-create it on a computer.

  6. Ask: What makes nitrogen move through the neighborhood and into other areas? Why doesn’t nitrogen just stay in the same place forever?

  7. Give groups time to discuss amongst themselves and then discuss as a class.

  8. Ask: If people in our neighborhood could do just one thing to reduce nitrogen inputs to the estuary, what would you tell them to do, and why?

  9. Ask: If you could do just one thing to reduce nitrogen inputs to the estuary, what would you do, and why?


NGSS - Cross-Cutting Concepts

  • Energy and Matter

    • Matter is conserved because atoms are conserved in physical and chemical processes.

NGSS - Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • ESS2.A: Earth’s Materials and Systems

    • All Earth processes are the result of energy flowing and matter cycling within and among the planet’s systems. This energy is derived from the sun and Earth’s hot interior. The energy that flows and matter that cycles produce chemical and physical changes in Earth’s materials and living organisms.
  • LS2.B: Cycle of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems

    • Food webs are models that demonstrate how matter and energy is transferred between producers, consumers, and decomposers as the three groups interact within an ecosystem. Transfers of matter into and out of the physical environment occur at every level. Decomposers recycle nutrients from dead plant or animal matter back to the soil in terrestrial environments or to the water in aquatic environments. The atoms that make up the organisms in an ecosystem are cycled repeatedly between the living and nonliving parts of the ecosystem.

NYC Science Scope & Sequence - Units

  • Grade 6, Unit 4

    • Interdependence

NYS Science Standards - Major Understandings

    • Matter is transferred from one organism to another and between organisms and their physical environment. Water, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and oxygen are examples of substances cycled between the living and nonliving environment.