Lab 7: Is Your Region Ready for a Drought?

The lab activity described here was created by Betsy Youngman of Phoenix Country Day School and LuAnn Dahlman of TERC for the EarthLabs project.

Summary and Learning Objectives

In this lab, students apply the concepts of earlier lessons to their own community. They begin by exploring economic, environmental, and social impacts of drought. Students then prepare for and stage a mock community meeting to draw up plans to face an upcoming drought.

After completing this investigation, students will be able to:
  • List and classify drought impacts from several counties in states across the United States.
  • Plan and conduct a mock community meeting.
  • Evaluate the drought plan for their home state, county, or community.
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Context for Use

Exploring drought impacts will make students aware of the consequences of changes in precipitation. The real-world relevance of impacts that range from wildfires through closings of water parks can get student's attention. The community meeting is an excellent synthesizing activity, allowing students to apply knowledge from the earlier lessons in this role-playing assignment. No special equipment is needed.

Time Required

  • Part A: 45 minutes, can be assigned out of class
  • Part B: 10 minutes to brainstorm stakeholders,
    30-40 minutes to prepare for community meeting,
    45 minutes to conduct meeting and discuss plans for following up by contacting local officials.
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Activity Overview and Teaching Materials

In Part A, students use an interactive map with links to drought impact reports to explore drought impacts across the U.S. over the past year. They read descriptions and examples of economic, environmental, and social impacts of drought and classify the impacts they read about.

Part B guides students through preparing for and conducting a mock community meeting. Students brainstorm a list of community stakeholders and take on those roles. They prepare themselves to represent the viewpoints of concerned citizens and then hold a town meeting. In the meeting, they attempt to establish consensus on water reduction strategies that they should employ and enforce. Following this activity, students may decide to contact local officials to voice their opinions about drought planning for their region.

Printable Materials

You may want to provide a hard copy of the activity sheet (Acrobat (PDF) 23kB Aug4 08) on which students can record their answers. A

of the activity sheet that includes suggested answers is also available. Educators are encouraged to customize the questions and add new ones to meet specific learning goals in your location.

Teaching Notes and Tips

After their interactions with the Drought Impact Reporter site, you may want to encourage students to bring in and share current events related to water availability. The preparation portions of this lab could be assigned as out-of-class research.

Students conduct a mock community meeting in Part B. Encourage them to become fully engaged in the meeting and to discuss their concerns from the point of view of the stakeholder whom they represent. You can find information and tips on using role playing in education from SERC. The preparation for this meeting can be spread over multiple class periods, or even weeks to allow for adequate preparation. The Case Studies in Science project offers an overview and script that can serve as an example of how to start this type of meeting. The case study is focused on impending water shortages in the Klamath river basin in the Pacific Northwest. An extensive set of teaching notes new also accompanies this resource.

Assessment

One option for assessing student understanding of this content is to ask students to prepare and submit a written position statement before the community meeting. Observation of the students' interactions in the meeting will also provide input for assessment.

State and National Science Teaching Standards

Additional Resources

Pedagogic Considerations

Role playing, sufficiently developed, can be a powerful and effective means for engaging student interest in a topic. SERC provides a range of resources to enhance science learning with role playing.

Content Extension

Writing letters about drought plans to local water-management officials is an excellent exercise for students. In addition to helping them crystallize their thoughts on a subject, it illustrates the process of becoming informed about a topic and then sharing your opinion in a way that it can affect government decisions. You may want to coordinate this effort with the humanities or government instructors at your school.