Billion Oyster Project

Runoff Based on Field Observations


Steward-shed Investigation



Class Periods




Subject Areas



Students go to a specific location within their class steward-shed to observe, document and test permeable and impermeable surfaces.


  • Make a determination as to what area of their steward-shed on which to focus, based on prior knowledge and research.

  • Observe permeable and impermeable surface and infer how they might impact runoff.

Materials and Resources


  • Clipboards

  • Water bottle full of water for each student

  • Extra water

  • Other reasonable materials the students suggested for simulating runoff and  testing permeability

Before you get started

Tips for Teachers

  • Working outdoors or in the field goes more smoothly if students have a clipboard!  Trying to use folders, notebooks, or the backs of friends adds unnecessary distractions to an already distracting outdoor environment.

  • You will need to bring extra water with you in the field, for use during the activity.  It doesn’t have to be potable water.  Consider using buckets with line to get water from nearby waterbody, carrying a gallon jug of water, or buying a portable water sprayer ($15-$150 from Home Depot).


  • Visit your class steward-shed before this lesson.  Look around for areas that may be especially interesting in terms of permeable and impermeable surfaces that cannot be seen on the maps or resources in the previous lesson.  

  • Consider how big an area you want to try and cover while in the field.  How big an area can your students observe and document?

  • Consider whether you want to visit the same location as Steward-shed Investigation Part 4 - Pollution Based on Field Observations.

  • Prepare or have the students bring in the materials that they suggest for testing the permeability of the steward-shed.

Instruction Plan


  1. Students get into small groups.

  2. Groups get all versions of their Class Steward-shed Map, their steward-shed models and the

  3. Be sure that the “Based on Personal Memory,” “Based on Maps”  and “Based on Field Observation” posters are available for the class to see.

  4. Explain: “We will be going out into the field to look for and document how runoff moves through our steward-shed and where there are permeable and impermeable surfaces.  Looking at your maps and models decide where you think would be a good place within our steward-shed to observe these things.”

  5. Groups review their maps and models and determine which specific place within the class steward-shed they would like to visit first.  Students may want to investigate an area that has something of interest they could see on the map resources or an area that led them to some questions.

  6. Students or groups share out where they would like to go and why.

  7. After share out, make a determination (either executive or democratic) as to the specific place to go within the class steward-shed.

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


  1. In this activity, students will be testing their predictions of where water will flow.

  2. Go into the field.

  3. Students get into small groups.

  4. Each group gets a clipboard with their versions of the Class Steward-shed Map and a clean copy of the Class Steward-shed Map.

  5. Students look at their Class Steward-shed Maps and at the surroundings.

  6. Students make predictions about where the water will flow and how it will interact with different permeable and impermeable surfaces.

  7. Explain: “Now you will be testing your predictions (inferences) of:

    • Where the water will flow

    • Where the water will flow fastest and most slowly

    • Where the water will pick up and drop different pollutants and litter

  8. Students use their water bottles to pour water on the ground creating some flow.  Students should test several locations to test their predictions from earlier.

  9. Note: Students may have other tests to conduct depending on what they came up with in last lesson.

  10. Students record the results of their tests on one of the copies of their Class Steward-shed Map.

  11. Gather students back together.

  12. Explain: if students have monitored their Oyster Restoration Station (ORS) you might want to ask them to think back to the Land Conditions data they collected for Protocol 1 - Site Conditions.  See excerpt of data sheet below:

Land Conditions  (Take a photograph of the water with your camera)

Shoreline type:

Bulkhead/wall  |  Fixed Pier  |  Floating Dock  |  Riprap/Rocky Shoreline  |  Dirt or Sand |  Other

Estimate percent surface cover for the adjacent shoreline (about 100 x 100 feet)

_______% Impervious Surface (concrete/asphalt paths, roads, buildings etc.)

_______% Pervious Surface (dirt, gravel etc.)

_______% Vegetated surface (grass, shrubs, trees)

=______% Sum should equal 100%.

Garbage on the adjacent shoreline? Y / N


Hard Plastic

Soft Plastic










  1. Explain: Students might want to look for places to pour the water that highlight the following features:

    • Sediment that will flow along with the water

    • Litter or oil  that will flow along with the water

    • Permeable or impermeable surfaces

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


  1. Back in the classroom

  2. In small groups, students review the work they completed in the field.

  3. Students brainstorm what they have learned and still wonder about that area, in an open-ended way.

  4. Students or groups share out the results of their runoff experiments and the impermeable/permeable surfaces they found in the field.

    • Post their findings for the class to see under the label, “Based on Field Observation” (put this side-by-side with the other posters)

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

  5. Students begin to think about how to represent what they observed on their steward-shed models.  They may need another clean copy of the Class Steward-shed Map for this purpose.

    • Students decide where to put the observed permeable/impermeable surfaces on their model and what materials they should used to represent them.  

  6. Students share out their ideas for their steward-shed model.  

    • Take note of the materials the students mention so that you can have them ready for the next class when they actually add to their steward-shed model.


  1. Ask: What happens to the rain that falls on this area?  

    • Examples: Slopes, hills, drains, grates, holes, cracks, curbs, roofs, downspouts, gardens, tree beds, waterbodies,

  2. Follow-up with probing questions, so students don't stop at their first thought.

    • Does that explain what happens to *all* of the rainwater?  

    • How much of the rainwater would you guess goes to this place vs. that place?  

    • What if it rains faster or slower?  Thundershower vs. drizzle?

    • What if it rains every day or just once a month?  

  3. Ask: are there pollutants and litter in this area?  

    • Where do you think flowing rainwater would pick up different pollutants and litter?  

    • Where do you think flowing rainwater would drop different pollutants and litter?

Post their inferences and questions on the poster, “Based on Field Observations”


      Mini Engineering Challenge:  What would we have to do in order to make rainwater flow a different way, right here on the ground in front of us?

        Mini Design Challenge:  What could we change or build on the surrounding buildings or ground surface that would either:

          • decrease the amount of runoff that ended up in the nearby water-body or storm sewers -- in which case, where does the rainwater end up, and why is that better than runoff?
          • increase and direct runoff through a particular route -- in which case, what route do you choose, and why?
          • Choose one of these goals, and design for that goal.
          • Then discuss: which goal is most appropriate for this location? Why? Multiple right answers are possible!


          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