keywords: Compass, Geology, GIS, GPS, Lagoon, MAPS, Plainimetric, Query, Scale, Spatial, Topographic, Watershed, Wetlands; Grade Level: Middle School, Grades 5 – 8; Total Time Required: Five Meetings; Setting: The lesson will require one meeting in the classroom, two days working on site at the small community and two meetings using the computer laboratory.

Subjects covered: The lesson will include environmental science, computer science, and geography.

Topics covered: The lesson will show students how to use a Global Position System (GPS) to calculate the watershed sites and a computerized Geographic Information System (GIS) to create the topographic map.

Goals for the lesson

In this project students will work as a team, practice problem solving, and sharpen their skills in critical thinking, decision-making and communication. Additionally, the group will use the GIS concepts presented to create a large scale, custom, unique, plainimetric, topographic map of the watershed areas of a small community.

Materials/resources needed

a. Several hand held GPS devices
b. Access to a computer lab to download the GIS database
c. Use of a countywide topographical map of its watershed
d. A local mobile home park with a lagoon that the class have approval to visit

State Standards Addressed:
Environment and Ecology
4.1.4 Recognize the impact of watersheds and wetlands on animals and plants
4.2.4 Identify needs of people, identify products derived from natural resources, know that some natural resources have limited life spans and identify by-products and their use of natural resources
4.2.5.A: Explain the water cycle
4.2.6.A: Identify the watersheds of Pennsylvania
4.2.6.C: Identify natural and human made factors that affect water quality
4.2.7. A: Explain how water enters, moves through and leaves a watershed

  • Explain the concept of stream order
  • Describe factors that affect the flow and water quality within a watershed

4.2.8A: Describe factors that affect the quality of ground and surface waters
Science and Technology
3.3.6.A4: Describe how water on earth cycles in different forms and in different locations including underground and in the atmosphere
3.3.7.A2: Explain land use in relation to soil type and topography
3.3.8.A6: Explain how models, and maps are used to identify Earth's resource of water


a. Teachers may first need to develop their own proficiency with GIS technology.
b. On the first day of classroom instruction, the students will learn basic GIS by using Getting to Know ArcView GIS, an ESRI publication that uses case studies to familiarize the students with GIS functions. In these case studies, students made maps of their neighborhoods using ArcView GIS databases.
c. The teacher will project new terms on a screen and the class will explain each term and come up with a collective definition under the guidance of the classroom teacher, learning the importance of measurement, scale and compass use.
d. While reviewing the ERIS publication, the teacher will emphasize geography and spacial exploration as the skill.
e. The teacher will introduce the project by asking the class, how a GIS may be useful to map the path of water through a watershed.
f. The teacher will use a projector to let the class see what a small scale topographic map of a watershed looks like for their county and Pennsylvania.
g. The teacher will ask the youth to list examples of various watershed entry points in a small community. Examples would be springs, water wells, local treatment lagoon/pond system, streams and creeks.
h. The lesson will continue with a discussion on how to use hand held GPS devises to chart out watershed entry points of a small mobile home park community, one with a treatment lagoon/pond system.
i. During the next two days, the class will report to the park to work in pairs using their GPS devices to get the coordinates and mark the location of each mobile home in the park.
j. By a qualified waste water operator, the class will be briefly instructed on how a lagoon waste water system is used to treat the water before it is reintroduced into the watershed.
k. On the next day, the class will reconvene in the computer lab where the teacher will first lead discussion of their findings from the last two days at the mobile home park.
l. The teacher will complete a brief review of the GIS with the youth, showing them how to add themes, zoom in and out and label features to help them explain their data.
m. All sets of students will map, document, and illustrate their assigned lots on the GIS database showing the watershed.
n. On the final day, to complete the lesson the class will save and duplicate a large scale, custom, unique, planimetric, topographic map of the watershed areas of a small community.


The youth will be evaluated through the 4-H Youth Development Pennsylvania Study, developed by Perkins, D.F. & Mincemoyer, C. entitled "Skills for Everyday Living." The surveys are given as a pre-test and as a post-test and must be completed by each student individually, where they circle the statement that best fits how often they did what is described in the last 30 days. The surveys are entered into a web based data collection system and used for program evaluation and improvement.

  • Critical Thinking in Everyday Life questions the youth on how students might think about certain things in their daily life.
  • Skills for Everyday Living questions the youth on how the students might communicate, solve problems, make decisions and achieve goals in everyday life.

Literature/Sources Cited

To learn mapping fundamentals, the students used the 4-H Publication "GIS Basics - Working with Arcexplorer 9, Members Guide and the "GIS in Schools" CD software and book set, which was developed by Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (ESRI). The students studied "From the Woods - Watersheds" publication prepared by Bryan Swistock, Water Resources Specialist, and Sanford S. Smith, Natural Resources and Youth Specialist. Additionally, they used "Forest Stewardship - Watershed Management" originally prepared by Joseph R. Makuch, Coordinator, Water Quality Information Center, USDA.


Wanda Braymer, Crawford County 4-H Educator, Penn State Cooperative Extension



Compass - a device for finding directions, usually with a magnetized needle that automatically swings to magnetic north
Geology - the study of the structure of the Earth, especially its rocks, soil, and minerals, and its history and origins
GIS - Geographic Information Systems. GIS allows you to combine and organize many layers of spatial information in a digital format, such as roads, streams and buildings
GPS - Global Positioning System
Lagoon - Man made wetland used as a waste water treatment system
MAPS - Drawing or a graphic representation of layers of spatial information are used to create maps.
Plainimetric - each element on the drawing is drawn in proportion to that same element in the landscape
Query - A quest for information
Scale - relationship between measuring distance on a map and the actual distance, in real life, on the ground.
Spatial - Relating to, occupying or happening to space
Topographic - the study and mapping of the features on the surface of land, including natural features such as mountains and rivers
Watershed - an area of land from which surface and subsurface water moves to drain into a stream. A watershed includes all the land from which a particular stream or river is supplied
Wetlands - a marsh, swamp, or other area of land where the soil near the surface is saturated or covered with water