Teaching the Local Water Cycle

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. These materials, part of a unit called "The Broken Water Cycle", will help teachers facilitate place-based learning about water for upper elementary and middle school students.

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

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies | Millbrook, New York 12545 | Tel (845) 677-5343

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