Modeling the Erosion Process

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SWBAT model the process of erosion and explain how Earth's systems interact during the weathering and erosion processes.

Big Idea

In this lesson, students construct a stream table model to explore the process of erosion. Students then examine how the Earth's systems interact during the weathering and erosion processes.

Lesson Overview

Inquiry Based Instructional Model

To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):

1. Focus

2. Explore

3. Reflect

4. Apply

A framework for implementation can be found here

I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase while others may begin at the explore phase. 

Finally, an amazing article found at, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEM, very clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices. 

Unit Explanation

In this unit, students will study each of Earth's major systems: biosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere. In addition, students will investigate how these systems interact in multiple ways to affect Earth's materials and processes by conducting research, constructing graphs, creating models, carrying out scientific investigations, and analyzing real-world applications. 

Summary of Lesson

Today, students continue to explore the erosion process by constructing and observing a stream table model. At the end of the lesson, students reflect and apply their new understanding of the weathering and erosion by examining how the Earth's systems interact during these processes.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will support the following NGSS Standard(s):'

5-ESS2-1. Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.  

Scientific & Engineering Practices

For this lesson, students are engaged in Science & Engineering Practice:

Science & Engineering Practice 2: Developing and Using Models

Students construct an stream table model to analyze how the hydrosphere interacts with the geosphere during the process of erosion. 

Crosscutting Concepts

To relate ideas across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on the following Crosscutting Concept

Crosscutting Concept 2: Cause and Effect 

Students examine cause and effect relationships as they explain the changes in their stream tables.  

Disciplinary Core Ideas

In addition, this lesson also aligns with the following Disciplinary Core Ideas

ESS2.A:  Earth Materials and Systems

Earth’s major systems are the geosphere (solid and molten rock, soil, and sediments), the hydrosphere (water and ice), the atmosphere (air), and the biosphere (living things, including humans). These systems interact in multiple ways to affect Earth’s surface materials and processes. The ocean supports a variety of ecosystems and organisms, shapes landforms, and influences climate. Winds and clouds in the atmosphere interact with the landforms to determine patterns of weather. (5-ESS2-1)

Choosing Science Teams

With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of two or three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half or thirds. 

Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles

To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!  


50 minutes

Now that students have learned about each of the Earth's spheres (biosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere), I want to provide students with the opportunity to examine real-world applications using this new knowledge. For this reason, over a three-lesson period, students will research the weathering and erosion processes, construct a stream table model, analyze how the Earth's systems interact during the weathering and erosion processes, and use their understanding of systems interacting to investigate erosion control methods. 

Lesson Explanation

Day 1: Yesterday, students researched the difference between weathering and erosion. Then, they explored the erosion process further by researching online resources. 

Day 2: Today, students continue studying the process of erosion by observing a stream table model. Students also examine how the Earth's systems are interacting during the weathering and erosion processes. 

Day 3: Tomorrow, students will use their understanding of how the Earth's system interact during the erosion process to investigate the Dust Bowl and erosion control methods. 

Lesson Introduction & Goal 

I introduce today's learning goal: I can model the process of erosion and explain how Earth's systems interact in the atmosphere. 

Yesterday, you all did a wonderful job researching the processes of weathering and erosion. Today, you'll get to explore erosion further by creating a model of the erosion process! 


Prior to this lesson, I set out the following materials:



During today's investigation, students will observe how Earth materials (sand & gravel) erode away in a stream table: Erosion Stream Table Investigation. I want students to see how the hydrosphere (water) interacts with the geosphere (land) during the process of erosion. To add another layer of discovery, I add gravel to the sand so that students can observe how lighter weight sediment travels further than heavier sediment. Finally, it is important for students to grasp the idea that landforms on Earth (such as canyons and caves) are created due to the interactions of spheres during the processes of erosion and weathering.

Observation Chart

At this point, I pass out an Observation Chart to each student for students to document their observations during the investigation. 

