Keywords: watersheds, Pennsylvania watersheds, groundwater, map reading, physical properties of water, water cycle, surface water; Grade Level: ninth through twelfth grade; Total Time for Lesson: four standard class periods; Setting: classroom and computer lab

Materials Needed

  • topographic maps for your school location or photocopies of that location (one per two students)
  • photocopies of material for activities ( Activity 1, Activity 2, Activity 2 answer key)
  • Pennsylvania highway maps ("Official Transportation and Tourism Map" often available at local offices of state representatives)

Concepts to Be Covered

  • Unique properties of water allow for the existence of life on earth.
  • Of all the water on the earth, only a very small amount is usable freshwater.
  • The water cycle is important in the recycling and purification of water.
  • In addition to the location of surface waters, the location of groundwater has governed the location of human settlements.
  • Groundwater and surface waters are interdependent upon each other.
  • Many factors interact with watersheds and these factors are studied when placing a value on each watershed.
  • Currently, Pennsylvania has an abundant supply of fresh water.
  • Pennsylvania's diverse geology has resulted in many water drainage patterns.

Goals for the Lesson

  • Students will be able to define the physical components of the water cycle.
  • Students will be able to trace a molecule of water through the water cycle including each of its three loops.
  • Students will be able to describe the purification process and the filtration process within the water cycle.
  • Students will be able to trace the flow of infiltrate water through aquifers and into surface waters for a typical groundwater/surface water loop.
  • Students will be able to describe why evapotranspiration demands the largest portion of total precipitation falling on a forested watershed.
  • Students will be able to define "watershed".
  • Students will become proficient at using Internet facilities to find data which can be used to study local environmental conditions.
  • Students will be able to list and locate the six major drainage systems in Pennsylvania.

Methods/ Teaching Model

Direct Instruction for presentation of terminology & concepts and for providing instruction for activities. Hands-on Learning for both activities; Cooperative Learning for "Six Ways to the Sea in PA" Activity

State Standards Addressed: E & E: Watersheds and Wetlands (4.1); Renewable and Nonrenewable Resources (4.2); Humans and the Environment (4.4)


  1. Material presented from overhead slides and from discussion can be assessed on subsequent tests.
  2. A grade can be placed on "Surfing Your Watershed" activity by grading the answers and the required print-out .
  3. A grade can be placed on "Six Ways to the Sea" activity.

Lesson Outline

  • Day 1: Introduction, notes, and discussion from overheads
  • Day 2: Finish notes and discussion from overheads on watersheds & PA watersheds, and explain activities planned for next two days
  • Day 3: "Surf Your Watershed" activity
  • Day 4: "Six Ways to the Sea" activity and conclusion

Day 1: Introduction

  1. All life depends on water. Plants need water for photosynthesis; plants & animals release water as a by-products of cellular respiration; metabolic processes need water, a biological solvent, and some organisms can exist on the water released from this cellular respiration; humans, like many other organisms, need additional water to remain alive, to grow, and to reproduce.
  2. Living in Pennsylvania, we are fortunate in having an abundance of fresh water.
  3. Worldwide, freshwater is not distributed equally, and scarcities exist throughout the world.
  4. Today, as in the past, the locations of civilizations are dependent upon fresh water, either from streams, rivers, and lakes, or from water pumped from the ground.
  5. Expanding human populations and associated advances in technology have been straining worldwide freshwater supplies and shortages are starting to occur in many locations in Pennsylvania.
  6. Presentation: Use overhead slides to cover and discuss this lesson, concentrating on the properties of water, the water cycle, surface waters, and groundwater.

Day 2 : Presentation

  1. Continue using overhead slides to cover and discuss this lesson, concentrating on watersheds and the major drainage patterns of Pennsylvania.
  2. Discuss the activities planned for the next two classes.

Day 3: Activity #1 "Surfing Your Watershed"

  1. Handout directions for this activity, which includes questions to be answered while completing the activity and explain the directions before taking students to lab.
  2. One student per terminal (for larger groups, no more than two per terminal).
  3. Locate EPA "Surf Your Watershed" Web site as a group.
  4. After all students have found the site, have them work at their own pace.
  5. If more than one watershed exists for the zip code of your school, tell the students, in advance, which watershed to "surf."
  6. Tell the students, in advance, which location on the watershed they are to check the stream flow.
  7. Students are to printout, sign names, and turn in the watershed profile, of which they will be needing for activity #2.
  8. Students are to answer questions as they proceed through this activity and turn in answers for those questions.
  9. Continually walk around the lab to monitor their progress and to insure they remain on this Web site.

Day 4 : Activity #2

  1. Handout and follow instructions on " Six Ways to the Sea in PA ."


  1. We have studied the unique properties of water that have allowed life on earth to exist.
  2. We have studied the water cycle and all of its components including groundwater.
  3. We learned of the abundant and diverse water systems of Pennsylvania.
  4. We have studied our own watershed.
  5. We have briefly touched upon misuse of our freshwater.
  6. In future lessons, we will study in detail this misuse of that renewable resource.


Nebel, Bernard J., and Richard T. Wright (1993). Environmental Science. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (Spring 2000). PLAY, Pennsylvania League of Angling Youth . Harrisburg, Pa.: Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission.

Steiner, Linda. Six Ways to the Sea. Harrisburg, Pa.: Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission .

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (2000). Surf Your Watershed .


  1. The "Surf Your Watershed" activity has potential for being adapted to other disciplines. For example, an applied chemistry class could study the watershed for all the different elements and compounds found in the water. Another possibility for an environmental science activity would be to trace the sources of pollution into the watershed, which can be found on the Web site.
  2. You will need to adapt the "Six Ways to the Sea " activity for starting and finishing at your particular school's location. I have set the activity to travel in a clockwise direction following this route: Rt 6 east to side trip following Rt. 44 north, Rt. 49 northeast, Rt. 244 north, and Rt. 449 southeast back to Rt. 6 east to I-476 south to I-76 west to I-376 west to I-279 west to I-79 north to Rt. 19 south to Rt. 97 southeast to Rt. 6 east.


Allen D. McLaughlin, Eisenhower High School, Russell, PA