U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
 
Print Page
Science and Children >  > Columbia River Basin > For the Classroom 
 

For the Classroom

All Shapes and Sizes

To get a complete picture of a region, scientists analyze it as a whole in addition to analyzing its component parts on a more detailed level. In the Columbia River Basin, scientists may study a particular watershed or various vegetation types such as forests and rangelands at different elevations. Social and economic aspects of the basin are also considered.

This activity will help students describe the differences in a landscape or environment seen at various distances and give reasons to look at a landscape or environment in several different ways and with several different objectives in mind.

Materials: Select a foldout (such as the one included with this article) with a scene that has considerable detail. The foldout should be new to the students. It is best if the subject or theme of the foldout is not readily apparent until the students get closer. You will also need a measuring tape and masking tape.

Procedure: Hang the foldout at one end of a large room. Measure 15 m from the foldout and mark the floor with tape. Then measure and mark the floor at 3 m intervals coming toward the foldout. Repeat the markings three or four times to form an arc.

Stanley Lake, Idaho

Small streams from the Sawtooth Mountains (background) drain into Stanley Lake in Idaho.

Don Smurthwaite, BLM

Align the students single-file along the outermost edge of the arc (15 m). Give the students about 30 seconds to 1 minute to observe the foldout and write a description of what they see from this distance. Ask students not to share this information. Next, advance the students together to the next arc (12 m) and repeat for each successive distance.

When the students arrive at the closest mark, allow small groups (five or six students) to advance slowly until they can get their nose on the foldout and record their observations at this point. After all students have completed the activity, ask the following questions: What did the students see at the farthest point? Did the images look different as they got closer to the foldout? What did they learn at different distances? How much of the foldout could they see when their nose was on it? How is this picture different from the one they saw at a distance? At what point did they learn the most about the subject of the poster? How was their perspective enhanced or limited by each stop? How does this apply to the land use planning efforts being undertaken in the Interior Columbia Basin or in other areas? (Managers plan on a site-specific level but also are looking at the bigger picture through regional, ecosystem-based planning.)

Watersheds All Around

Generally, watersheds are described as the land that drains water from an area into its waterways such as streams and rivers. Watersheds are important physical features of the Interior Columbia Basin. The Scientific Analysis identified 2,500 watersheds in the basin. Watersheds can be large or small, draining a single valley or the entire basin. In this activity, students explore what a watershed is and how it works.

Materials: For this activity, you will need various sizes of rocks, a shallow plastic wash basin or tub (about 30x45 cm and 25 cm deep), heavy paper or a plastic tarp, a permanent marker, and a sprinkling can or spray bottle (to simulate rain).

Procedure: Place some rocks in the wash basin to build mountains and valleys. Cover with heavy paper or a plastic tarp. Ask the students to guess the route "rainwater" (from the sprinkling can or spray bottle) will take and where it will pool and be stored. Mark the predicted route with a permanent marker. Then test the students' predictions by spraying or sprinkling the area and observing the path of the water.

Watersheds are divided by areas of high elevation. When rain lands on the ground, it travels downhill to be drained. If water hit a mountaintop or ridgetop in the model and traveled in more than one direction, it is likely that there was more than one watershed. Most aquatic species, such as fish, do not cross watershed divides. How many watersheds did the students find in the model?

A healthy watershed not only stores but also filters water for a river or stream. When water hits the Earth and percolates through the soil into the water table, soil, rocks, and sand filter out many of the impurities carried by the water. To see how this might work, try the following activity.

Materials: You will need a flower pot with a drainage hole; a few cotton balls; some sand, soil, and gravel; and some muddy water.

Procedure: Plug the hole in the flower pot with cotton balls to represent subsoil, and fill the pot with a mixture of the sand, soil, and gravel. Slowly pour some muddy water into the pot and observe. The water running out of the drainage hole will be relatively clean.

Watershed Scavenger Hunt

After discussing watersheds in the classroom, take students outdoors to see if they can spot signs of watersheds on the school grounds or in a nearby park. Begin by asking students where they think water will drain on the school grounds. Ask what clues they think they will find to help them identify a watershed.

Divide the class into groups of three, and send them outside to find the following items: a damp spot that might collect water; a stream of water and its tributaries; a gully created by water; a sign of erosion; a structure that would block or change the flow of water; and a place where water might be filtered. Back in the classroom, compare results and draw a map of the watersheds the students observed.

Renewable and Nonrenewable Energy

Hydropower is a renewable form of energy-electricity produced from the energy of falling water. The supply comes from a natural event that will never run out-in this case, the hydrologic cycle. Other forms of renewable energy are wind farms (see "The High Plains: Land of Extremes," Science and Children, September 1996), and solar power. Nonrenewable energy, such as coal, oil, and gas, is available in only a finite supply.

Write the two headings Renewable and Nonrenewable on the blackboard. Have students list energy types (hydropower, solar, wind, natural gas, oil, coal, nuclear, geothermal, and so on) under each heading. Discuss the costs and benefits of each type. Costs should include environmental costs as well such as declining salmon populations due to hydropower.
Introduce the concept of energy conservation. Why is it important to conserve nonrenewable energy? (Because it will run out eventually.) Are there reasons to conserve renewable energy? (All energy generation has environmental impacts. Conserving hydropower, for example, could benefit salmon species if less water is used.)

The Power of Water

Most of the electricity in the Northwest is produced by hydropower. You can use a pinwheel to illustrate that falling water contains energy. Have students hold a pinwheel under running water. What happens? (The pinwheel spins.) What happens when the water pressure is increased? (The pinwheel spins faster.) Decreased? (It spins slower.) What conclusions can the students reach about water pressure and energy production? As an extension, discuss wind as an energy source and have students demonstrate this with their pinwheels as well.

Create a Habitat

Discuss the meaning of the term habitat. (It means home.) Ask students to describe their homes. Then explain that wildlife habitat must include elements that animals need to survive. What do animals need to survive? (Shelter, food, water, a place to rear their young and gather food.) Have students choose a wildlife species and design a home for it that contains these requirements. As an extension, ask students to consider which other animals might benefit from the same habitat elements. (For example, if students design a home suitable for a duck, fish and frogs would also benefit from that wetland area.)

Back to top

Back to the Rivers Run Through It homepage

 

 
Last updated: 11-13-2009