CASE STUDY: California's delta (2 of 3)

Print Lesson


Students will be able to 1) describe how historical maps of California's delta reveal competing ideas about its purpose; 2) define a stakeholder; and 3) articulate competing stakeholder needs in the California delta

Big Idea

Scientists use geographic information systems to develop maps of important features of physical geography. How might we use the California delta as a case study of how maps can be arguments for stakeholders’ ideas about how to use the environment?

FRAME: Mapping change over time

How do maps represent different versions of place that align to stakeholder interests? In this second lesson of the CASE STUDY sequence, students build on their understanding of California's delta system from the first lesson through collaborative analyses of maps and stakeholders. What do the claims that historical maps of California's delta system indicate about the changing definitions of California's delta? What does the data chosen for these maps indicate about the needs of the stakeholders that produced them? 

Students first develop an overview of these ideas through a FLIPPED assignment. In class, students explore the history of the California delta through an interactive digital maps activity. Students will approach the delta as "ecological detectives" that use maps to piece together a narrative about the delta. Students will then shift their focus to delta stakeholders. Finally, students will share ideas about how stakeholder needs might conflict.  By the end of this second lesson, students should be able to describe the history of the California delta as portrayed by historical maps, describe the needs of stakeholders in the the California delta, and use engineering design thinking to explain how different human needs results in often conflicting problems and solution ideas.  

By the end of this CASE STUDY sequence, successful students will have met the following objectives:

  1. define a delta
  2. explain the key features of California's delta through the lens of environmental protection
  3. describe how historical maps of California's delta reveal competing ideas about its purpose
  4. define a stakeholder
  5. articulate competing stakeholder needs in the California delta
  6. evaluate a proposed plan to address California's water crisis
  7. develop an argument about how maps can be tools of environmental justice or injustice depending on the information they contain.


  • The included prototype activity guide is a basic template that might be differentiated for a a group of diverse learners.

FLIPPED: Who are the delta stakeholders?

What is the purpose of this flipped activity?

Students learn the definition of "stakeholders," cite examples of stakeholders in the California delta system, and explore different problems faced by various stakeholders.  Students will document responses in the Google documents they shared during the prior lesson.  By the end of this activity, students should be able to define "stakeholder", provide an example of a stakeholder, and connect the needs of stakeholders in California to the future of California's delta system.

TASK 1 (basic): Students start with this definition of stakeholders and paraphrase it.  (Students may also reference these examples from the previous lesson.) Students then write a sentence in this form: "(example) is a stakeholder in the California delta system because (description of value of the California delta to the stakeholder).

TASK 2 (advanced): Students next watch ​California’s water future and respond to this prompt:

There are multiple perspectives presented about the importance of water. Different groups have different ideas about water. These groups represent stakeholder interests. What are TWO stakeholder interests described in this clip? How do these different stakeholders want to impact California's water future?  It will not be necessary to watch this entire clip to gather information about TWO stakeholders.

TASK 2 NOTE: This video clip may not load immediately. Students should be warned in advance that this clip may take 30 seconds or more to load.

EXPLAIN: Historical maps

25 minutes

What is the purpose of this activity?

Students mine an online interactive slideshow for cartographic evidence of the emergence of the environmental problems facing the California delta system. Additionally, students conduct peer review through a shared Google doc structure.  By the end of this activity, students should be able to describe how the delta has changed over time, cite appropriate maps to support claims about these changes, and identify stakeholders that might use a map to support solution ideas for environmental problems.  

ALTERNATIVE MAPS RESOURCE NOTE: Teacher may also want to explore the wealth and maps and diagram resources here as an alternative to the historical maps slideshow. These resources may be better students for students with underdeveloped reading and writing proficiency.

What will students do?

Students access this interactive historical map and respond to the following prompt:

How has the California delta system changed over time? Develop a claim and support this claim with FIVE pieces of evidence from the map.  Based on your collected evidence, what kinds of stakeholder interests would be best supported?

