ALEX Lesson Plan


An Astro-Ventrous Water Cycle!

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:J. Patrice Marbry
System: Shelby County
School: Shelby County Board Of Education
The event this resource created for:NASA
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 34393


An Astro-Ventrous Water Cycle!


In this lesson students create a laboratory simulation of the water cycle. Indicating the change in states of matter and the flow of energy.  Students also compare and contrast the cycle of matter with the flow of energy. 

This lesson was created as part of the 2016 NASA STEM Standards of Practice Project, a collaboration between the Alabama State Department of Education and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
SC2015 (2015)
Grade: 9-12
8 ) Develop and use models to describe the cycling of matter (e.g., carbon, nitrogen, water) and flow of energy (e.g., food chains, food webs, biomass pyramids, ten percent law) between abiotic and biotic factors in ecosystems.

NAEP Framework
NAEP Statement::
L12.5: The chemical elements that make up the molecules of living things pass through food webs and are combined and recombined in different ways. At each link in an ecosystem, some energy is stored in newly made structures, but much is dissipated into the environment as heat. Continual input of energy from sunlight keeps the process going.

NAEP Statement::
L12.6: As matter cycles and energy flows through different levels of organization of living systems (cells, organs, organisms, communities) and between living systems and the physical environment, chemical elements are recombined in different ways. Each recombination results in storage and dissipation of energy into the environment as heat. Matter and energy are conserved in each change.

Unpacked Content
Scientific And Engineering Practices:
Developing and Using Models
Crosscutting Concepts: Systems and System Models; Energy and Matter
Disciplinary Core Idea: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
Evidence Of Student Attainment:
  • Categorize organisms in an ecosystem based on evidence of how they obtain energy.
  • Construct a food chain that differentiates between producers, primary, secondary and tertiary consumers and integrate multiple food chains into a food web.
  • Use relationships between organisms to develop a food web and use it to demonstrate flow of energy and predict the impacts of population changes. Construct a pyramid of biomass, given population data about organisms in the ecosystem and make calculations using data from the pyramid.
  • Use mathematical examples, such as the 10% law to explain why there is less energy available at each level of an energy pyramid.
  • Analyze data to identify patterns in the cycling of carbon, nitrogen and water in ecosystems.
  • Use patterns identified in the cycling of carbon, nitrogen, and water to build models of matter cycling through ecosystems.
  • Predict the effect of the reduction of a population of species on the carbon, nitrogen or water cycle.
Teacher Vocabulary:
  • Autotroph
  • Heterotroph
  • Primary producer
  • Primary consumer
  • Secondary consumer
  • Tertiary consumer
  • Herbivore
  • Carnivore
  • Omnivore
  • Detritivore
  • Trophic levels: primary, secondary and tertiary
  • Food chain
  • Food web
  • Biomass
  • Energy pyramid
  • Biomass pyramid
  • Number pyramid
  • Matter
  • Nutrient
  • Biogeochemical cycle
  • Nitrogen fixation
  • Denitrification
  • Law of conservation of mass
Students know:
  • A food chain is a simple model representing the transfer of energy from organism to organism (e.g., sun → plant → grasshopper → mouse → snake).
  • Each step of a food chain represents a trophic level always starting with an autotroph in the first level and heterotrophs in the remaining levels.
  • The overlapping relationships between multiple food chains are shown in a food web.
  • An ecological pyramid is a model that can show the relative amounts of energy, biomass, or numbers of organisms at each trophic level in an ecosystem.
  • In an energy pyramid, only 10% of energy is passed from one trophic level to the next due to loss of energy in the form of heat caused by cellular respiration (10% rule).
  • In a biomass pyramid, the total mass of living matter at each trophic level tends to decrease.
  • In a numbers pyramid, it shows the number of organisms at each trophic level tends to decrease because there is less energy available to support organisms.
  • The exchange of matter through the biosphere is called the biogeochemical cycle and involves living organisms (bio), geological processes (geo), and chemical processes (chemical).
Students are able to:
  • Use a self-created food web diagram to predict the impact of removing one organism on other organisms within the food web.
  • Use data to create ecological pyramids to show flow of energy, biomass and number of organisms.
  • Model the cycling of matter (e.g., Carbon, water, nitrogen) through the biosphere.
  • Combine a food web diagram with a matter cycling diagram to provide a holistic view of the many aspects that make up an ecosystem.
Students understand that:
  • Everything in an ecosystem is connected to everything else (both abiotic and biotic), either directly or indirectly.
  • Nutrients, in the form of elements and compounds, flow through organisms in an ecosystem (e.g., grass captures substances from the air, soil and water and converts them into usable nutrients → cow eats the grass → human eats the cow → decomposers return the nutrients to the cycle at every level).
AMSTI Resources:
ASIM Module:
Traveling Carbon Passport; Traeling Nitrogen Passport; Traveling Phosphorus Passport; Food Chains, Food Webs and Energy; Owl Pellets; Tree Carbon Sequestration

