Lab 8: Drought Mitigation Trade-offs

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

Summary and Learning Objectives

In this activity students explore how to reduce vulnerability to drought risk through mitigation strategies. Students investigate one or more of four technology-based mitigation strategies by reading articles or viewing short podcasts and completing hands-on activities. Students make a presentation or poster to communicate their findings to the class.

After completing this investigation, students will be able to:
  • Evaluate the costs and benefits of drought mitigation strategies.
  • Construct a physical model to illustrate the technology used in a drought mitigation strategy.
  • Prepare and present a report to their classmates on one strategy.
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Context for Use

This is a culminating experience for a unit on drought. Lab 8 turns the responsibility for background research, modeling, and evaluation over to student teams. The lab has students working in small groups and using common lab equipment.

Estimated Time Required:

  • 1 class period to read and research
  • 1 class period for hands-on activity
  • 1 class period to prepare and practice presentation
  • 1 class period to share presentations with class
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Activity Overview and Teaching Materials

This lab assigns students to work in cooperative research teams of 3-6 students. Student teams are assigned to one of the following mitigation strategies and asked to present a report to the class.

Dams and Reservoirs

Students investigate the costs and benefits of building dams and reservoirs to mitigate drought. They use their physical model from Lab 2 to conduct a simple investigation to model dams.

Materials needed for hands-on activity

  • watershed models from Lab 2
  • clay

Cloud Seeding

Students investigate the costs and benefits of cloud seeding to mitigate drought. As a illustration of the strategy, they create clouds in a bottle to demonstrate the role of small particles in cloud formation.

Materials needed for hands-on activity

  • clear plastic bottle with pop-up cap
  • matches
  • water

New Farming Technologies

Students investigate the costs and benefits of new farming technologies to mitigate drought. Students build a simple model to illustrate the strategy of drip irrigation.

Materials needed for hands-on activity

  • 1- or 2-liter plastic drink or water bottle with a flat-surfaced cap
  • hammer and a small finishing nail OR a hand drill with small drill bit
  • serrated knife or tin snips to cut plastic bottle
  • potted plant with in a 6-inch or larger diameter pot
  • water


Students investigate the costs and benefits of desalinization to mitigate drought. Students set up a simple distillation demonstration to show the energy it takes to remove salt from water.

Materials needed for hands-on activity

  • 400 mL beaker with 200 mL tap water plus 7 g salt
  • hot plate
  • ring stand
  • glass funnel
  • clamp
  • one-hole stopper with bent glass tube
  • rubber tubing
  • 200 mL beaker
  • watch glass

Printable Materials

This lab does not have any Stop and Think questions. You will need to assess student learning based on their contributions to the small group work and the product they produce to communicate their findings.

Teaching Notes and Tips

At this point in the unit students are well versed in drought terminology and the techniques for conducting simple investigations. For this activity students are grouped into small expert teams. There are 4 types of mitigation strategies to investigate so teachers should assign one small group of 3-6 students to each strategy. If need be, more than one group can investigate a single strategy. This activity uses a jigsaw mode of teaching strategies, separating your class into subgroups who will then report back to the full class. To learn more about cooperative strategies, visit the Cooperative Learning page on the Starting Point website.

Assemble all materials for the hands-on activities ahead of time. To supervise these diverse activities, designate one class period as the hands-on lab period. Students can conduct their activities and prepare the apparatus so they can share a demonstration of it during the presentation day. You will need to be moving around the room ensuring that all students are working safely.

For the background research you may decide it is best to print out selected articles for the teams to read and review in class.

Students will need to work cooperatively in preparing their presentation to share with the class. One technique to encourage sharing of responsibility is to create a template slide for students to use in PowerPoint or some other presentation method. Giving them the headings such as introduction, positive benefits, costs, negative impacts on the environment, etc., will help the groups stay on task.


Students should be assessed on their individual contributions to their group's successful project.

State and National Science Teaching Standards

Applicable California Science Teaching Standards

Investigation and Experimentation Standards

l. Analyze situations and solve problems that require combining and applying concepts from more than one area of science.

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

None identified.

Applicable New York Core Curricula

Physical Setting/Earth Science (PDF - 135 Kb)

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:

  • (B) analyze the impact of floods, droughts, irrigation, and industrialization on a watershed; and

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.

Understandings about Science and Technology

  • 12EST2.2 Science often advances with the introduction of new technologies. Solving technological problems often results in new scientific knowledge. New technologies often extend the current levels of scientific understanding and introduce new areas of research.

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

This 2007 article from Southwest Hydrology is included as an extra resource in Lab 8C - Basic Cloud Seeding Concepts.

Pedagogic Considerations

If you are unfamiliar with having students working in groups, take a look at the Starting Point website on Cooperative Learning.

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