Billion Oyster Project

Build a Model of your Steward-shed


Steward-shed Investigation



Class Periods




Subject Areas



Students build an impermeable model of their steward-shed in order to explore how water moves through that area’s topography.


  • Translate a 2D map to a 3D model.

  • Identify important features of their steward-shed based on prior knowledge and research.

  • Make predictions and observations about their steward-shed model.

Materials and Resources


  • Aluminum/foil pan

  • Modeling clay or similar material (ideally non-drying clay in different colors)

  • Household materials to represent the built environment on the model (e.g. paper towel roll, take-out containers, bottle caps, aluminum foil, etc.)

  • Scissors

  • Tape

  • Spray Bottle

  • Water

Before you get started

Tips for Teachers

  • Consider having the students bring in clean recycling items to use for their model (e.g. paper towel roll, take-out containers, bottle caps, aluminum foil, etc.)

  • This watershed model is supposed to be impermeable.  Do not supply students with permeable materials such as sponges or cloth for their watershed model.  That step will come in Part 8 of this investigation.


  • Prepare a zoomed-in satellite image of your class’ steward-shed, with the boundaries drawn on it, from the lesson Steward-shed Investigation Part 1 - Paper watersheds.

Instruction Plan


  1. Students get into small groups.  

  2. Each group gets a copy of the paper class steward-shed map from the previous lesson Steward-shed Investigation Part 1 - Paper Watersheds.

  3. Each group gets an aluminum tray.


  1. Students review the shape and dimensions of their class steward-shed map and decide how they will recreate it in their aluminum tray.

  2. Students review the elevation change on their class steward-shed map and decide how to represent this elevation change in a 3D model (e.g. 10 ft of elevation on the map = 1 inch of relief on the  model).  Write the conversion on the class steward-shed map.

  3. Note: this is a good opportunity for cross-over with math class as the students need to consider both proportions and conversions as they translate their 2D paper map into a 3D model.

  4. Each group gets modeling clay.

  5. Students build their steward-shed in relief.  If available, they may use different colors of clay to represent different types of land.


  1. Each group gets “Our Steward-shed” Library of Resources.

  2. Using this information and their own knowledge of the area, students choose a few notable land features to represent on their model.  (e.g. park, pier, box store, school, apartment building).

  3. On the class steward-shed map, students write down which land features they chose and why they chose them.

  4. Each group gets tape, scissors and a variety of materials with which to make these land features.

  5. Using the same scale as above, students do their best to make the land features to scale.  

  6. Students discuss: How do the buildings and other land features work into and become part of the topography? (i.e. buildings are often the tallest things around.)  What happens to precipitation that falls on top of a building?


  1. Each group gets a spray bottle.

  2. Students discuss: Does it matter how the water is sprayed on the model? If so, from what angle should it be sprayed: the side, the top, different positions?

  3. Students predict: What will happen when we spray water on our model?  Where will it go?

  4. Students should start slow with spraying the water on their model and should observe the model closely after each couple of sprays.

  5. Students record their observations in words and/or diagrams.

  6. Students discuss:

  • Which direction did the water flow?  What factors influence the direction of the water flow?

  • Where did the water collect?  Explain why it collected there.

  • Name some different types of pollutants you might find in your steward-shed?

  • What do you predict will happen when you spray water over the pollutants on your steward-shed model?


  1. Based on their results, students revisit the class steward-shed map.  

  2. Students consider:

    • Does the model seem to be a good representation of the map?

    • Do we need to make any changes to our model at this point?  


NGSS - Cross-Cutting Concepts

  • Cause and Effect

    • Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.
    • Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural systems.
  • Influence of Engineering, Technology, and Science on Society and the Natural World

    • All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment.
    • The uses of technologies and any limitation on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions. Thus technology use varies from region to region and over time.
  • Scale, Proportion, and Quantity

    • Time, space, and energy phenomena can be observed at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small.
  • Science Addresses Questions About the Natural and Material World

    • Scientific knowledge can describe the consequences of actions but does not necessarily prescribe the decisions that society takes
  • Structure and Function

    • Complex and microscopic structures and systems can be visualized, modeled, and used to describe how their function depends on the relationships among its parts, therefore complex natural structures/systems can be analyzed to determine how they function.
    • Structures can be designed to serve particular functions by taking into account properties of different materials, and how materials can be shaped and used.
    • Structures can be designed to serve particular functions.
  • Systems and System Models

    • Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions.
    • Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy and matter flows within systems.
    • Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems.

NGSS - Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes

    • Water continually cycles among land, ocean, and atmosphere via transpiration, evaporation, condensation and crystallization, and precipitation, as well as downhill flows on land.
    • Water’s movements—both on the land and underground—cause weathering and erosion, which change the land’s surface features and create underground formations.
  • ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems

    • Human activities have significantly altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species. But changes to Earth’s environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things.
  • ETS1.A: Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems

    • The more precisely a design task’s criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that are likely to limit possible solutions.
  • ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions

    • A solution needs to be tested, and then modified on the basis of the test results, in order to improve it.
  • ETS1.C: Optimizing the Design Solution

    • Although one design may not perform the best across all tests, identifying the characteristics of the design that performed the best in each test can provide useful information for the redesign process - that is, some of the characteristics may be incorporated into the new design. (secondary)
    • Although one design may not perform the best across all tests, identifying the characteristics of the design that performed the best in each test can provide useful information for the redesign process—that is, some of those characteristics may be incorporated into the new design.
  • LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

    • Organisms, and populations of organisms, are dependent on their environmental interactions both with other living things and with nonliving factors.

NGSS - Science and Engineering Practices

  • Asking Questions and Defining Problems

    • Ask questions that can be investigated within the scope of the classroom, outdoor environment, and museums and other public facilities with available resources and, when appropriate, frame a hypothesis based on observations and scientific principles.
    • Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions.
  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

    • Undertake a design project, engaging in the design cycle, to construct and/or implement a solution that meets specific design criteria and constraints.
  • Developing and Using Models

    • Develop a model to describe unobservable mechanisms
    • Develop a model to generate data to test ideas about designed systems, including those representing inputs and outputs.
    • Develop a model to predict and/or describe phenomena
  • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

    • Gather, read, and synthesize information from multiple appropriate sources and assess the credibility, accuracy, and possible bias of each publication and methods used, and describe how they are supported or not supported by evidence.

NYC Science Scope & Sequence - Units

  • Grade 6, Unit 2

    • Weather and Atmosphere
  • Grade 6, Unit 4

    • Interdependence
  • Grade 7, Unit 1

    • Geology
  • Grade 8, Unit 4

    • Humans and the Environment: Needs and Tradeoffs