Students should make their way sequentially through this slideshow; however, they will not need to examine every slide.  Student may be able to develop a claim about change over time from a single slide. However, students should examine at least THREE slides for maps that support the claim made. Many students will identify some variation of "environmental protection" as the stakeholder interest best supported by the maps.  Other stakeholder interests, such as business development or agriculture could also be supported by evidence. The key objective is for students to be able to connect evidence to their claim.  Students that struggle with this task should refer to their work from the FLIPPED assignment.  How did the visualized data in the short documentary support claims made about delta stakeholders?

What will teachers do?

Students will not be able to process all of the information available in this activity.  Teachers need to frame this activity as one that requires focus on only a few slides.  Additionally, teachers may need to support students' selection of available map evidence with claims made about stakeholders.  One effective strategy for supporting students' proficiency with evidence is to have students proficient with this skill explain their process to struggling students. I like to limit these learner-teacher partnerships to no more than THREE per proficient student.  While students teaching students is an effective learning strategy, it should not limit proficient students from developing an even deeper skill set and knowledge base.

ELABORATE: Modern day stakeholders

20 minutes

What is the purpose of this activity?

Students read an article from the New York Times about the California delta in order to define current stakeholder interests.  Students also apply engineering design thinking to stakeholder groups to explain how different groups of people can have competing ideas about the future of the California delta.  Finally, student groups engage in a "flash debate" and share ideas that emerge with the rest of the class. By the end of this activity, students will have identified a current stakeholder group in the California delta, and describe a problem this group faces and a solution that this group develops to solve the problem.

NOTE: This activity was modified from the original version in class.  Originally, student participated in a jigsaw activity in which they read and presented interpretations of different stakeholder profiles based on hypothetical stakeholder roles.  (See the prototype activity guide for these descriptions.)  This recently publish article accomplishes the same goal with more relevant, real-world examples.

What will students do?

First student groups are assigned to one of the following stakeholder groups:

  • farmers
  • environmental groups

In total there should be three pairs of groups (six total).  Each pair will eventually engage in a short debate.  

Second, each student group will have 8 minutes to collaboratively make meaning of this article from the perspective of the assigned stakeholder group.  How does your group believe the delta should be used?  Why does this group think the delta should be used this way? What does your group have to say about the needs of the other group? 

Third, student groups will have 5 minutes to develop a claim supported with evidence. This clam will be presented to the paired group in a "flash debate."

Fourth, student groups will engage in flash debate for 3 minutes.  One team will present a claim with evidence for 30 seconds; then the opposing team will present a claims with evidence.  Both teams have one minute to develop a counterclaim and then each team presents a counterclaim to the other.  Students have experience with making claims and evidence from the previous unit.

Finally, students groups share out takeaways.  What are the wants of each stakeholder group?  How does each support its ideas? 

What will the teacher do?

This article will be long for some students and contains sophisticated vocabulary.  Teachers may want to create annotated versions of this article that contains definitions of terms and highlights areas that contain information for each stakeholder group. Students in my courses are familiar with the debate format from previous courses; however, teacher should model this process for students without prior experience.

EXIT: Fab five

10 minutes

What will students do as an EXIT?

As a final activity, students answer a prompt on scrap paper and place the paper in a box at the front of the room.  (Anything to collect paper will do.)  Here is the prompt:

Choose one California delta stakeholder that you have learned about so far. What does this stakeholder want? Why? What kind of map would this group use as evidence to support its position? How do you think this group would solve the problems facing the California delta? How should we choose which solutions ideas to implement? Describe your ideas in a short paragraph and place in the box at the front of the room.  You have five minutes.

Once all students have contributed ideas, the teacher will randomly select five students to come up to the box and draw a paper to read at random. Each student reads the paper at the front of the room. When all students have read the class is over.  This is an excellent strategy that allows students to summarize main ideas as a group and allows the teacher to conduct formative assessment.  What misconceptions do students have about stakeholders?