Teach the Earth > Complex Systems > Teaching Activities > Water Bucket lab activity

Water Bucket lab activity

Robert MacKay
Clark College Physics and Meteorology
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the 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 page first made public: Mar 31, 2010


Online lab activity to explore the generic structure of a leaky water tank. Time delay and equilibrium are introduced.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



I use this for my first lab activity in introductory Meteorology since many systems in nature fit the generic structure of the leaky water tank.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

I assume that they have been exposed to graphs but we also review the basics of X-Y graphs in the introduction to the lab.

How the activity is situated in the course

Stand alone first lab activity to introduce the ideas of time delay and equilibrium to my students.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Introduce students to the idea of stocks and flows, equilibrium, and time delays.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

At the end of this activity students are asked to transfer their newly obtained knowledge of the water tank inflow outflow structure to a home heating example.

Other skills goals for this activity

Simple calculations and short answers

Description of the activity/assignment

This is an online JAVA based activity. Students become familiar with the basic structure of a water tank with constant inflow and an outflow proportional to the volume of water in the tank. Students are asked to use the online model to explore several aspects of this simple system. Equilibrium and time delay are the two key points of this activity.

Determining whether students have met the goals

An online pdf file of the activity is available and answers to the questions are evaluated. Students are give immediate feedback and are asked to correct errors before leaving the lab.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Supporting references/URLs

The complete activity is referenced at this link.

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