Teacher Note: The above observation chart has been modified. Originally, I had planned on having students take observations every thirty seconds: Original Observation Chart. Immediately, I realized that this was not realistic and didn't provide students with enough time to complete their notes. Instead, we took notes four times during this investigation: at the beginning, after pouring 1/3 of the water in the one-liter bottle, then another 1/3 of the water, and then the last 1/3 of water. Pouring three times works out perfectly as each group has three students. 

Getting Supplies

I ask each student in each group to silently show me a #1, #2, or #2 on their hands. To distribute the investigation supplies, I ask: Can #1 students get a one-liter bottle of water? Can #2 students get a stream table? Can #3 students get a piece of making tape and a ruler? To avoid congestion, I wait until students return to their desks before asking the next students to get their supplies. This makes for easy clean up as well: Can #3 students return the rulers to the back counter? 

As soon as students have all the supplies needed for the investigation, I ask students to join me at the back table so I can demonstrate how to set up the stream tables. 

Teacher Demonstration

Video: Teacher Demonstration

What is Erosion?

I begin by review the meaning of erosion. Students immediately refer to the Weathering & Erosion Anchor Chart from yesterday's lesson. One student volunteers, "Erosion is the movement of earth materials from place to another."

Sand & Gravel

I then ask: How might the sand travel differently from the gravel? I want to get students thinking about the stream table by making predictions about what will happen. On student says, "The sand will move faster because it is smaller and lighter." I love how one student reflects back on our gravity unit when we studied mass and weight and comments, "They would have the same mass if you put them in two buckets." Looking back on this, I now realize that he means that a half pound of sand is equal to a half pound of gravel. 

How to Set Up

Next, I explain how to create a slope using the one inch binders and how balance the cup between the ruler and edge of the stream table. Later, the class and I discover that securing the cup with tape is very helpful as well.

Observing the Spheres 

Before sending students off to investigate, I remind students of our lesson's goal: 1) to observe the erosion process and 2) to watch how the Earth's spheres are interacting.

Time to Investigate! 

In no time, students are ready to set up their own investigation: Groups Begin Setting Up

After students have their stream tables set up, they begin making their first round of observations. When groups are ready, they slowly pour about 1/3 of the one-liter bottle into the cup and, thereafter, they record another round of observations. To encourage precise vocabulary and higher level thinking, I ask students to share their observations out loud: Making Observations

Monitoring Student Understanding

Once students begin working, I conference with every group. My goal is to support students by asking guiding questions (listed below). I also want to encourage students to engage in Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence

  1. What patterns have you noticed? 
  2. Why do you suppose ____? 
  3. What have you found so far? 
  4. Has your thinking changed? 
  5. What evidence do you have? 
  6. How did you decide _____?
  7. What conclusion can you draw about ____?
  8. How is the ____ (sphere) interacting with the ____ (sphere)?

Student Conferences

During this conference, Students Drawing Conclusions about Rivers, I love listening to the students draw conclusions about rivers. They decide, based upon their observations, that a larger and faster moving river has the power to move more sediment. 

Student Work

Here are examples of student observations during this time. Looking back, I wish I would have slowed this process down a bit so that students could take more careful notes. 

Reflect & Apply

20 minutes

Sharing Findings

Now that students have built meaning and understanding by observing, questioning, and exploring, it is important to provide students with the opportunity to share their findings. For this reason, I invite students to observe how all of the Earth's major spheres interact during the weathering and erosion processes while observing the following pictures. 

Teacher Note: This activity supports NGSS standard, 5-ESS2-1: Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact

Google Documents

Each of my students has a google email account, so sharing documents that can be edited by students is quick and easy! At this time, I share the document, Weathering, Erosion, & Spheres Response (in Google Documents). At this time, students grab their laptop computers and copy the document to make it their own editable version.

Student Work

Here are a few examples of student work during this time: