River Models for K-12 STEM Education
Emriver stream tables are dynamic and engaging hands-on laboratories that put science, technology, engineering, and math into action. An interdisciplinary approach to teaching how rivers work creates good stewards of natural resources and prepares students for careers in STEM fields. At least a dozen students can view and work with the Em2 stream table at the same time, and the larger Em3 and Em4 simulated river systems can be viewed by larger groups. Emriver stream tables engage students in lessons, experiments, and discussions about topics such as:
- Geology: Fluvial geomorphology, how rivers work, erosion, deposition, meandering, slope, channel migration, continuity
- Environmental science: How human activity impacts rivers, planning (e.g. developing in floodplains)
- Math: Measure stream flow and discharge, create and read hydrographs
- Engineering: How dams, culverts, and other structures affect rivers
- Technology: Use photogrammetry to create 3D models of a river system
Teaching and Demonstrations
- Little River’s Emriver Lab Manual contains lessons that can be adapted for the appropriate age group
- Stream Table Lesson Packet for grades 3-6 developed by Jennifer Guarino, Ecotone Education, and Larry Kasden, ONRCD
- Kids Lab for elementary and middle-school students at the University of Basel, Switzerland, exploring river science. One example of how they use the model is to ask students how a gorge like the Grand Canyon can form. The children are free to hypothesize and find the answer by running an experiment in the Em2.
- Watershed on Wheels Environmental Education Program: Lessons by Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge and the Vermont Institute of Natural Science:
- Teach basic principles of river geomorphology, introduce vocabulary, review or introduce how water cycles through the environment, understand and explore how a river has formed since the last Ice Age, explore the concept of a watershed and properties of erosion.
- Little River Research & Design and the Missouri Department of Conservation made a series of videos using the Emriver stream tables to help students better understand geomorphic processes in rivers. Examples of the videos include headcuts, tributary incision, meandering, wetland draining, bank failure, mining, effects of dams and weirs. Our YouTube channel includes a playlist of all these River Geomorphology videos. Each video in the playlist includes a description, but you can also download a teaching guide.
(Many of the videos are also available online, hosted by Carleton College. A DVD with all videos is included with a model purchase. Or you can purchase the entire series on DVD from Little River.)
- High school students use an Em2 to learn about rivers.
- Erosion and Deposition
- Effects of Dredging
- Rebalancing Bank Erosion Rates
- Weirs and Impact on River Life
- Understanding Flooding
Online Resources for Geoscience Education
- Carleton College’s Science Education Resource Center was founded to improve education in the earth sciences and beyond. Engaging participants from more than 1,000 institutions of higher education and K-12 curriculum developers and teachers, it’s one of the world’s largest collections of pedagogic resources. In collaboration with instructors, institutions and national organizations, they support educations, disseminate knowledge, and engage the community.On their K-12 site, find hundreds of classroom activities organized by grade level and topic and guidance on effective teaching. Many of these resources were developed for a K-12 audience; others can be adapted to K-12 classrooms.
I’ve been using the Em2 for almost a decade to teach kids about the anatomy of a healthy river system as well as the impacts that people may have upon them. Thanks to the hands-on nature of the Em2, students who experience the table are highly engaged and motivated to experiment and explore various concepts. The power of the model to illustrate complex concepts and largescale river events in such a clear, concise, and tangible way is simply priceless.