Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hands-on Water Cycle Fun!

Hands-on Water Cycle Fun! Create a mini water cycle using a rotisserie chicken container and demonstrate cloud formation in a jar.
Now that I'm retired, I often miss working with children; children are my inspiration and the classroom is my laboratory! Recently I accepted a position at a local school to work with kids during their year round intersession program, and I had the pleasure of teaching science to 5th graders for 3 days. I had a wonderful time teaching them about the water cycle and weather, especially since I was able to incorporate a hands-on activity and an exciting demonstration into our lessons.

One activity was adapted from a terrific idea shared with me by Pat Calfee, a former elementary teacher who is now an educational consultant. When Pat was teaching 2nd grade, she used plastic rotisserie chicken containers to have her students create mini water cycles.

Because 5th graders need to know the full water cycle including transpiration and run-off,  we modified our mini water cycles slightly. Each team set up their own mini water cycle by adding a rock to represent a mountain, grass for the vegetation, and a small pond made from aluminum foil and filled with water.

On a sunny day, the best way to power up the mini water cycle is to close the container and put it in the sun for several hours. As the water warms up, it evaporates and then condenses on the inside of the plastic lid. The water then "rains" on the environment inside the container and runs off to form little ponds. Unfortunately, the weather called for rain on the day we were doing this (Murphy's law!). So I brought a large lamp from home that gave off a lot of heat, and we put the containers under the lamp. Soon we were observing evaporation, transpiration, condensation, precipitation, and run-off!
Hands-on Water Cycle Fun! Create a mini water cycle using a rotisserie chicken container and demonstrate cloud formation in a jar.

Hands-on Water Cycle Fun! Create a mini water cycle using a rotisserie chicken container and demonstrate cloud formation in a jar.
Those containers were a super way to give students hands-on experience creating a water cycle. It was wonderful to be able to have something concrete to observe when discussing these concepts.

Another way to observe a water cycle in action is to create a Cloud in a Jar. This is a teacher demo since it involves boiling water and a lit match, but it's a fun way for students to observe how clouds form. You can find the directions for this activity in my Science File Cabinet on Teaching Resources. The directions include a set of follow-up questions to help students grasp the essential concepts.

A great way to help kids identify examples of condensation, evaporation, and precipitation in everyday life is with my Parts of the Water Cycle Task Cards shown below. I've even added images of all 32 task cards that you can upload to Plickers and use for assessment questions!

What are your favorite activities to teach the water cycle? Please share!

 


21 comments:

  1. We are doing the water cycle this week in my 2nd grade classroom. Thanks for the wonderful idea! I saw it on classroomfreebies.com.

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  2. Thanks, Sheena! Start making friends with the deli people at Walmart so you can get some of those plastic containers - or eat lots of chicken!

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  3. This activity sounds like a ton of fun and I can tell my first graders will love it and that it will work perfectly for our science experiment for the science fair. I am a little confused at the directions. What do you need to add to each container and how does it show the cycle? If you could give extra info, that would be fantastic. :)

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  4. Hi! The complete directions are available if you click on the link in the blog post. It takes you to my Science File Cabinet which is located here: http://www.lauracandler.com/filecabinet/science.php#weather You can download the detailed directions from that page. I hope you enjoy it!

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    1. I can not seem to find which one it is. What is it titled?

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    2. Oh, I'm so sorry! I just realized that the directions were for the Cloud in a Jar demo. I don't have any other directions for the mini water cycle. At the very easiest level, all you need is to put some water in the bottom of the plastic container and put it in the sun. When the water heats up, it evaporates and condenses on the inside of the plastic dome. Then drops fall which are like precipitation. They accumulate in the bottom just as they do with lakes and oceans. I put more things in mine because 5th graders study run-off (so we put rocks) and transpiration (so we put the grass because plants give off moisture.) I hope this helps. Sorry for the mix up before. The Cloud in a Jar demo has complete directions on the page I mentioned and your students would enjoy that one as well.

