Water & Watersheds

Teaching about the water cycle can be made more realistic and valuable for students by incorporating what they know about water-where it comes from, what happens to it after they use it, and what problems are associated with its use. Watersheds, the land area draining into a single body of water, can be considered a basic unit of the landscape that determines water availability, movement, and quality. When students study watersheds, they learn in a personal way about the importance of water, and how land use affects surface and groundwater.

Broken Water Cycle


When we think about the water cycle, most of us think of a diagram with arrows moving from alpine peaks into the big, blue ocean. Unless we live in such a place, this idealized diagram does not teach us where our water comes from or what happens to rain that falls on our neighborhoods.

Through discussion with ecologists at the Cary Institute, we are beginning to understand that if we could help students learn about how water moves through the real world, concepts like watersheds and human impact on the environment would be more attainable.

Our pilot curriculum, called “the broken water cycle,” accounts for a variety of human changes to a regional system, such as impermeable surfaces that decrease infiltration and increase runoff and the role that the Hudson River plays in our local water cycle.

Lesson One provides an introduction to the Broken Water Cycle and an internet research tool to uncover data about your local water cycle.

Lesson Two explores the cover types of a schoolyard and neighborhood and helps students determine the amount of runoff that flows into their local streams.

Lesson Three explores the role of plants and groundwater in the local water cycle

Lesson Four shows an example of how to create a local water cycle game

  • Day 1: Exploring our Local Water Cycle

    When we think about the water cycle, most of us think of a diagram with arrows moving from alpine peaks into the big, blue ocean.

  • Day 2: Our Runoff

    Student collect data about their schoolyard, neighborhood and town to estimate the amount of water that runs off these places into a nearby stream.

  • Day 3: Balancing the Water Budget of a Leaf

    After building a basic knowledge of the water cycle and water in their schoolyard, students are ready to build on their ecosystem thinking skills by tackling the fundamental ecosystem approach of a

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