Water Cycles and Watersheds

These five curriculum units were created for science educators teaching about the movement of water through soils and watersheds. They were developed around inquiry experiences that allow students to understand the connection between mathematics and science, to see how computer models are used to understand and represent complex situations, and to realize how knowledge in the Earth sciences applies to everyday decisions made by citizens and landowners. A deliberate effort was made to highlight the array of jobs available in the geosciences working on water resources issues. While the materials were originally developed for high school classes, parts of units 1, 2, and 3 have been used in middle school classrooms and parts of all units have been adapted for use in undergraduate and graduate classes.

Through the curriculum module, students will engage in content that addresses Ohio’s New Learning Standards in Science and the Next Generation Science Standards and supports the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics. Students work with hands-on, inquiry investigations and technology tools to develop foundational knowledge and utilize local sites to gain insights into the complex behavior of watersheds. The use of local sites and geoscience problems is intended to enhance student interest and community relevance. The exercises within the units were designed to be easily transferable and administered at new locations through use of local sites and readily available Earth science datasets. This allows widespread adoption of the materials with minimal effort required to rework exercises. We hope to promote interest in geoscience careers and introduce the types of work undertaken by geoscientists in a way that fits comfortably with existing course structures.

Please contact Jason Cervenec with questions or comments.

Download Entire Curriculum Module [zip, 593 MB]

Access Online Web Application for Modeling Runoff

Download Individual Units:

Unit Overview [zip] - teacher notes [pdf]

Unit 1 – Soup Can Water Budget [zip] - teacher notes [pdf]

During Unit 1, students use materials to create an apparatus and process to investigate the ultimate destination for water delivered to a system. Students make quantitative measurements and compare two different soil substrates. The first unit results in a mental schema for how water ultimately flows through a system.

Unit 2 – Geo Sandbox Water Budget [zip] - teacher notes [pdf]

During Unit 2, the instructor introduces a miniature watershed, named a GeoSandbox, to provide a conceptual bridge between the schema created in Unit 1 and the watersheds of Unit 3. Students introduce known quantities of water to the GeoSandbox using spray bottles and measure the resulting surface flow and infiltration. The concepts of topography and land use are also introduced. Additional instructional materials are provided to firmly establish the concept of watershed for students who need the support.

Unit 3 – Small Scale Watershed: Schoolyard [zip] - teachers notes [pdf]
Resources for Unit 3: Water Runoff Model

Unit 3.5 (Optional) – Basics of Topographic Maps [zip] - teachers notes [pdf]

During Unit 3, students are taken to an area of the schoolyard that is readily seen from one location. The surface area and slope are measured, the land use is noted, and students estimate the volume of water that would fall during a rainfall event. Using a highly relevant question about flooding, students begin to understand the complexity of water flow within a watershed and benefits of utilizing computer models. The web application, titled Simple Storm Runoff Model for Geosciences Education, is introduced to allow students to use computer models to examine impacts of various storm events and land use changes to the schoolyard watershed. Free, online tools, such as Google Earth Pro, Google Maps, and various sites from the U.S. Geological Survey and National Weather Service are also introduced so that students can expand their geographic scope without needing to personally collect every measurement. A number of supporting activities are provided for those students who need practice with topographic maps or learning to use various web resources.

Unit 4 – Large Scale Watershed: Battelle Darby Creek [zip] - teachers notes [pdf]
Resources for Unit 4: WaterWatch, Watershed Locations

Unit 4 expands the watershed from the schoolyard to a large drainage. This unit continues with an examination of changing land uses within the drainage and discusses interactions between society and the environment.

Unit 5 – Land Use Change: Hellbranch Run [zip] - teachers notes [pdf]
Resources for Unit 5: Storm Water Management Model (SWMM)

Unit 5 provides a detailed examination of one watershed within Central Ohio with a specific focus on water flow and additional water quality measurements such as total suspended sediment, biochemical oxygen demand, chemical oxygen demand, soluble phosphorous, and lead. This unit extends student understanding to include materials carried within water and also serves as a self-contained unit looking at land use in classrooms that might not have time to complete Units 3 and 4.

Data Retrieval and Software [zip] - teachers notes [pdf]

Assessment [zip]

Assessment instruments were developed by Covitt, B. A., & Gunckel, K. L., (2013). Formative and summative assessments for water in environmental systems. Retrieved from Pathways to Environmental Literacy and Reasoning Tools for Understanding Water Systems http://www.pathwaysproject.kbs.msu.edu/ and http://www.umt.edu/watertools/ projects. Funded by the National Science Foundation Targeted Partnership: Culturally relevant ecology, learning progressions and environmental literacy (NSF-0832173) and  Tools for Reasoning about Water in Socio-ecological Systems (DRL-1020176). Assessment instruments are included here with permission of the authors.

Additional Online Resources:

Current Water Data for the Nation - U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

Determine Areas of KLM Files - University of New Hampshire

Google Earth - Download the Google Earth program

Google Maps - View world maps from your web browser

HydroApp based on SWMM [jar] - Byrd Polar hydrology app

Information on Watersheds & Land Use - Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC)

Interactive Simulations in Earth Sciences, Physics, Chemistry and Biology - University of Colorado

My WATERS Mapper - Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

National Climatic Data Center - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

National Weather Service Information Site - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Resources for Hydrologic Cycle, Watersheds and Computer Modeling Curriculum - Byrd Polar Online Resources

Surf Your Watershed - Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Topo Map Information & Generator - U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

Water Quality Assessment and Total Maximum Daily Loads Information - Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

This program is offered through a partnership between the Byrd Polar & Climate Research Center, Ohio State School of Earth Sciences, Ohio State College of Engineering, and the Ohio Supercomputing Center. Funding is provided by the National Science Foundation Award ID #1203035.

[pdf] - Some links on this page are to Adobe .pdf files requiring Adobe Reader.  If you need these files in a more accessible format, please contact www@bprc.mps.ohio-state.edu.

[jar] - Some links on this page are to .jar files requiring Java.  If you need these files in a more accessible format, please contact www@bprc.mps.ohio-state.edu.

[zip] - Some links on this page are to .zip files that need to be extracted to a normal folder.  If you need these files in a more accessible format, please contact www@bprc.mps.ohio-state.edu.