Friday, November 7, 2008

Teaching the Water Cycle and Water Pollution

The first Wednesday of the month we gather with other homeschoolers for Roots & Shoots. This month I was in charge of leading the group and chose to focus on the water cycle and water pollution.

Being me, I stressed over the presentation for weeks. I had lots of great ideas…have the kids test water samples…teach them about our watershed…go on a fieldtrip to the water treatment facility, but none of them came to fruition.

I did find several nice water projects for us to do as a group, but the timing was off and the kids in our group were a bit young. Although we didn’t participate in that one, I think I will have my kids participate in some of the other projects offered by The Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education throughout the year because they look very interesting and engaging.

After utilizing the adrenaline associated with procrastination, I found several fabulous activities to do with the kids. Because I like multi-sensory presentations, I tried to mix up the demonstration a bit.

We started by discussing the water cycle. I was surprised that some of the kids didn’t know about the water cycle, so I explained and then showed them a picture and read the captions from one of the books I displayed on the front table. I then had them color a picture of the water cycle. I had two different sheets, one for the older kids that was a bit more detailed and one for the younger kids that was simpler. From there I had them gather in a circle and taught them a song to help them remember the water cycle. I thought it was a cute song. My kids have been singing it around the house for the past few days. We then transitioned into a game that walks the kids through the water cycle. I think it would have worked better had we had more kids (we only had eight and that included Jensen) and if they had bee a bit older.

I was also surprised that the kids couldn’t explain what water pollution. The two nine year olds knew, but the six and seven year olds (five of them) had trouble with it. I read them A River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry. I thought it was a wonderful story that followed the life of a river from its discovery by a Native American tribe to the pollution of the Industrial Revolution to the cleaning of the river. The kids’ eyes grew wide as they learned about companies polluting the river with chemicals and dyes. We had a great discussion about the book, which led us into our experiment.

I created two models, one represented a landfill and the other represented someone’s yard. We talked about harmful things that some people throw into the trash (i.e. motor oil, medicines, etc.). Then I showed them how when it rains, the water washes some of the contaminants into our lakes and streams. The same went for the pesticide model. The kids saw how the water washed the fertilizer into the pond at the bottom of the hill. I think both models had an effect on the kids. The moms were pleased with it, so I was happy that all of my stressing had paid off.

I found a great reading list of books covering water conservation and water science. The list includes books of all levels for students and adults.

I got the idea for the landfill and fertilizer runoff models from Water: A Resource in Crisis by Eileen Lucas. If anyone is interested in recreating them, here’s how –

Materials (per model) –

Rectangular plastic food storage container (mine was about 11”x7”)
Pea gravel (about 4 cups)
Small saucer
Cotton ball
Food coloring

Place the saucer at one end of the plastic container. Stack pea gravel three-fourths of the way up the opposite side of the container. Lay a piece of foil from the edge of the container and up the sides down to the saucer, completely covering the gravel and slightly overlapping the saucer. Add additional gravel over the foil, not covering the saucer. You should now have a “hill” on one side of the container with a “pond” at the other end. Pull the cotton ball apart slightly and drop several drops of food coloring onto it (I used red for the landfill and green for the fertilizer). Place the cotton ball on top of the “hill” and cover with a bit more gravel. Pour water on the top of the “hill” to symbolize rain and watch the runoff that collects in the “pond.”

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