The Earth is a dynamic system, spinning on its axis as it revolves around the Sun. The surface of the Earth which includes the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere responds to this movement in space. The interaction of these spheres creates the life sustaining water cycle. Water has not always been on this planet; the enormous exstensives of oceans were created over eons of time as hydrogen and oxygen were united inside the earth to form water which was trapped in the Earth. Volcanic events over a long span of time have "outgassed" much of this water in the form of steam. The steam formed clouds in the atmosphere and precipitation brought the water back to Earth, to continue the endless water cycle. The miracle of water then created conditions for life to develop and survive on this planet.

   The hydrologic or water cycle is a major driving force on our planet. Water is in constant motion, evaporating into the atmosphere to from oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams. When the atmosphere can no longer support the moisture within the clouds we experience rain, snow, hail, or sleet. Some water is locked in the form of ice at the polar caps and in alpine glaciers. Water is returned to the system through drainage, which results from the melting of snow that has accumulated during the winter months. This water flows on the surface of the Earth and percolates through the Earth as groundwater. Water is not actually consumed but is continuously recycled. Can we survive without water? No, life as we are familiar with, could not function. From the primordial Earth and the evolution of life, water has played a nurturing role in sustaining the cells of organisms in fluids that created the key to duplication and replication. What makes water so important? Water is a peculiar substance with properties that make it an ideal fluid. If you theoretically calculated the boiling and freezing temperatures of water you would find that water has an unusually low freezing point and high boiling point compared to other molecules that have similar structures.

   How can you explain such a big difference? The molecular structure of water resembles that of Mickey Mouse's head or a teddy bear (figure below). The hydrogen and the oxygen have a very tight covalent bond, where the hydrogen and the oxygen share electrons as they dance and twirl around in the molecule. The individual molecules of water are also held together very tightly by what is called a hydrogen bond. A hydrogen bond is much stronger than other bonds that molecules have. Ionic bonds are weaker bonds, and many substances like salt can be easily be "broken up" by a stronger covalent bond. Water is a package of power that is hard to break, and it is this strength that allows other substances to dissolve or break up in it, hence the name, the "universal solvent."

   Water is a transparent, odorless, and tasteless liquid. It illustrates the three states of matter: solid (ice), gas (steam), and liquid (water). The form it takes depends upon the temperature. At low temperatures, the molecules do not move around as much and form a crystalline structure that is rigid (ice). In the liquid state, water molecules move more freely. Water molecules in the form of steam are moving very fast with large spaces between the molecules. Although ice is crystalline, it tends to have the molecules in a rigid structure that is spaced farther than the molecules of liquid water and this is quite important, for if ice were denser, it would sink in water. Imagine what would happen if icebergs grew from the bottom of the ocean instead of floating on the surface.

   Another chemical quality of water is that water has a very large heat capacity, meaning that it can absorb a great deal of heat without itself becoming extremely hot. This fact makes the oceans large reservoirs of heat that greatly affect the overall weather and climate patterns of the world.

   Water's surface tension (the ability of a substance to stick to itself) makes it an excellent substance to float heavy objects upon. Water not only sticks to itself, but also to other surfaces, and this allows it to move against gravity, which is very important to plants when transporting water form the soil to their leaves. This upward motion is known as capillarity or capillary movement.

   Water is an important commodity to all organisms that live on Earth. Although it appears as if we will never run out of water, only 3% (2/3 is locked up as ice, 1/3 as groundwater, lakes, and atmosphere) of all of the earth's water is fresh, 97% is salt water which is unusable by most land organisms' metabolic systems. The ocean water was formed as fresh water that eroded the land and "dissolved" different salts that remained in the water. The oceans play an important role in maintaining the water cycle, because only pure water will evaporate, leaving the "salts" behind. The water from the oceans, the movement of the oceans due to the spinning of the Earth, and the currents of the oceans that retain heat or cold all help to fuel the weather. Understanding weather is actually a complex subject.

