Research and Activity Ideas (Water Science)

The following research and activity ideas are intended to offer suggestions for complementing science and social studies curricula, to trigger additional ideas for enhancing learning, and to provide cross-disciplinary projects for library and classroom use.

• Experimentation: The following resources contain simple experiments that illustrate the physical properties of water:

Janice VanCleave’s Oceans for Every Kid: Easy Activities That Make Learning Science Fun, by Janice Van Cleave, Wiley, 1996.

Exploring the Oceans: Science Activities for Kids, by Shawn Berlute-Shea and Anthony B. Fredericks, Fulcrum, 1998.

Oceans Alive: Water, Wind, and Waves, by Doug Sylvester, Rainbow Horizons, 2001.

Why Is the Ocean Salty? by Herbert Swenson, U.S. Government Printing Office, Superintendent of Documents. Prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey to provide information about the earth sciences, natural resources, and the environment.

• Adopt a creature: Take a class vote to choose a freshwater or marine creature to adopt whose species is stressed or endangered. Research the life of the creature, prepare a class display, and learn about the latest efforts to conserve the species and its habitat. Suggestions for creatures to adopt include the:

Manatee: Information about adopting a manatee can be found at the Save the Manatee Club Web site,

Humpback whale: Information about adopting a humpback whale can be found at the Whale Center of New England Web site,

Sea turtle: Information about adopting a sea turtle that has been fitted with a transmitter for tracking can be found at the Web site,

Whooping crane: Information about adopting a whooping crane can be found at the Friends of the Patuxent Wildlife Center Web site,

Salmon: Information about participating in the Adopt-a-salmon program can be found on the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Web site,

• Newspaper search: Locate and review newspapers for the following disasters using the dates given. Assess if reporters grasped the cause and extent of the event. Choose interesting accounts to read to the class. The events are: hurricane in Galveston, Texas, on September 8, 1900; drought in the southern plains of the United States, 1930-39 (also called the Dust Bowl); tsunami in the Gulf of Alaska on March 28, 1964; Arno River floods in Florence, Italy, on November 4-5, 1966; and Amoco Cadiz oil spill off the coast of Brittany, France, on March 16, 1978. Old issues of local newspapers are likely available at your public library, a nearby college or university library, or from the local newspaper office itself.

• At the movies: Watch one of the following popular movies, each of which contains content about Earth’s water sources or its ecosystems. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Jaws (1977), Into the Deep (1991), A River Runs Through It (1992), Free Willy (1993), The Living Sea (1995), and Finding Nemo (2003). Applying your knowledge of water science, how was the issue portrayed in the movie? Whether the movie was a drama, comedy, or documentary, was the science portrayed accurately? Were there misconceptions about water science issues that it relayed to the audience?

• Debate #1: Divide the class into two groups, one in favor of the United States ratifying the United Nations Law of the Sea and the other against. Students should defend their positions about the environmental, economic, and political benefits or hardships that adopting the law would bring the United States, and whether U.S. ratification would change the state of the world’s oceans.

• Debate #2: Divide the class into two groups, one in favor of large dam projects on major rivers and the other against. Students should research China’s Three Gorges project, the Sardar Sarovar Project in India, and the Hoover and Glen Canyon dams. Debate the issue, with students defending their positions on hydroelectric power, water supply, flood control, and recreation enabled by dams, along with the environmental impacts, displaced persons, and detriments of flooding an area for a reservoir that occur when large dams are constructed.

• Interviews: Make a list of persons who have visited or lived near beaches, lakes, rivers, or wetlands for a long period of time. Parents or grandparents would be good candidates. Interview them about the changes in the area that they have noticed over time, such as changes in the water quality or quantity, new or reduced populations of water creatures, habitat change, and encroaching development. Develop questions ahead of time. Tape record the interview if possible or take careful notes. Transcribe the recording or notes into a clear written retelling of the interview. This process is known as taking and recording an oral history. Share the oral history with the class.

• Aquarium: Plan a class trip to a local aquarium. Notice the environment required for particular species such as water salinity, depth, temperature, presence of other unique features (coral reef, rocks, caves, plants) and available food sources. Design a model aquarium of several compatible species, labeling the particular features needed by each species.

• Conserve water: Make a checklist of ways to conserve water in the home. Include: using low-flush toilets (or placing a closed container of water in non-low-flush toilet tanks), checking faucets for leaks, using aerators on faucets, collecting rainwater for watering gardens, watering landscapes during early morning hours, landscaping with native plants that demand less water, installing low-flow shower heads, and using other water-saving measures found while researching the topic of water conservation. Inspect your home according to the checklist to learn ways that your family can help conserve water and discuss this with family members. Make checklists to distribute to other students at your school.

• Stay informed: Three current challenges facing the world’s oceans are often featured in the news media. Watch and listen for reports about diminishing coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea and in the Pacific Ocean, about warming ocean temperatures, and for reports about noise pollution interfering with marine mammal communication. Get the details of one of these current issues with research. Web sites of oceanographic institutes and universities are good places to begin collecting information.

• "Water Science for Schools" The U.S. Geological Survey maintains the Web site "Water Science for Schools," which provides teachers and students with information and activities for learning about water science and water resources. The Web site is located at: and includes excellent information about the water cycle, Earth’s water resources, and how humans use water. The site includes pictures, data, maps, and an interactive center.

• Map project: Research the watershed areas of local rivers, lakes, and streams. Using colored chalk or highlighters, color-code and shade the watershed areas on a large street map. Post the map in the community to raise awareness of the watershed, along with measures people can take to protect it from contamination.

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