Hands-on Activity: River Flow Rate

Contributed by: Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, Colorado School of Mines

A view of the north side of the Coon Rapids Dam along the Mississippi River.
The Coon Rapids Dam along the Mississippi River.
copyright
Copyright © Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coon_Rapids_River_Dam_-_Coon_Rapids,_Minnesota.jpg

Summary

Students build on their understanding and feel for flow rates, as gained from the associated Faucet Flow Rate activity, to estimate the flow rate of a local river. The objective is to be able to relate laboratory experiment results to the environment. They use the U.S. Geological Survey website (http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/rt) to determine the actual flow rate data for their river, and compare their estimates to the actual flow rate. For this activity to be successful, choose a nearby river and take a field trip or show a video so students gain a visual feel for the flow of the nearby river.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Civil engineers design the systems that bring water from natural resources, such as rivers or lakes, to the communities where that water is needed. Civil engineers also oversee natural systems, such as river basins and watersheds, for flood control and drought mitigation. Completing this activity gives students a greater understanding for what civil engineers who design water systems do, as well as the skills they use.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Use experimental data to formulate hypotheses.
  • Use the Internet to find the flow rate of a specific river.
  • Analyze discrepancies between estimated and actual data.

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Educational Standards

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In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Use ratio reasoning to convert measurement units; manipulate and transform units appropriately when multiplying or dividing quantities. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Summarize numerical data sets in relation to their context, such as by: (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Reporting the number of observations. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Describing the nature of the attribute under investigation, including how it was measured and its units of measurement. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Giving quantitative measures of center (median and/or mean) and variability (interquartile range and/or mean absolute deviation), as well as describing any overall pattern and any striking deviations from the overall pattern with reference to the context in which the data were gathered. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Relating the choice of measures of center and variability to the shape of the data distribution and the context in which the data were gathered. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Fluently divide multi-digit numbers using the standard algorithm. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Construct and interpret scatter plots for bivariate measurement data to investigate patterns of association between two quantities. Describe patterns such as clustering, outliers, positive or negative association, linear association, and nonlinear association. (Grade 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
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  • Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving the four operations with rational numbers. (Grade 7) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
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  • Use tools to gather, view, analyze, and report results for scientific investigations about the relationships among mass, weight, volume, and density (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Identify evidence that suggests there is a fundamental building block of matter (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
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Materials List

  • River Flow Rate handouts, as found in the attached Flow Rate Experiment Student Guide
  • computers with Internet access

Introduction/Motivation

Understanding flow rate and determining the flow rate of rivers is important in engineering analysis and design so that our infrastructure provides sufficient amounts of water when and where it is needed. Now that you have first-hand experience with flow rates from water faucets, let's extend your flow rate knowledge to rivers and streams.

Procedure

Before beginning the activity with students, use the data on the USGS website to locate the flow rates for rivers in your geographical area.

  1. Hand out the River Flow Rate handouts.
  2. Introduce and explain the activity to students.
  3. Have students assemble into their groups, and write down their hypotheses (best estimates) about the flow rate of a local river. For greatest benefit, choose a nearby river that students are familiar with, or take a field trip.
  4. Have each student group assemble at a computer with Internet access. If computers are limited, do this portion of the activity as a class. Bring up the Daily Streamflow Conditions page at the USGS Current Water Data for the Nation website at http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/rt.
  5. If students have never used the USGS website, walk through the process to find the flow rate for an example river.
  6. Have student teams complete the worksheets.
  7. As a class, compare estimates and real-world flow rate data.

Attachments

Assessment

At activity end, compare estimates and real-world data. Collect and review worksheet answers to gauge students' comprehension of the subject matter.

Contributors

Bobby Rinehart; Karen Johnson; Mike Mooney

Copyright

© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2005 Colorado School of Mines

Supporting Program

Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, Colorado School of Mines

Acknowledgements

This curriculum was created with support from the National Science Foundation. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: May 25, 2017

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