1. 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 https://serc.carleton.edu/teachearth/activity_review.html.

This page first made public: Aug 12, 2008

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.
Open the Student Lab »

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.
Open the Student Lab »

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.


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

Applicable California Science Teaching Standards

Investigation and Experimentation Standards

m. Investigate a science-based societal issue by researching the literature, analyzing data, and communicating the findings. Examples of issues include irradiation of food, cloning of animals by somatic cell nuclear transfer, choice of energy sources, and land and water use decisions in California

Applicable Massachusetts Science and Technology Standards (PDF - 1.3 Mb)

Earth and Space Science - Earth Processes and Cycles

  • 1.4 Unequal heating of Earth and the Coriolis effect influence global circulation patterns and impact Massachusetts weather and climate.
  • 1.8 Ground-based observations, satellite data, and computer models are used to demonstrate interconnected Earth systems.

Applicable New York Core Curricula

Physical Setting/Earth Science (PDF - 135 Kb)

STANDARD 4 - Students will understand and apply scientific concepts, principles, and theories pertaining to the physical setting and living environment and recognize the historical development of ideas in science.

  • Key Idea 2. Many of the phenomena that we observe on Earth involve interactions among components of air, water, and land.

STANDARD 7 — Interdisciplinary Problem Solving. Students will apply the knowledge and thinking skills of mathematics, science, and technology to address real-life problems and make informed decisions.

  • Key Idea 2: Solving interdisciplinary problems involves a variety of skills and strategies, including effective work habits; gathering and processing information; generating and analyzing ideas; realizing ideas; making connections among the common themes of mathematics, science, and technology; and presenting results

Applicable North Carolina Earth and Space Science Standards

1.02 Design and conduct scientific investigations to answer questions related to earth and environmental science.

  • Analyze and interpret data.
  • Communicate findings

Applicable Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)

(10) Science concepts. The student knows the interactions that occur in a watershed. The student is expected to:

  • (A) identify the characteristics of a local watershed such as average annual rainfall, run-off patterns, aquifers, locations of river basins, and surface water reservoirs;
  • (B) analyze the impact of floods, droughts, irrigation, and industrialization on a watershed; and
  • (C) describe the importance and sources of surface and subsurface water.

Applicable National Science Education Standards (SRI)

Science as Inquiry (12ASI)

Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

  • 12ASI1.6 Communicate and defend a scientific argument. Students in school science programs should develop the abilities associated with accurate and effective communication. These include writing and following procedures, expressing concepts, reviewing information, summarizing data, using language appropriately, developing diagrams and charts, explaining statistical analysis, speaking clearly and logically, constructing a reasoned argument, and responding appropriately to critical comments.
  • Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges

    • 12FSPSP6.1 Science and technology are essential social enterprises, but alone they can only indicate what can happen, not what should happen. The latter involves human decisions about the use of knowledge.
    • 12FSPSP6.2 Understanding basic concepts and principles of science and technology should precede active debate about the economics, policies, politics, and ethics of various science - and technology - related challenges. However, understanding science alone will not resolve local, national or global challenges.

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.