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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.

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Climate Literacy
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Ocean as climate control, oceanic conveyor belt; abrupt changes in thermohaline circulation
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Climate is complex
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2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:C) Systems and connections
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C) Systems and connections.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:D) Flow of matter and energy
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D) Flow of matter and energy.

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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.

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