   Every day we look outside to see if it is raining or sunny. We check to see if it is warm or cold outside. If it is raining out, we can't go on a picnic and if it is cold outside, we don't want to go to the beach. The weather affects just about everything we do, but many of us don't know what causes the weather.

   The Earth has a blanket of air called the atmosphere around it. Plants, animals, and people need this air to breathe. The atmosphere is also the place where weather begins. Weather means the current state of certain weather elements of the atmosphere at a particular place and time. The elements that make up the weather include the type of clouds in the sky, the temperature of the air, whether or not it is raining, the amount of moisture or humidity in the air, and the speed and direction or the wind. What causes these weather elements? What causes the weather that we see every day?

   In order to understand what makes clouds and temperature, we should look again at the Earth. The Earth is a planet that revolves around the Sun. The Sun heats up our atmosphere in much the same way that you heat a pan of water on the stove. The part of the atmosphere that is directly under the Sun's rays heats quickly. This is the air at the equator. Because the Earth is tilted, the polar regions receive only a little bit of sunlight, and for part of the year they receive none at all. The different amounts of sunlight received by the atmosphere cause differential heating of the air. The areas that receive lots of sun will heat up and the areas that do not receive very much sun will be cooler. As air warms, it rises, and moves toward cooler air. Rising warm air will cool as it rises, and will gradually sink back to Earth. When the warm air rises, cooler air moves in to replace it. The air is warmed, and it too begins to rise. Thus the atmosphere is constantly moving both horizontally (along the ground) and vertically (higher into the atmosphere). The general movement of the air is called circulation.

   The Earth is made up of both land and water. When water is heated it changes from the liquid to the gas water vapor. This process is called evaporation. When water vapor is cooled, as it would be if it were taken higher in the atmosphere, this gas will condense, or change back to liquid form.

   We can see water vapor condensing when we watch clouds. A cloud is nothing more than water vapor that has condensed back to a liquid form. A cloud is made of extremely tiny drops of water which can remain suspended in the air. As a cloud grows, and more and more water condenses in the same place, the cloud droplets get larger. Eventually, these cloud droplets will be too large to remain in the air. The cloud is then said to be saturated. A saturated cloud will usually precipitate its excess water, or cause it to fall. This is how it rains or snows. Moisture falling from clouds is called precipitation.

   The amount of the gaseous water vapor that is in the air tells us the relative humidity of the air. Humidity is a measure of how moist or dry feeling the air is. When the air is warm, it can hold more water vapor than when it is cold. When the humidity is high, it is very difficult to dry off after swimming, since there is so much moisture already in the air, it is not easy for more to evaporate. When the humidity is low, dry air easily evaporates water.

   The cycle of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation of water is called the water or hydrologic cycle. Since clouds move across the sky, the precipitation does not usually fall in the same place that the water came from. This is how the earth spreads water across land areas and allow us to live in so many different areas.

   The Sun is the driving force behind our weather. The temperature of the air, winds, clouds, humidity, and rain all depend on heat from the Sun. Our atmosphere, Sun, and oceans, combine to cause our weather.

   Combining scientific information in a coherent manner and teaching methods is stressed in the water cycle of the Integrating, Science, Math, and Technology Program. Within the 34 week program the Water Cycle constitutes 4 weeks and presents content from the themes of Water, Oceans, Atmosphere and Weather. These four units can develop an understanding to your students of how the oceans and atmosphere work together to form weather.

   During the water units students begin to see that the chemical combination of hydrogen and oxygen creates a compound that is universally important to humans. Students discover and explore the properties of water, so they understand its importance. In the Oceans units, students discover and evaluate the importance of mixing water with salts in the development of this planet. The distinguish salt water and fresh water to find the geographic locations of these bodies. In the Atmosphere unit, students learn the different types of gases which make up the air and how the movement of air helps control world weather patterns. In the Weather units, students will learn how to differentiate weather systems and also how to be able to recognize these patterns or systems from satellite photos.

