This Earth Science module considers how humans are impacting the environment and how resources are being used and managed (or not managed) for the future. In particular, the module explores ground water as a shared resource and factors that affect how a resource is shared among stakeholders. Students investigate the movement of water through the hydrological cycle. The base model for this unit simulates the part of the hydrological cycle in which water falls as rain, seeps into an aquifer, and is pumped out by a single pump. Students walk through each part of the model, run experiments to better understand the model, and then modify the base model to add additional pumps and/or add variable rates for rainfall, pumping, and infiltration (soil types).

  • View the Water as a Shared Resource videos
  • Read summaries of the upcoming lessons
  • Review background documents on the hydrological cycle
  • Check your understanding

Watch the video "Water and You: The Water Cycle" and another video on the Hydrological Cycle (

Watch a video overview of the module:

Lesson 1: Introduction to Water as a Shared Resource

In this lesson students will engage in discussion about water resources and group decision making, stimulated by a video and a participatory simulation that serve to highlight group decision-making dynamics. The video will serve to get students thinking about water resources and the difficulties some people their age face in obtaining safe drinking water. The two activities will provide background on how communities make decisions, especially when dealing with a shared resource like water.

Lesson 2: Math Basics for Modeling and the Water Pumping Base Model

In this lesson, students will become familiar with the Water Pumping base model. In the first activity students will review math basics necessary for understanding the model. In the second activity students will decode the base model and run simple experiments, make observations, and identify a complex systems characteristic of the model. In the third activity, students will add an evaporation slider, and then will run an experiment, using the slider. Finally, students will be asked to think of ways to improve the model, based on what they know about the hydrologic cycle and water as a resource.

Lesson 3: Adding More Water Pumps and Running Experiments

In this lesson, the students will modify the base Water Pumping model to include additional water pumps. In the first activity, the students will add a second water pump that pulls water from the aquifer. Next, students will add monitors and a line graph that collects and displays the cumulative amount of water pumped by each pump. In the second activity, the new model can then be used as an experimental test bed. Students develop a hypothesis, run an experiment, and analyze the results to see what effect the modification had on the system.

Lesson 4: Customize Your Water Pumping Model

In this lesson, students design their own Water Pumping projects consisting of a question, experimental design and model. In the first activity, students will learn about computational science and how to design a model, and will use this knowledge to scope their project. This leads to a second activity, in which they start designing and implementing their model, using the Water Pumping base model as a starting place.

Lesson 5: Experimenting with Your New Water Pumping Model

In this lesson, students will finish coding their chosen modifications. Students will then debug their code, checking to make sure it works as they intended, and fixing errors as they find them. In the second activity, students will use their new model as an experimental test bed. They will modify the question they came up with in Lesson 4 if necessary, and they will run experiments to address this question, using repeated trials at each variable setting. Students will critically analyze their results, as well as their model, and relate it back to the bigger picture – Water as a Shared Resource. Students will reflect on what modeling water as a shared resource has taught them about resource management and their own actions as water users. Students should share their findings with the whole class.