InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Interactions between Water, Earth’s Surface, and Human Activity > Module Overview
 Earth-focused Modules and Courses for the Undergraduate Classroom
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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The materials are free and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
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Instructor Materials: Overview of the Interactions Module

Module Goal: Students use data and build models to assess how running water erodes and transports rock, shapes landscapes over time, and is capable of short-term flooding hazards whose effects can be characterized and acted upon.

Two versions: There are two ways to implement this module, with or without "energy diagrams." Energy diagrams are simple flow-charts that illustrate the transfer of energy that accompanies any change in the Earth system. These can be very useful if the course includes energy as a theme throughout, and provide a means for students to abstract the concepts covered in this module to more general processes. These energy diagrams were developed for the Physics and Everyday Thinking curriculum, whose pedagogical approach is mirrored in this module. They are not necessary to cover the module goal and content, however. Throughout the module, we refer to these two versions.

Summative Assessment: There are two summative assessments for this module. First, students develop an informational brochure that a city could use to educate its citizens on the impact of living near a river, including background information, flood profiles, future potential (including recurrence intervals), flood prevention, and positive impacts of the river on the city. Second, students are asked a metacognitive prompt to assess their learning over the entire module. In the energy diagram version, a summative assessment asks students to describe a hypothetical rock material transfer process from the surface part of the rock cycle (a river system) to the internal part, and back again.

Learn more about assessing student learning in this module.

These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards. At the top of each page, you can click on the NGSS logo to see the specific connections. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more about the process of alignment and how to use InTeGrate materials to implement the NGSS.

NGSS in this Module

In this module students learn how to use data and build models to assess how running water erodes and transports rock, shapes landscapes over time, and is capable of short-term flooding hazards whose effects can be characterized and acted upon. In aligning the module with NGSS, it was observed that units provide a strong disciplinary foundation on understanding the hydrologic cycle and its components and fluxes. It is recommended that teachers who use this module emphasize on aspects of water quality and availability. Adding few case studies on water contamination and its impacts on ecosystems would strengthen the cross-cutting issues.

Preparatory Activity Initial ideas

(1 hour in class, or as pre-module homework) Students explain their initial thinking about the ideas that will be covered in the module. They jot down their own ideas first, then share their thinking in small groups. The small groups create displays to share their ideas with the rest of the class. This is a sharing of ideas only, no trying to "convince" anyone that their ideas are right or wrong. Students will revisit their initial ideas at the end of the module to analyze how their ideas have changed.

If using energy diagrams, students also complete a short tutorial about using these.

Unit 1 Hydrologic Cycle

(2 hours) In Unit 1, students construct a model to conceptualize how matter (in the form of water) is transferred through the hydrologic cycle. Students use simple models to examine the processes of evaporation, transpiration, condensation, infiltration, run-off, and precipitation to deduce that water is neither destroyed nor created, but transformed into different states as it cycles through reservoirs above, across, and below Earth's surface. Students are challenged to identify where energy is transferred through the hydrologic cycle as water changes states. An emphasis is placed on the relatively small percentage of water that is available for human consumption and how the impact of human activity can affect its quality and quantity.

Homework or extension (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 107kB Jan11 15)

Using data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), students are asked to write a 2-page paper on their local watershed, the source and quality of their drinking water, and any threats from human activity on that water.

Unit 2 Fluvial Processes that Shape the Natural Landscape

(2 hours) In Unit 2, students use a small stream table tray to model the processes of weathering, erosion, and deposition of sediments in a river system. Students identify physical characteristics associated with different subsystems in a river system by conducting investigations and collecting evidence to form an explanation for the primary function of each subsystem. They also test their prediction of how slope affects erosion, transport and deposition of sediment along a river system. Students are challenged to synthesize their understanding of weathering, erosion and deposition of sediment in a river system to explain how the hydrologic cycle interacts with the rock cycle.

Unit 3 How Streams Change

(2 hours) In Unit 3, students use Google Earth to compare and contrast two small river systems — one from a wet climate (the Nooksack River in Washington State) and one from a dry climate (the Rio Puerco in New Mexico). In this unit, students calculate the stream gradient at three locations, infer erosional processes by observing historical views of a selected reach, and relate the overall stream profile to the underlying bedrock geology. Students also connect their observations to the hydrologic cycle and stream characteristics identified in the previous units. Learning is synthesized by applying the unit concepts to the Mississippi River.

Homework or extension (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 114kB Nov5 14)

This homework gives students the opportunity to examine the profile of the Mississippi River, assess flood hazards, and describe potential changes over time of one of the river systems they studied during this unit.

Unit 4 Hazards from Flooding

(2 hours) Students analyze and interpret USGS stream gauge data for the Cedar River in Iowa to investigate some of the factors that control a river's height. Students also calculate the recurrence interval for the Cedar River and relate their results to the Great Flood of 2008. Finally, students use online resources to research a city on a river near them and construct a brochure describing the hazards of living on a floodplain as well as any measures that the city has taken to protect itself from future floods.

Homework (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 19kB Jan9 15)

Students work in pairs to research flood hazards for a city located on a nearby river. They present their results in an informational brochure that a city could use to educate its citizens on the impact of living near a river. The brochure must include background information, flood profiles and future potential (including recurrence intervals), flood prevention, and positive impacts of the river on the city.

Unit 5 (Optional) Linking Processes Driven by Internal and External Energy Sources

(2 hours) In this unit, students connect how the internally driven and externally driven rock and hydrologic cycle processes influence each other, and how they impact society. This unit requires pre-requisite knowledge of the rock cycle as students are asked to link what they learned in this module about the "surface" part of the rock cycle to the "underground" part of the rock cycle. Students are asked to work together to interpret a rock cycle diagram, identify energy transfers (including sources and sinks), and describe hypothetical rock material transfer pathways.

Optional Homework

Students read "How Erosion Builds Mountains," an article from Scientific American, and answer questions on the feedbacks between uplift and erosion (requires prerequisite knowledge of isostasy).

Making the Module Work

To adapt all or part of the Interactions between Water, Earth's Surface, and Human Activity Module for your classroom you will also want to read through:

  • Instructor Stories, which detail how the module was adapted for use at three different institutions, as well as our guide to

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »