Open-and-go lessons that inspire kids to love science.

Science curriculum for K—5th grades.

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  • Hands-on lead students in the doing of science and engineering.
  • NGSS-aligned and Common Core make the transition to the Next Generation Science Standards and support Common Core.
  • Less prep, more learning prep in minutes not hours. Captivate your students with short videos and discussion questions.

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Watery Planet

Water Cycle & Earth's Systems

  1. Lessons
  2. Activity Prep
  3. Assessments

Mystery 1: Water on Earth's Surface

Map the World's Water

Step 1: Plan your time

This is a two-part activity. If you have limited time, you can turn this mystery into two lessons, completing one part of the activity in each lesson.

In the first part, students count squares on maps and record the amount of fresh, frozen, and salt water found in their assigned area of the world. (Steps 1 to 5 on the step-by-step video; questions 1, 2, and 3 on the map worksheet).

In the second part, the results of student calculations are used to make a graph that will reveal how much of each type of water is present on the planet. (Steps 6 to 19 on the step-by-step video; questions 4, 5, and 6 on the map worksheet).

Step 2: Gather supplies

You’ll need:

  • pencils and paper for students to do their calculations
  • markers or colored pencils to help students keep track as they count the squares on their maps
  • scissors and tape to cut out and post classroom materials
  • small, removable sticky-glue dots or Post-its in 3 colors to represent fresh, frozen, and salt water
    • You’ll need at least 80 stickers for salt water and 10 for frozen water, but just 1 for fresh water. You can cut 2” x 2” Post-its into 1/2” strips with a paper cutter or buy 2” x 1/2” Post-its.
  • enough space on a wall or door to accommodate a graph that’s 76 stickers high and 3 bars wide
    • See the photo for the way we did our graph. If you use 1/2” strips for your stickers, as we did, your graph will be 56” high and 30” wide.

sample water graph

Step 3: Print out classroom materials

You’ll need:

  • one copy of the 2-page “Where in the world is my map?” to post for students to see
  • one copy of the Bar Graph Labels (see photo)
  • one copy of the “Map Checklist & Answer Key” for you to use
  • at least one Maps Worksheet (they’re numbered 1–18) for each student…plus extras
    • Each student will need at least 1 of the 18 different maps we’ve provided. If you have a large class, it’s fine for more than one student to have the same map. If you have a small class, distribute at least one map to each student and use the “Map Checklist & Answer Key” to find the rest of the information you’ll need. We’d also suggest printing out an extra of each map used, if possible, in case a student has trouble counting and needs an extra copy.

Step 4: Prepare before class

Before class:

  • Find a good spot for your graph and put the Bar Graph Labels in place
  • Post the “Where in the world is my map?” sheets so students can see the map sections they’ll be working with
  • Have extra maps available, if possible, for students whose first tries don’t work out
  • Have stickers or Post-its for the graph ready to distribute during class

Be aware that counting lots of little squares can be tricky, and counts may vary, even among students working on the same maps. We suggest you remind students that their work should be as accurate as possible, but a few squares off here or there won’t change the graph. Any answer that’s close to the count on the “Map Checklist & Answer Key” will work out fine.

Have fun!

Mystery 2: Water as a Natural Resource

Wanted: A Well

If you have a large group, students will work in groups of four.

If there are just a few students, they can form a smaller group. A solo student can do the activity alone, but we think it’s more fun with friends.

For each group or student working alone, print one set of the Mapmaker's Map (4 pages) , one set of Plant and Soil Clues , and one copy of Wanted: A Well worksheet.

Since there’s so little prep for the main activity in this Mystery, we suggest you consider making Aquifer Stations, as described in the Extras section. These will give students a chance to experiment and observe how water is stored underground.

Mystery 3: Water Cycle

Make It Rain

Step 1: Plan your time

For this experiment, you need plastic bottles of hot water (colored red) and plastic bottles of cold water (colored blue). We encourage you to use recycled water bottles when possible.

You’ll need to start preparing for class the night before by refrigerating the cold bottles overnight. You can prepare the hot bottles in a microwave an hour before class.

More tips on preparing the bottles are below.

Step 2: Print out worksheets

Each student needs a copy of the 2-page “Rainmaker Experiments” worksheet .

