Mini Watershed Models

Written by: Alix Martin

Model: /ˈmädl/ noun
A systematic description of an object or phenomenon that shares important characteristics with the object or phenomenon. Models can help scientists communicate their ideas, understand processes, and make predictions.

Environmentalists often use models, and at KIDS for the BAY (KftB) we believe that Everyone Is an Environmentalist! To better understand the concept of watersheds, KftB students create mini watershed models using parchment paper, markers, and spray bottles. In their models, students simulate how rainfall flows through watersheds, and make and test their predictions about how their watersheds will form and where the water will flow.

Third grade students at Love Elementary School in Alameda were very excited to conduct their first watershed model experiment with KftB Educator Alix Martin. Student groups crumpled up paper to represent the topography of the land. They used brown markers to mark the ridgelines, and blue markers to predict where the ‘rainwater’ from the spray bottle would flow. Students discussed predictions with their peers as they outlined the rain paths. “I think there will only be five watersheds maximum in my model!” Elisa predicted. Classmates chimed in with other ideas about what would happen to the water and even predicted where plastic pollution would go if it was left on the streets when it rained. Gavin observed, “Something interesting about my watersheds is that they look like they are all connected!”

Once they set up their models, our young scientists sprayed water onto them to observe how water flows over the land in various watersheds. Leana exclaimed, “Wow, our watershed made a huge canyon in the middle of our model!” Students discussed in groups whether or not their predictions were correct, and why. They also related what happened in their models to real life situations. “We think some of the water in our model went into a storm drain and now it is under the parchment paper!” one group shared.

In the following outdoor watershed scavenger hunt activity, students found a storm drain on their campus, and observed how water would flow across their campus. They also noticed that there was trash inside of the storm drain, including plastic, paper scraps, and pieces of fabric. Darshan explained, “Rain can take trash to the ocean through the storm drains! So we should pick up trash before it rains this week.” Our Love Elementary students were very excited to plan and complete a campus trash cleanup activity the following week, to prevent trash from being washed into waterways with the rain.

KIDS for the BAY