Alaska Sea Grant

Grade 3 - Rivers to the Sea and Back Again

Grade 3 - Rivers to the Sea and Back Again

Kodiak Stream and Mountains
Kodiak stream and mountains, photo courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service

A 7-9 Week Science Unit for Intermediate Level

Essential Questions:

  • How are we connected to wetlands, rivers and the sea?
  • What is the salmon’s life journey through the wetlands, rivers and the sea?
  • Where does our local water come from and where does it go?

Enduring Understandings:

  • Watersheds, rivers, wetlands, and the one big ocean of the world are an interconnected system.
  • Salmon depend on the rivers and the ocean during parts of their life cycle.
  • Science is a way to answer questions about the world around us.

Watershed investigations in this unit have been revised to align with NGSS Performance Expectations for Grade 3-5.

This unit is designed for 3rd grade, but could be adapted to other grades. Students develop knowledge of watersheds and the water cycle, as well as knowledge of the life cycle of salmon and the needs of salmon as they relate to watersheds. Activities include stories, discussion, a “crumpled-paper” watershed activity, a water cycle simulation game, collaborative research, and a field trip to a local water body to assess its potential to support salmon. Finally, students create and demonstrate a model of a healthy watershed. Language arts and art are incorporated into the unit, as are science notebooks.

Ocean Literacy Principles Addressed:

  • The Earth has one big ocean with many features.
  • The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate.
  • The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.
Investigation 1

Investigation 1: Where Does My Water Come From?
(3-4 class periods)

Where does our local water come from and where does it go?
What is a watershed?
Where does your drinking water come from? How do you know?

After a listening to a story about a river, students are introduced to watersheds by simulating a watershed with crumpled paper, ink, and water. They investigate the sources of home drinking water in their community, through home inquiry and an actual or virtual field trip. They discuss their experiences and ask questions to help them understand the interconnections in their local watershed.

Investigation 2

Investigation 2: Where Does Our Water Go?
(4 class periods)

Students develop understanding of the water cycle through two separate activities.

Activity 2A: Water Cycle Simulation

How does water move through the water cycle?
Why don’t we run out of water?
Students take part in a simulation of water moving through the water cycle through various paths, visiting nine stations around the classroom. They record and reflect on their journey and build simple water cycle models using ziplock bags or jars.

Activity 2B: Dirty Water/Clean Water

Where does the water go after we have used it?
Students learn about water pollution and wastewater treatment through a visit from a local “expert” or to the local wastewater treatment plant and make posters or presentations to share and clarify their understanding.

Investigation 3

Investigation 3: A Salmon’s Life Journey
(10-15 class periods)

What is the salmon’s life journey through the wetlands, rivers, and the sea?
What are the salmon life cycle stages and where does each take place within the watershed?

Students investigate salmon life cycle stages and their relationship to parts of the watershed. They use cards to generate questions and ideas, and work cooperatively to research the salmon’s life journey through a watershed, answer the questions, and gather evidence for their claims. They share and discuss their findings with the class, and demonstrate their knowledge by making posters.

Investigation 4

Investigation 4: Fish Finders: Could Salmon Live Here?
(4 class periods)

What do salmon need to survive during their various life stages?
How can we find out if salmon could live in a local water body?
How does our local water body fit in the watershed?

Students explore the needs of salmon at each stage of their life cycle, and then go into the field to investigate a local aquatic habitat and its potential as salmon habitat. They observe the physical characteristics of a local area and determine whether they think it is sufficient to sustain salmon.

Investigation 5

Investigation 5: Make Your Own Watershed
(2 or more class periods)

What are the components of a watershed that can support salmon?
Students demonstrate their understanding of watersheds by creating a model watershed that could support salmon. They write narrative stories about the journey of a salmon through their personal watershed, and explain and present to the class.

Tom McKenna, Teacher, Juneau, Alaska
Terry Slaven, Teacher, Wasilla, Alaska
Jennifer Wardes, Teacher, Kasilof, Alaska
Marilyn Sigman, Scientist, Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, Homer, Alaska
Stephanie Hoag, Curriculum Consultant, Juneau, Alaska
Marla Brownlee, Alaska Sea Grant

Alaska Sea Grant University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Department of Education and Early Development NOAA