US Geological Survey adopts BYU-made water cycle curriculum to be taught nationwide

A team of BYU scientists, educators and creatives developed updated water cycle resources for teachers that include the impact of humans.

A team of BYU scientists, educators and creatives developed updated water cycle resources for teachers that include the impact of humans. (BYU's Modern Water Cycle)


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PROVO —The water cycle is a classic lesson taught in schools nationwide, and now an updated model of the cycle made by BYU professors will be implemented in schools across the country.

The big factor the old model was missing? The impact of humans, they say.

BYU plant and wildlife science professor Ben Abbott discovered through research a few years ago that only 15% of water cycle diagrams from textbooks, scientific literature and online sources mentioned human impact.

Since then, a team of 11 "BYU scientists, educators and creatives" sought to develop updated water cycle resources for teachers, the university said in a news release.

Traditionally, the water cycle is taught as a circular cycle of evaporation, condensation and precipitation, with emphasis on areas of groundwater collection and transpiration.

The BYU-created model, titled The Modern Water Cycle, depicts a hydrologic cycle representing major water pools, natural water fluxes and elements directly impacted by humans.

The team also made a vocabulary poster of five common water cycle terms with the human interaction and influence on each process and a visual series showing where water is located and how it moves through six landscapes.

The new resources created by the BYU group were published in The American Biology Teacher and include "eye-catching illustrations" made by BYU illustration majors the team recruited, the university said.

"Humans are a part of this; humans impact it, and humans are impacted by it," said teacher education professor Ryan Nixon. "It's important for students to learn we're part of this cycle, and it's not something that exists and operates in a far-off place."

The development of the water cycle resources also resulted in a new course titled "Water Planet" that a few of the team members developed for BYU.

BYU postdoctoral researcher Sophie Hill helped spearhead the project and said the U.S. Geological Survey "immediately latched on to the collaboration."

The Geological Survey put final polishes onto the resources before sharing them with its national audience of schools this last week to start being implemented.

"I had taught the water cycle in the classroom, but it wasn't until this project that I realized I really was missing some major components," said Hill, who is now teaching eighth graders in Pocatello. "We were teaching in a way that was so disconnected from our daily lives."

Hill has been using the new materials this year in her classroom and said it helped "the lights go on" in kids' minds.

"They all caught on really quickly that humans are involved in this water process," she said. "The students engaged in long conversations on the topic and almost universally realized that they needed to be part of this water story. It was very intuitive, and the kids quickly made sense of it; having them receive it so well was validating."

All of the resources are available on the project website.

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Cassidy Wixom covers Utah County communities and is the evening breaking news reporter for KSL.com.

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