Harrington Elementary 3rd and 4th-graders Explore the Water Cycle

By Hazel Stark

What is the coolest cloud you’ve ever seen? “I saw one that looked like a bird! I saw a huge one! I saw one that was pink!” The 3rd and 4th-graders at Harrington Elementary were getting ready to dive into the world of the Water Cycle in two recent programs with Maine Outdoor School in May 2017. This article is the third of a four-part series on these recent programs at Harrington Elementary, so visit our News page for more!

Using "cloud windows" to observe clouds

Using "cloud windows" to observe clouds

8-10-year-olds across Maine learn about the Water Cycle as part of the Maine Learning Results (including these students at D.W. Merritt School in a recent Maine Outdoor School program), and what better way is there to explore condensation, precipitation, and evaporation than going outside and watching it happen? After acting out and singing the Water Cycle Song (you can listen to a version of it here), these Harrington students used “cloud windows” to observe and identify cloud types. They then each drew the clouds they saw and recorded data about the percentage of cloud cover across the sky on that day so they could compare it to the cloud cover in the following week’s program. To dive even deeper into the world of clouds and condensation, they wanted to know how clouds form. By adding warm water and smoke from a match to a juice bottle and then rapidly changing the pressure with a firm squeeze, the MOS Educator made a cloud in a bottle. Stunned, students wanted to see it again and again but there was still much to learn about the water cycle. With that experiment concluded, it was time to move on to the power of precipitation.

I loved everything we did.
— one student's answer to "what was your favorite part of the MOS program?"

The following week, the students shared what they remembered to be the percent cloud cover from the previous program (85%) and reassessed the cloud cover to be closer to 75% now. Having considered the role of clouds in the water cycle, they were ready to consider how precipitation that falls from those clouds affects life. While watching a demonstration of water falling down a dirt pile, they understood erosion and identified how plant roots could help reduce how much sediment might flow downhill during a rainstorm. They also pointed to where they would and would not want to build a house on such a landscape.

They found some scat (but don't worry, they didn't touch it with their hands)!

They found some scat (but don't worry, they didn't touch it with their hands)!

Then, they took to the woods again. Keeping a tally of the number of individual living things they could find in areas with lots of surface water compared to areas that were dry, they used field guides to identify scat and tracks they found and plunged their hands into the mucky puddles between patches of sphagnum moss. One student realized she could continue this exploration-fueled identification activity at home if she used her own field guide--she was excited to figure out what lived in her backyard.

My favorite part was sticking my hands in puddles.
— one student's reflection after the program

After these two programs, these students understood how dynamic the Water Cycle is, the complexity behind cloud formation, and the importance of precipitation. “Water travels in a cycle, yes it does: It goes up evaporation, makes a cloud from condensation, comes back down precipitation, yes it does. Run off!”


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