Lab 1: Where's the Water?

Betsy Youngman and LuAnn Dahlman
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Map , Activity , Data , Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



Where’s the Water? is the introductory activity to a series of classroom labs designed to study drought. This activity consists of three sections. In Part A, students use cartograms from to compare worldwide water consumption to population distribution. Then, using data provided on the site, students calculate the percentage of water actually available for human use. The directions for the Optional Hands-on Activity mentioned in Part A can be downloaded from a link found under Teaching Notes and Tips on the Educator Page ( In Part B, students study an illustration of the water cycle to compare the annual net movement of water through the various paths of the water cycle. Finally, in Part C, students are directed to a Scientific American website where they can peruse articles detailing actions which can be implemented to help deal with the impending freshwater crisis. As written, Part C may be of limited use in the classroom since the Scientific American report is somewhat dated and several of the articles in the report are not free. As a substitute, teachers could consider using the following resource:  Water Scarcity Solutions (  This site collects case studies from around the globe dealing with practical ways to deal with the impending water crisis.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 9
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-ESS3-4 Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth's systems.

Clarification Statement: Examples of evidence include grade-appropriate databases on human populations and the rates of consumption of food and natural resources (such as freshwater, mineral, and energy). Examples of impacts can include changes to the appearance, composition, and structure of Earth’s systems as well as the rates at which they change. The consequences of increases in human populations and consumption of natural resources are described by science, but science does not make the decisions for the actions society takes.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Where’s the Water? provides background information that will help students discuss how population growth may affect future water resources. Part A of the lab has students comparing population size to water consumption. From this activity, students will begin to understand that water use is not evenly distributed across the globe and that water use is not always proportional to population. Teachers may wish to incorporate an additional cartogram from for student use: Map 102 on Water Resources ( This map is a visual representation of the actual distribution of water resources on earth and provides students the ability to pinpoint those areas where increased population will stress resources. Part A also includes a task in which students calculate the percentage of fresh water available for human use. Part A does not task students with discussing the impacts of population growth on water resources; it just provides qualitative information for student use. Teachers will need to develop writing prompts that ask students to discuss the effect of population growth (either worldwide or in targeted areas) on resource availability in order to completely address the Performance Expectation. It should be further noted that this site only pertains to water resources

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
n this activity, students are required to interpret, compare and analyze maps on water use and population size. This resource (along with the additional map on Water Resources) will help students pinpoint those areas where water availability issues are most likely to occur in the future. Armed with this qualitative information, students will then be able to construct arguments on how population growth could affect the availability of fresh water.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
In order for students to discuss the impacts of population growth on water availability, they must be able to identify those parts of the world that may face water supply shortages now or in the near future. Part A of this lab introduces students to population distributions and per capita water use. With the additional use of the water resources map, students will gather the sufficient evidence needed to begin a discussion of the effects of population growth on water resources. By examining the case studies found on, students will gain an understanding as to how engineering solutions can abate or avert this crisis.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
In order to reinforce this Crosscutting Concept, teachers could lead a discussion on how population increases can affect local water resources, especially, in light of the fact that freshwater is not evenly distributed over the earth. The discussion should not be limited to just household water use but also on how agriculture and industry can strain water resources. Teachers should keep in mind that the Performance Expectation specifies that students are not designing solutions to increased population but just discussing the consequences of increased population on resources.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Where’s the Water? successfully combines the Scientific Practice of Analyzing Data with the Crosscutting Concept of Cause and Effect to allow students to make sense of the Disciplinary Core Idea of Human Impacts on Earth Systems. In this activity, students analyze population and water use information contained in cartograms in order to form arguments concerning the impact of human population on water resources. The information in the cartograms is qualitative but its analysis will still provide students with the information necessary to determine which areas of the world will soon feel the negative effects of human activity.

  • Instructional Supports: Where’s the Water? engages students in an authentic and relevant activity: the comparison of population to the availability/use of worldwide freshwater supplies. It does so in a scientifically accurate and grade appropriate manner. Most middle school students will have little difficulty in understanding the relationships between the cartograms; however, the site does not provide guidance to support differentiated learning for students struggling to achieve the Performance Expectation. Although the site does not provide opportunities for students to express their ideas, it does provide the information necessary for them to begin analyzing and constructing explanations for the potential crisis of fresh water supply.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The site does not provide true formative assessments, although a few “checking in” and “stop and think” questions are included. The site lacks both a coherent assessment system and associated aligned rubrics; the suggested performance assessments are not well designed and provide little support to the teacher. The strength of this site is the information that can be gathered through the linked resources. This information can then be used to analyze and interpret data on the effects of population growth on water resource.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource lacks interactivity; students are using this site only to obtain information.