Keywords: Watershed, Groundwater, Water Table, Topographical Map; Lesson Plan Grade Level: ninth through twelfth grade; Total Time Required: 1 hour in classroom and 45 minutes to 1 hour outside; Setting: introduction and project in classroom, walking over our watershed (outside)

Goals of Lesson

  • The students should be able to identify where our water originates.
  • The students should be able to map out a watershed on a topographical map.
  • The students should recognize the significance of a first-order spring and headwater located on our school property.
  • The students should be able to identify sources of pollution to our headwater stream from within our limited watershed.
  • The students should be able to follow the amount of water entering our stream and follow its course to its proper major watershed, the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay.

Materials Needed

  • individual color coded topographical maps via "Mapquest" or county extension (enough copies for each student)
  • pencil
  • highlighter
  • straight edge
  • Pennsylvania state map

State Standards Addressed: Watersheds & Wetlands (4.1); Environmental Health (4.3); Ecosystems and Their Interactions (4.6)

Subjects Covered: math, science, social studies

Topics Covered: watershed mapping, using topographical maps; introduction to streams & groundwater


The Dauphin County Technical School is located on a southern slope on 40 acres of land. It has on its property a small wetlands and first order spring and headwaters. The surrounding area of the campus is suburban to the north and light industrial to the west with campus parking to the east and a narrow woodland running on both sides of the stream to the south. Today's lesson will introduce the students to our on-campus stream and wetlands. We will map the area drained by our stream and follow its course as it drains toward the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay.

Doing the Activity

  1. The instructor and students will take a walk to the campus wetland which is approximately 50'x100' of unmowed grass and bulrushes with a small stream flowing from its southern end. The students will take with them pencil & paper to make any notations about topics discussed, their observations and points of interest.
  2. At the wetlands area we will take note of the different type of vegetation, the reason water collects here, and where surface water drains into this area. The students will take notes as we go.
  3. We will now move to where the initial source of spring water emerges to the surface and then follow this seep of water as it flows south through the narrow wooded area along the west of the school property until it crosses our property line. Along this route the students will note vegetation changes, stream features, and pollution effects that are magnified as we move along. At this point we will go up hill across the property and take note of what we see as the drainage area of our spring and stream. This can be accomplished by following the property line as it goes uphill until it starts to drop again, there by walking an estimated drainage area within our campus. The students should be asking themselves, "If a drop of rainwater or a bottle of cokes spilled here and ran downhill, where would it go?" After walking what we preceive as our campus watershed we will return to the classroom.
  4. The instructor will now pass out individual topographical maps of a sufficient area that the entire drainage area of our headwaters can be mapped. There is sufficient slope in our particular area that this can be done quite easily. Each student will then take their map and with a pencil put an asterisk at all the highpoints surrounding the property along our stream. NOTE: All the highpoints on our stream are within 400 yards of our property and study area. After all high points are marked in pencil these points will be connected by a line cutting at a 90 degree angles across the elevation lines of our topo map, from one high point to the next, roughly forming a funnel shaped area. The instructor will then circulate around the room with the corrected map and check student results.
  5. Using their corrected watershed each student will be given a highlighter to go over their penciled in drainage lines.
  6. Using the legend of the topo map given them the student will determine the number of actual feet per inch shown on their map. They will then break down their drainage area into rough shapes that can be measured for length and width. Each areas length and width will be multiplied together for square footage of that area and all these square footage totals will be tallied together. We will now have the total square footage of drainage from the north, east and west of our spring and wet area.
  7. The students will then compute the number of cubic feet of water draining into our water shed by multiplying the total square footage by 3.33 (40 inches average rainfall/year divided by 12 inches). The total cubic footage, which is calculated should impress upon the students the vast amount of water that is absorbed filtered and released by even a small stream like the one on our property and how important it is.

Conclusion and Assessment

  1. Today we have walked over and studied a small but personal watershed. This belongs to everyone who has a well nearby or who lives downstream from our campus. This little noticed feature of our property is unique and important. It is a feature worth noticing and caring for both now and into the future.
  2. Before we end this lesson let's take a few minutes to write on the board a few brainstormed answers to the questions I'm about to ask. Note: These questions could also be used as a short quiz to achieve a numerical grade.

How many cubic feet of water did you calculate enters our campus watershed each year?

What sources of pollution do you see as threatening our water quality?

What possible effects will further urbanization and development to our north have on our watershed?

What can we do as citizens, joint owners, and F.F.A. members to preserve and protect our resource?

What warm blooded creatures are affected by the water quality we are trying to protect?


Swistock, Bryan R. (2002). Water & Watersheds . Penn State Department of Ecosystem Science and Management.

Swistock, Bryan R., and Sanford Smith (2001). From the Woods: Watersheds . University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University.


Ronald Fite, Dauphin County Technical School, Horticulture Dept., Grades 9-12