Teach the Earth > Introductory Courses > Activities > Porosity and Permeability

Porosity and Permeability in the Kitchen

Rebecca Witherow
The Ohio State University
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection

Resources in this top level collection a) must have scored Exemplary or Very Good in all five review categories, and must also rate as “Exemplary” in at least three of the five categories. The five categories included in the peer review process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Apr 30, 2008


Students explore the properties of porosity and permeability using everyday items and geological materials. This activity has several components to appeal to different learning styles.

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This is for the laboratory component for an introductory Earth sciences course for non-majors. This course is an option for general education requirements.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

The students have been exposed to the terms, concepts, and principles of groundwater. They are familiar with what and aquifer is and its importance in hydrology.

How the activity is situated in the course

There are two exercises in the groundwater laboratory. The first one deals with the physical hydrology and the second focuses on the chemistry of water. The labs are 2 hours long with a 15 minute introduction by a TA and a 1:45 graded lab exercise. This hands-on activity is part of an introduction to the physical hydrology lab in lieu of a PowerPoint presentation which is a typical introduction.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students should gain a better understanding of the meaning of porosity and permeability. Students should be able to identify a porous and non-porous handsample: granite and sandstone Students should be able to identify the better material for an aquifer

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Making observations, formulating a hypothesis, testing a hypothesis, synthesizing conclusions

Other skills goals for this activity

collaboration with peers, working in groups, writing, confidence in science

Description of the activity/assignment

The students are exposed to a brief (approx. 5 minute) introduction/presentation on aquifers and groundwater including their geographical context, structure, and vocabulary. The students receive everyday materials with different properties: Styrofoam block, scrubbing pad, etc, and a dropper bottle filled with water. They are not initially told what to do, but instead asked what they are going to do. The idea is to use the dropper bottle to put water on the objects and notice if the water passes through or not? They are also encouraged to notice any physical features that may be responsible for these behaviors. Students typically won't talk to each other at first and won't know what to do. Asking them guided questions usually encourages conversation between the students. They can also be asked what other everyday objects could be used for this exercise. After they have explore everyday objects, they are introduced to a handsample of granite and a sandstone. Although they have not been exposed to rocks in lab, they can usually identify the granite right away, and the sandstone when about the size of the grains. They then will discuss the physical properties of the rocks and hypothesize what is more porous and permeable. They test this with the water dropper. Finally, as a class, we discuss that something that is porous and permeable like a sandstone makes a good aquifer, and where good aquifers are located.

Determining whether students have met the goals

My primary way is by talking to students and asking them about their findings. This is mean to be an introduction to the lab, so they are more evaluated on their performance on the lab exercise.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Supporting references/URLs

I don't currently use a website, but I would like to use the USGS water resources portal for future developments

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