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Jetstream - On-line School for Weather, NOAA - National Weather Service

In this activity, students act as water molecules and travel through parts of the water cycle (ocean, atmosphere, clouds, glaciers, snow, rivers, lakes, ground, aquifer), noting on a hydrological cycle diagram the pathway traveled.

Activity takes about 1 class period.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Performance Expectation, 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 8 Cross Cutting Concepts, 6 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Ocean as climate control, oceanic conveyor belt; abrupt changes in thermohaline circulation
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2b
Climate is complex
About Teaching Climate Literacy
Other materials addressing Climate is complex

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:C) Systems and connections
Other materials addressing:
C) Systems and connections.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:D) Flow of matter and energy
Other materials addressing:
D) Flow of matter and energy.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Educators may wish to supplement this with background materials, see for example: http://www.srh.noaa.gov/jetstream/atmos/whatacycle_max.html.
  • Educators may also want each student to discuss their own pathway through the water cycle with the group to reinforce how complex the water cycle really is.
  • To connect to climate change introduce some "What if...?" scenarios in a post-activity discussion. e.g. "What if the temperature of the ocean sea surface increased? How might this change other elements of the cycle?"
  • Could use as is with elementary students; one could add complexity to it for middle school students. One concept to consider introducing is the energy gained or lost during evaporation or condensation, and students could leave or take a token at a station to represent the gain or loss of energy. Another concept to consider adding would be the flux of water molecules.

About the Science

  • Activity gives students a visceral sense of where and how frequently water molecules move around in the water cycle.
  • As noted in its description, the activity is unrealistic as most water molecules are contained in the ocean. About half of the students are initially placed at the ocean station.
  • Comments from expert scientist: Creative way to engage students in a "game" to learn about the various interactions within the water cycle. Presents a thorough number of paths and parts of the water cycle, to illustrate water cycle complexity. The cards describe and define, in appropriate scientific terms, the process that takes place for the student (i.e. water molecule) to transition from one place in the cycle to the next. That's where the real learning can come in, in having the students learn about how those movements within the water system take place.

About the Pedagogy

  • While the activity does not include much scientific background on the water cycle itself, it is a kinesthetic exercise that will give students a strong sense of what water molecules do within the water cycle, and the variety of pathways that a molecule can take.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The website includes printouts for both the station cards for each station in the water cycle and the water cycle worksheets for each student. These are in color but don't require a color printer.
  • Students must be mobile and the classroom space must be configured such that students can move around.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Performance Expectations: 1

MS-ESS2-4: Develop a model to describe the cycling of water through Earth's systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 2

MS-ESS2.C1:Water continually cycles among land, ocean, and atmosphere via transpiration, evaporation, condensation and crystallization, and precipitation, as well as downhill flows on land.

MS-ESS2.C3:Global movements of water and its changes in form are propelled by sunlight and gravity.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 8

Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Stability and Change, Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity

MS-C4.2: Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems.

MS-C5.1:Matter is conserved because atoms are conserved in physical and chemical processes.

MS-C5.2: Within a natural or designed system, the transfer of energy drives the motion and/or cycling of matter.

MS-C7.3:Stability might be disturbed either by sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time.

MS-C1.2: Patterns in rates of change and other numerical relationships can provide information about natural and human designed systems

MS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.

MS-C3.1:Time, space, and energy phenomena can be observed at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small.

MS-C3.3: Proportional relationships (e.g., speed as the ratio of distance traveled to time taken) among different types of quantities provide information about the magnitude of properties and processes.

Science and Engineering Practices: 6

Developing and Using Models, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

MS-P2.1:Evaluate limitations of a model for a proposed object or tool.

MS-P2.4:Develop and/or revise a model to show the relationships among variables, including those that are not observable but predict observable phenomena.

MS-P2.5:Develop and/or use a model to predict and/or describe phenomena.

MS-P4.2:Use graphical displays (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and/or tables) of large data sets to identify temporal and spatial relationships.

MS-P5.4:Apply mathematical concepts and/or processes (e.g., ratio, rate, percent, basic operations, simple algebra) to scientific and engineering questions and problems.

MS-P6.2:Construct an explanation using models or representations.

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