   The units unify the major components of the water cycle, so students appreciate and understand the conditions not only in their local areas, but also in far away places.



Water is a transparent, odorless, tasteless liquid composed of the elements hydrogen and oxygen. It is a very good solvent, meaning that many substances can dissolve in it easily. Water is important to our lives, and without it we could not live. In fact, there are no living creatures that can live without water. Water most probably originated on this planet as gases were being emitted from volcanoes. The Earth's atmosphere captured this water and has continuously recycled it throughout time, in what is called the water cycle. Water evaporates and forms clouds; the clouds provide rain and snow, which is collected in rivers, lakes, underground reservoirs, and oceans that are the source for further evaporation. Water is that perfect substance for the water cycle, because it has a high boiling point and a low freezing point.


Students need to learn the properties of water by experimenting with water as a solid, liquid, and gas. Students need to evaluate and identify the 3 states of matter as they pertain to water. The students should learn about properties of water such as surface tension, boiling point, freezing point, etc.


The complexity of water is ideal for students to further investigate chemistry. The students need to further explore surface tension, capillary action, density, and other properties of water. They will also investigate the importance of ground water and surface water.


Water erodes the land, which causes rocks to be broken up and as these rocks are being broken up, minerals are added to the water creating "salt water." The oceans have always been a symbol of fun and sun and children love to play in the sand and watch the waves hit upon the shores. Students need to understand how large the oceans are, the impact the oceans have on the weather, and the properties of salt water compared with those of fresh water. It was the oceans that provided easy transportation for the early explorers, food for early people, and salt to preserve food.


Students learn the properties of salt water. They will learn to evaluate the differences between salt water and fresh water. They will learn how to distinguish different types of water by evaluating their densities and tastes. The students will also look at the differences between dirty and polluted water and compare those differences with fresh and salt water.


Oceans are a complex feature of the earth's surface. The water that fills up the oceans has distinct properties; the ocean floor is a land covered by water and the water that fills the basins of this land moves in such a pattern that affects the rest of the planet. Students will learn some properties of salt water and will look at the ocean bottom and learn about Coriolis motion.


The atmosphere is divided into five layers: the troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere, and exosphere. These layers control the weather. Atmosphere for elementary students introduces the composition of air, how the changing states of matter control weather formation, how air moves and why the atmosphere is so important to humans. The troposphere is where most of the weather occurs, and hence most readily understandable by students. Air heated by the sun, rises and is replaced by colder air in a process called convection. These currents create winds which move clouds that were created by the evaporation of surface waters.


The atmosphere is composed of different types of gases called air. Students will demonstrate the movement of air as well as discover what air is made of. They will analyze different types of clouds as well as discover that air exerts enormous pressures on objects.


The atmosphere has many different layers. Students will learn to compare and contrast the differences among the various layers. The students will experiment with hot and cold air and see how they can produce convection currents. They will investigate further how winds move particles throughout the atmosphere.


Weather is all around us. Children learn early that their lifestyle is dependant upon how the weather changes. One of a student's first observations of the real world outside his home depends on which clothes will be worn in order to play outside. Children record whether the weather is hot, cold, warm, cool, wet, or dry, but usually do not realize why the weather changes. There are several key concepts that need to be developed in studying the weather. Long term weather gives a region its climate. Weather is controlled by the solar heating of our planet. The spinning of our planet affects how warm and cold masses are moved by the wind. Seasons are caused by the tilt of the Earth's axis.


Students learn to discover the different types of weather not only in their community, but around the world. Learning how to analyze different types of weather measuring equipment is important. Students become familiar with how topography influences weather and how water can be derived from air.


Students learn the difference between high and low pressure. They analyze weather and satellite photos to see how they are similar and dissimilar. Students learn how local weather is generated and are able to explain the phenomena.

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