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SCI.AAS.B.HS.8- Identify living and nonliving components in an ecosystem; identify the flow of energy within a common food chain.

Local/National Standards:


Primary Learning Objective(s):

(Written in the "I can..." learning target format)

I can demonstrate the water cycle in a laboratory setting, so that I can  show how abiotic matter cycles through ecosystems. I know I have it when I can create a model of the water cycle indicating the changes in matter and energy.

I can explain how energy cycles matter through an ecosystem, so that I can identify the patterns of energy flow.

Additional Learning Objective(s):

I  can differentiate between cycles and flows in nature.

I can explain the conservation of energy/matter/mass.


 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

31 to 60 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

Click here to download NASA Astro-Venture Water Lesson 6 Teacher Manual. For this specific lesson focus on pages 1-6

Click here to download student lab sheet. 


Technology Resources Needed:

Elmo or overhead projector to display water cycle.


  • Conservation of mass/energy
  • Change in energy = change in matter
  • Regardless of how substances within a closed system interact with one another, or how they combine or break apart, the total weight of the system remains the same. The idea of atoms explains the conservation of matter: If the number of atoms stays the same no matter how they are rearranged, then their total mass stays the same.
  • As in all materials systems, the atoms change location and form different molecules, but the total number of atoms remains the same.
  • If the number of atoms stays the same, no matter how they are rearranged, the total mass stays the same.

The manual calls for a demo lab.  Place students in groups of 3 or 4 to complete the experiment.

  1. Engage: Display picture of the water cycle. Have students discuss what is pictured. Bring up how this happens. Give 5 minutes for free write/info dumping (independent thinking time)...10-15 minute class discussion.
  2. Explore: Student Water Lab (click here)
  3. Explain: Have students complete lab analysis questions. Carry out class discussion on what occurred during the lab and the meanings.  (Talking points and answers given in Astro-Venture Teacher guide pages 4-5) 
  4. Explain: Use the questions about cycles in nature (page 5 in Astro-Venture Teacher guide ) to relate the lab to cycles in nature. This is where you discuss the difference between cycles and flows of energy/matter.
  5. Extend: Discuss that this is evident in more than just water. Refer to carbon and nitrogen cycles. (Will be covered in subsequent lesson)
  6. Evaluate: Have students draw ecosystem including the water cycle. Students use arrows indicating movement of water and the change in energy. This drawing does not have to be a Rembrandt...just figures to completely depicting the movement of energy and water.  



Assessment Strategies

Formative Assessments- 

  • Assessing of lab procedures and lab safety during experiments.
  • Data & observations recorded during experiment.
  • Analysis question

Summative Assessment-

  • Student created model of water cycle that includes arrows indicating movement of water through the ecosystem and the movement/change of energy.
  • Indication of increasing energy or decreasing energy.
  • Model should include correct terms associated with the water cycle; explanation of changing states of water (evaporation, condensation, etc.)


Advanced extensions for students who have mastered this concept: Have students research and report on other cycles in nature and society. Have students compare the cycle of matter to recycling of newspaper and containers and what happens when people don’t recycle. Based on what students know about how flows and cycles are different, have students draw conclusions about why it’s important to conserve energy


Small group instruction on terms specific to water cycle and connection to those terms in experiment. 

Provide blank diagram of water cycle. Click here for a blank worksheet of the diagram.

View the Special Education resources for instructional guidance in providing modifications and adaptations for students with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the Alabama Alternate Assessment.