Lesson Plan

Exploring Climate Science (Stream Flow Tools and Data )

Grade Level:
Fifth Grade-Twelfth Grade
Climate, Climate Change, Earth Science, Science and Technology
40 minutes
Group Size:
Up to 36
National/State Standards:



In “Exploring Climate Science (Streamflow Tools and Data),” students have a chance to go out into the field to collect their own data in a local stream or river. Our extensive “Exploring Climate Science” curricula unit is broken into eight lessons, each taking 40 minutes to complete. Designed around the 5th grade Next Generation Science Standards, it is a unit easily adapted up for middle or high school use. Teach the entire unit or pull out particular activities. This is lesson 6 of the unit.


The students will be able to:

1. Create a double line graph to show the changes in stream flow throughout the year

2. Make two predictions about how climate change may affect stream flows


Water is essential for life on Earth. Relative water availability is a major factor in designating habitats for different living organisms. In the United States, things like agriculture and water rights are hot topics. Current models predict that average global temperatures are going to continue to rise even if regional climate changes remain complex and varied. These changes will have an impact on all of Earth's systems.

Studies have shown that climate change is driven not only by natural effects but also by human activities. Knowledge of the factors that affect climate, coupled with responsible management of natural resources, are required for sustaining these Earth systems. Long-term change can be anticipated using science-based predictive models, making science and engineering essential to understanding global climate change and its possible impacts.

National Parks can serve as benchmarks for climate science trends and effects over time because they are protected areas void of human influence. Understanding current climate trends will help set students up to be successful in interpreting and engaging in discussions about climate change, which will lead to informed decision making.


Day 1- Climate Change

Day 2- Weather vs Climate

Day 3- Snowpack

Day 4- Snow Course Field Trip

Day 5- Watersheds

Day 6- Streamflow Data

Day 7- NPS Connections 

Day 8- Research Projects 


Most of the materials for this unit are provided in the Snow Study Trunk and as downloadable files.

Graphing paper (teacher provided)
Markers (teacher provided)


Step 1

Explain that scientists measure water flow to track climate changes just like they measure snow water equivalent. Pre-teach vocabulary: stream flow, peak flow, water level. Additionally review double line graph and bar graph if necessary.  


Step 2

1. Have students make predictions about what impacts stream flow.

2. Show hydrology podcast from CD so students can observe how scientists measure stream flow.


Step 3

1. Explain to students that they will be graphing the stream flow from Pohono Bridge in Yosemite Valley. Model creating a double line graph using data from 2009 & 2010 (see procedure 6.1). Then, facilitate a discussion of the graph. When is peak flow? How are water levels different for 2009 & 2010? Why is the most water released in May / June?

2. Have students create a double line graph using data from 2011 & 2012, then record two thing they notice about their graphs in relation to stream flow (on sticky notes or on the graph itself). Share observations.

3. Talk about how stream flow can give us information about climate change. Measuring stream flow can give scientists a good idea of how much the snowpack is melting on a specific day or month. Due to climate change the peak stream flow could begin to occur sooner in the year. This could have the potential to throw many natural systems off and could negatively impact the water availability for human use.

4. Tell students that scientists began measuring stream flows from the stream in 1960. Ask: how do you think stream flow has changed over time? If necessary direct student thinking…peak stream flow might occur earlier because snow melts earlier due to warmer temperatures, etc.

5. Show students graph of decade averages from 1960 – 2010 (procedure 6.1). Talk about what the graph shows. Emphasize the importance of continuing to record information so scientists can see changes over time.



Exit ticket question: Why is monitoring stream flow important? Think about what stream flow might tell us about peak flows, water levels, climate change, etc.


Stream flow, peak flow, water level (pre-teach vocabulary)