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    3. Oh no worries at all!! Thank you so much for your help! :)

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  5. My question is, what did you do for accountability with the project? How did you observe each stage and know that the students were actually seeing/taking away what they were supposed to be? I teach 6th grade and we do the water cycle but I am having a hard time picturing how this all comes together in terms of observation and recording data. Any insight would be great!

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    1. Good questions. The activity as described does not have the rigor that would be needed for a 6th grade classroom. We actually did a variety of other activities to follow up that required them to write about what they saw and draw/explain the steps of the water cycle in detail. One day I hope to create a full set of directions with all of those materials. I guess you could consider this to be a teaser!

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  6. I love this idea! My 5 year old and I are doing this today as part of school. We are using the basic version an only using water in bottom and then discussing the water cycle, he's already familiar with it. We started the project at the beginning of our school time and are ending by watching the Kicks Up a Storm episode of The Magic School Bus. After that we can revisit our project and see which part of the cycle its at.

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    1. Thanks for sharing! Sounds like a great learning activity!

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  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  8. How long does it take under the heat lamp to see the evaporation/precipitation?

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    1. I don't remember the exact time. I would suggest testing it out prior to using the activity. However, putting it in sunlight has different results than a heat lamp so be ready to adapt it! A good sunny warm day is best.

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  9. hello,
    (I write with google translation, sorry)
    I fell in love with your site.
    A true inspiration.
    I see the water cycle with the students of the third year and I would love to experience for the formation of clouds but I can not find the instruction sheet and as I do not understand English, I feel a little lost ... Could you put me the link in the comments??
    If you still have any advice for this theme, I'm all ears :)
    thank you very much :)

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  10. One of the things I like to do with my students at the end of our study of the water cycle is have them decorate a Ziploc bag (using Sharpies) with a diagram of the water cycle. Then they fill it about half full with water and hang it up at their house (preferably outside, but not necessary). Then they pick one family member to give a "lesson" to. Once they have given their lesson, they give them a quiz (that we designed in class) and grade it. They have lots of fun with this!

    Kristine White
    http://tearlessteaching.blogspot.com/

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  11. I have students act out the water cycle using an activity from Project Wet. They move around the classroom to various stations as they roll cubes. They find out it is not a neat circular cycle. Students draw their route and we talk about area they spent a lot of time in and why a water molecule might be there so long. There is an online version, too - but students prefer acting it out. It is a favorite. http://www.discoverwater.org/blue-traveler/

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    1. Susan, Would you please give me some more information about how your students act out the water cycle following the online version from Project Wet? Thanks so much!

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  12. This looks cool gonna try it out for homework.

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  13. Laura,
    I saw your mini water cycle on Pinterest and just had to check out your site. Every grade level at my school selects a different year-long enrichment theme, and in second grade ours is water. Our water them informs our decision making process as to field trips, assemblies, arts and crafts, and even music and service projects.
    One of our projects has been the creation of a "3D" water cycle. All second grade meets in the cafeteria. Each student has a blackline of the water cycle on cardstock, and each teacher has various materials for the students to apply to their page. We use cotton for the clouds, tissue paper and blue cellophane for water, sequins for rain, dirt, grass clippings, black yarn, and yellow paper hole punches. Everything is glued onto the cardstock. It takes 2-3 Friday afternoons to complete. With 125 students, it can be a little messy and chaotic; but the kids are so proud of their finished products, and they have a very clear understanding of the water cycle.
    I am very excited to try the 2 projects above, the mini water cycle and the cloud in a jar. I will ask parents to save their rotisserie chicken containers next week. For the cloud in a jar, is that a glass jar in the picture? Will a large plastic container work as well? Oh, wait, I read more thoroughly and answered my own question! Can't wait to try it out!!

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    1. Thanks for sharing this! Is is a large glass jar in the picture. It's an old jar I used to make pickles in! I think a plastic container would work but it would need to be clear enough for someone to see inside. Good luck!

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