Flash Flood Fantasy

National Park Service
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Demonstration , Experiment/Lab Activity , Model
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.



Flash Flood Fantasy is a stand alone lesson contained within the Caves, Canyons, Cactus and Critters curriculum for Carlsbad Canyon National Park.  In this activity, students construct individual stream trays in order to observe and describe canyon erosion.  Students record their observations and use them in constructing an explanation for the physical features that form as a result of running water.  The model construction and investigation should take a 50 minute period; an additional period may be needed to construct explanations.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Middle School
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

MS-ESS2-2 Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth's surface at varying time and spatial scales.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on how processes change Earth’s surface at time and spatial scales that can be large (such as slow plate motions or the uplift of large mountain ranges) or small (such as rapid landslides or microscopic geochemical reactions), and how many geoscience processes (such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and meteor impacts) usually behave gradually but are punctuated by catastrophic events. Examples of geoscience processes include surface weathering and deposition by the movements of water, ice, and wind. Emphasis is on geoscience processes that shape local geographic features, where appropriate.

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
In Flash Flood Fantasy, students investigate water’s role in changing the topography of Earth’s surface. Individual stream trays are constructed and used as models of Southwest US canyons. The model provides students an opportunity to gather information on water’s role in changing surface features. As written, the activity does not task students with evaluating and analyzing their recorded observations. In order to fulfill the Performance Expectation, teachers will need to construct writing prompts for students to use in formulating explanations. Teachers could pose a single, open ended question, asking students to discuss the role of water flow in shaping Earth’s features based on the information gathered from their model. Conversely, teachers may choose to scaffold their prompts by first asking specific questions based on student observations (What did you see? Did changing the quantity of water result in different changes to the topography?) before constructing more abstract questions. This particular activity only deals with sudden changes in Earth’s surface as a result of flash floods. Teachers may want to pose additional questions about the condition of Earth’s topography resulting from slow water flows over millions of years.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
In this activity, students are tasked with constructing a stream tray that models a canyon and then observing, sketching, and describing the state of their stream tray during the various runs of the model. In order to maximize the learning capabilities of the model, students should be encouraged to experiment with their stream trays. This can be most easily achieved if teachers implement the extension activities included with the lesson. For example, students could compare the changes in topography when vegetation has been included or the effect of slope on their models by tilting their trays. Students might also be asked to explain the appearance of alluvial fans during the different runs.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The activity, as written, covers basic erosion concepts; however, to fully explore the scope of water’s effect on surface features, teachers should incorporate the extension activities as part of the lab experience. These modifications introduce different variables into the scenarios and are inexpensive and easy to incorporate into the activity.

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
Teachers may want students to compare their models to actual examples of flash floods. A video of the Johnson Canyon Flash Flood which occurred on July 28, 2017 can be found at: http://fox13now.com/2017/07/29/video-captures-flash-flood-in-johnson-canyon/. After viewing this clip, students can then assess how sudden events can change topography. In addition, they can also evaluate how their scaled models compare to the actual event both in intensity and surface changes.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Flash Flood Fantasy provides a solid, hands-on experience of 3-dimensional learning. In the lesson, students construct and use a model of a canyon (Practice) in order to investigate water’s role in erosion (Disciplinary Core Idea). Throughout the lesson, students employ the Crosscutting Concept of Stability and Change to evaluate the power of water to change topography. Since this lesson concentrates on canyons found in the Southwest, teachers will need to incorporate local examples of flooding in order to motivate students to make sense of the phenomenon covered in this lesson.

  • Instructional Supports: Flash Flood Fantasy uses scientifically accurate and grade‐appropriate scientific information to support students in their investigation of the effect of water flow on surface features. The hands on model is engaging to use and provides students with relevant phenomena to make sense of the Disciplinary Core Idea. Since students are working in small groups, there are opportunities for students to discuss their observations and to receive feedback. Teachers should supplement the activity with writing prompts for students to complete in their journals. The activity does not provide any suggestions on differentiation.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The authors do not provide the means to assess student progress; however, teachers can monitor student progress through anecdotal observations during student use of the model and in student responses to teacher created writing prompts. Formative assessments, aligned rubrics and scoring guidance are not provided.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Flash Flood Fantasy is a hands on modeling experience. Computer access is not needed.