Hands-on STEM/STEAM Activities to Pair with The Great Stink


illustration by Nancy Carpenter

As a young engineer working for the city of London, one of Joseph Bazalgette’s first jobs was to map the city’s existing sewers. For this activity, have students use tape, blocks, toilet paper rolls, and other materials to create a map of the classroom or another room they know well. (Challenge older students by asking them to create a hand-drawn map of the classroom using a scale ruler.)

Discussion questions:

Why was it important for Joseph to map the existing sewers before designing a plan for new sewers?

Our maps show the classroom as a bird might see it from the sky. How is this different from what a groundhog might see as she tunneled beneath us?

What do you think a groundhog would see beneath your school (or home) bathroom?



illustration by Nancy Carpenter

Joseph had to tunnels beneath buildings in order to add new sewer pipes. If you and a friend were going to dig a tunnel beneath the classroom, starting on opposite sides, how could your map help you to be sure your tunnels would meet in the middle?


Put a blanket or a sheet over a large piece of furniture–a desk in the classroom or a dining room table at home is perfect.

Ask students to find a friend to “dig” with them. If they’re on the floor, on opposite sides of the table, and they can’t see one another, what can they do to make sure they’ll meet exactly in the middle? Have students test their theories! Did it work? If not, try again.

Kids can try this activity on the playground, too, using a large cardboard box or a sheet held up by two volunteers to provide the “buildings.”


This project easily adapts to school-at-home.

Each student will choose a clear glass or jar, and fill it with organic matter: food, spices, plants, soil, condiments–it’s all fair game (as long as it doesn’t belong in a toilet!).

Students should top the container up with water, then take some field notes:

  • date and time
  • location of jar
  • weather (Hot, humid, cold, etc.)
  • measure the water level
  • describe what they see
  • describe what they smell

Put the container in a sunny spot (outside if possible) and every 24 hours, observe any changes. Each day, take the same notes listed above. Do they smells get more or less pungent as the water evaporates?

Download the FREE ACTIVITY SHEET here: Smelly Potion Field Notes



In 1850, eight years before the Great Stink, Punch magazine published a cartoon that imagined a magnified drop of water from the Thames–it was full of tiny monsters. In this activity, students create their own microscopic monsters.

Download the FREE ACTIVITY SHEET here: A Monster-full Drop of Thames Water

Afterwards, you might show students an actual microscopic image of Vibrio cholerae, the bacteria that causes cholera.


You might also like:

Water Pollution Observation Science Experiment

Ocean Pollution for Kids: A Hands-on Activity

The Groundwater Foundation has a searchable database of activities and curriculum guides for all grade levels.

A Unit to Learn About Water Scarcity from Pragmatic Mom


Be sure to let me know how the activities go! And if you have suggestions for additional activities to pair with THE GREAT STINK: HOW JOSEPH BAZALGETTE SOLVED LONDON’S POOP POLLUTION PROBLEM (illustrated by Nancy Carpenter), please share your ideas in the comments.