Steward-shed Investigation



Class Periods




Subject Areas

Science, Social Studies


Students collect information about permeable and impermeable surfaces in their steward-shed, first from their own local knowledge, and then using map resources.  Finally, they devise methods for measuring permeability themselves, in the field.


  • Share their local knowledge of permeability in their steward-shed.

  • Evaluate the different uses of different kinds of surfaces, based on their local knowledge.

  • Use selected resources, such as satellite images and NYC’s Oasis map, to add new information to their local knowledge base.

  • In the classroom, develop a few different methods of measuring the permeability of different surfaces, which they can later use in the field.

Materials and Resources


  • Post-its

  • Colored pencils or markers, preferably including dark green, light green, blue, and beige/yellow/light brown for each table.

  • A bunch of materials students might think to ask for when they develop a method for measuring permeability.  Some good possibilities:

    • Containers with water

    • A way to measure the water

    • A way to measure time

    • A wide tube that can hold water (e.g. a soup can with top and bottom both removed, maybe with the edges taped over to avoid sharps)

    • A way to mark the insides of the tube (duct tape, sharpies, or both together should work)

    • A way to seal the edge of the tube to pavement or a classroom substitute -- plumber’s putty is perfect, but other clays and putties can also work.

    • Some soil in a tray

    • Some empty trays

Before you get started

Tips for Teachers

  • Before teaching this lesson you need a defined steward-shed for your class -- which students create with you in the earlier lesson Steward-shed Investigation Part 1 - Paper Watersheds


  • Explore runoff and permeability in your class’ steward-shed using Google Earth/Maps Satellite View and Oasis, as described in “Our Steward-shed” Library of Resources under “Maps to Study Runoff”.  Based on the information available for your steward-shed, decide which resources you will encourage your students to explore.  

  • Optional: explore the NYC Planimetric resources as well.  For most neighborhoods, we think those will be most useful for in-depth research, and not necessarily for your students’ first pass at this kind of research.

  • Prepare a zoomed-in satellite image of your class’ steward-shed, with the boundaries drawn on it.

Instruction Plan


  1. Students have a satellite map of their class steward-shed (details in “Preparation” section, above).

  2. Ask your students, “Think about what happens in this place when it rains.  Based on your personal memories of this place, where can the rain water sink into the steward-shed and stay there for a while?  Where in this place does rain immediately run off the surface, flowing downhill?”

  3. Post their responses under the label “Based on personal memory” -- so that later they can compare what they remembered with what they learned from maps, and what they learned from direct observation.


  1. Students access the resources you have selected from “Our Steward-shed” Library of Resources.  (You should choose these in advance based on your steward-shed and your students -- see “Preparation” for details).

  2. Students or groups have maps of the class steward-shed, and explore the resources you have selected to annotate the map -- ideally with access to post-its and colored pencils or markers -- to show the permeable and impermeable surfaces they find evidence of.  

    • You might instruct students to use the same color-coding that is used in Oasis under “Environmental Characteristics” -- dark green for trees/forest, light green for grassland, beige or light yellow or brown for impervious, and blue for water.


  1. Students or groups share out some of the runoff information they have found.

    • Post their findings under the title, “Based on maps”.

    • As questions come up, post them, to see if students will be able to answer some of them throughout their research in this Steward-shed Investigation.

  2. Ask your students, “where do you think it’s good for our community to have impermeable surfaces?  Where do you think it’s good for our community to have permeable surfaces?  Why?

  3. If there are differences of opinion, focus on those to motivate a second round of research in the resources you have selected.


  1. Students go back into the resources, in search of the best and worst spots in the steward-shed for permeable and impermeable surfaces.

  2. Students share out the new things they have noticed, while you continue to post their findings and questions.

This would be a good time to break until the next class.


  1. Ask your students, “Some types of paving materials are more permeable than others.  And some kinds of soils are more permeable than others.  How could we measure that for ourselves, in the field?”

  2. Students sketch and try out ideas in small groups.

  3. Groups present their best methods to the class for feedback.

  4. Based on these methods, you can prepare materials for the next lesson, Steward-shed Investigation Part 7 - Runoff Based on Field Observations.


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