Step 3: Gather supplies

This activity is designed to use with students working in groups of four. This works well because the activity includes four simple experimental set-ups — and each student in a group can put together one set-up. Students can also work in smaller groups or by themselves, but each group or lone experimenter will need materials to put together four experimental set-ups.

You’ll need:

  • Enough 8-ounce plastic water bottles to give 4 to each group (plus a few extras)
  • Red food coloring (for bottles of hot water)
  • Blue food coloring (for bottles of cold water)
  • A microwave to heat half the water bottles
  • A refrigerator to cool the other half of the water bottles
  • 2 coolers (one for the hot water bottles and one for the cold water bottles)
    • We made our own coolers by lining cardboard boxes with bath towels, but anything you can do to keep the hot water hot and the cold water cold will work fine.

Each group (or lone experimenter if someone is working alone) will also need:

  • 4 Dixie cups
  • 4 large clear plastic cups
    • These must be clear; frosted cups won’t work. Cup must be tall enough to extend at least an inch above the top of the Dixie cup. If the clear cups are too short, there’ll be nowhere for the condensation to collect.
  • 4 heavy-duty paper plates
    • The heavy paper plates, like Chinet brand, work well. The thick paper acts as insulation below each hot or cold set-up.
  • Paper towels to clean up any spills
  • Optional: Cafeteria-type trays to hold the materials for each group
  • Optional: Oven mitts (for you to handle the hot water bottles as they come out of the microwave)

Step 4: Prepare for class

To prepare the cold water bottles:

  • Count out 2 bottles per group (plus a few extras).
  • Open each bottle, drip in a few drops of blue food coloring, and close them back up.
  • Place them in the refrigerator to cool them down.
    • If you’re in a rush, you can chill them faster in the freezer. You don’t want them to freeze, just be really cold.

To prepare the hot water bottles:

  • Count out 2 bottles per group (plus a few extras).
  • Open each bottle and drip in a few drops of red food coloring.
  • Leave the bottles open. (This is important! If you don’t, they may burst.)
  • In our microwave, we heat 6 to 8 bottles at a time. We heat on high for one minute, check the temperature, then repeat until water is hot. You will have to determine the best power setting, time, and number of bottles for your microwave. We suggest erring on the side of less power and time, to avoid overheating the bottles.
  • When the water is hot, carefully remove the bottles and screw the tops back on.

Store hot and cold bottles in separate coolers until class. In our experience, they’ll stay warm or cool for at least an hour in a cooler.

Have fun!

Mystery 4: Natural Disasters & Engineering

Save Beachtown

This activity is a simulation, similar to the “Wanted: A Well” activity in Watery Planet Mystery 2. In “Save Beachtown,” students will optimize engineering strategies to save a coastal town from flooding in a hurricane—paying attention to flooding from both a river and an ocean storm surge.

Step 1: Plan ahead

This simulation is very engaging and may take more than 20 minutes for students to complete. Consider dividing this lesson into two class periods. We’ve provided challenge questions in the Extras section for those who want to extend the activity.

If you have a large group, students will work in teams of four. If you have just a few students, they can form a smaller team. A solo student can do the activity alone, but we think it’s more fun with friends.

If you’re working with a large group, you may want students to post their final work for others to see. If you decide to do this, you’ll need wall space and supplies (tape, pushpins, etc.).

Step 2: Print out worksheets

Each group of four students (or each student working alone) will need all the worksheets listed below. Print out the complete set here.

Each group will need:

  • One 2-page Final Plan for the Town Council, in which students work together to figure out and finalize a plan that fits the town’s budget
  • One Flood Protection sheet with pictures of all four solutions to cut out

In addition, each student in the group will need:

  • One of the four Student Engineer worksheets (These sheets describe four different solutions to the problem of flooding: Seawalls, Wetlands, Levees, and Stilts. Students will use them to figure out which buildings they can protect using each solution. All four must be used.)
  • A Budget sheet where they can calculate how much applying the solutions will cost

Step 3: Gather supplies

Each group will need:

  • A strip of removable gummy glue dots, like these, to share

In addition, each student in the group will need:

  • Pencils (to mark up maps and for calculations)
  • One red and one blue pencil or marker (If you don’t have enough red, you can use orange, pink, or any similar shade; if you don’t have enough blue, use any shade of green or blue.)
  • Scissors