Potomac Highlands Watershed School

Elementary School Activities

The Elementary School classroom has ten basic elements:
  1. A blackboard - with age-appropriate activities that include a learning phase, where information is read, and a testing phase, where the knowledge is either tested in a quiz or matching exercise, used to fill in a form, or put to use to solve a problem.
  2. Also on the blackboard, a list of relevant vocabulary - with definitions just a click away.
  3. A bookcase, with a section that provides useful background information on each of the Elementary School activities.
  4. A computer gateway to many of the environmental organizations and agencies that serve the greater Potomac region.
  5. A window to some of our favorite Potomac Highlands images.

  6. An "open book" with a reading selection that will change periodically.

  7. A magnifying glass that takes a closer look at some of the Potomac Highlands smaller inhabitants.

  8. A “BMI” poster, that leads to the benthic macroinvertebrate activity page. 
  9. Real-time data links - a Bowl with a raining cloud, a stream flow graph, and a "Bay Buoy" - 
    that lead to pages with links to  real-time data for stream flow, precipitation, and the Chesapeake Bay buoys.

  10. Blueprints and a pick that lead to hands-on projects done by classes that use the eSchool.

The elementary school curriculum centers around the concept of the watershed. This curriculum introduces students to the parts of a watershed - things like vegetation, bedrock, and aquifers. It then teaches how the different parts of a watershed interact.

Why worry about watersheds? In part, because watersheds are where we live – most obviously in mountainous terrain like West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands. Perhaps more importantly, the watershed – rather than political boundaries - has become the organizing concept underlying environmental assessment and protection efforts at both the local, state and regional levels. This is a logical approach, as most of us "live downstream" from somebody else, and that somebody we are downstream from lives in our watershed. For example, the Chesapeake Bay is "downstream" from West Virginia, and efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay from pollution focus on pollution delivered through watersheds (like the Potomac).

Government agencies increasingly seek to solve problems by working with inclusive citizen's groups known as watershed associations; as the name implies, watershed associations consist of people living within a watershed who have a shared interest in a clean environment.  This has created a new and very positive way for citizens to work with and impact government action.

The Elementary School curriculum includes modules on the watershed and stream sampling. The watershed curriculum introduces students to the parts of a watershed - things like vegetation, bedrock, and aquifers.  It then teaches how the different parts of a watershed interact.  Benthic Macroinvertebrate/Stream Sampling lessons provide background on the reasons for and the process of stream sampling.


Watch the video at right to take a tour of the eSchool.  Note: this video does not have a preloader; it may take a minute or two to load while the screen is blank.

Make it a MWEE!

Cacapon Institute’s  eSchool activities can be used as components of Project Based Learning, where students seek a solution to a complex problem through a collaborative process over an extended period of time.  When coupled with hands-on conservation or research projects, they can provide a full Meaningful Watershed Education Experience (MWEE).  Learn more about Project Based Learning and MWEEs. 

CI encourages eSchool classes to look into local issues, identify a problem that would be improved by hands-on efforts, and to then develop and implement a plan to address the issue.  We have, or can usually find, technical and financial resources to support such activities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Visit our projects page to see what classes that use our eSchool have done out in the real world. 

Watershed Curriculum

What is a Watershed is a simple Flash narrative with limited student interaction about the watershed concept paced for the elementary school level.  However, based on substantial feedback, is quite effective for middle school and even slower readers at the high school level.  The idea of using water flowing off the roof of a shed to introduce the watershed concept was based on an experience in the real world where CI staff was in a shed with a bunch of middle school students talking about watersheds - and it started to rain.  

Potomac Watershed Puzzle I and II. These activities explore the geography of watersheds, a dominant feature of West Virginia's mountainous landscape. Level I is somewhat less complicated than Level II, and should be appropriate for students beginning in the third grade.

Watershed Creator - the user builds a watershed by matching the parts of the watershed with their functions.

The Water Cycle.  This activity, which is on the Region of Waterloo website (in California), has a very nice water cycle animation that introduces the way water moves through a watershed.

Web Scavenger Hunts - the user visits websites from around the region to find answers to questions about West Virginia's Potomac Highlands.

Since these activities are interrelated, a single lesson plan is offered here.  This lesson plan may also be downloaded as a PDF file here.

Complete question and answer sheets for each activity are also available to teachers on request. Please email us here  and request this information. It would be best if your return email address is identifiable as belonging to a school employee. Otherwise, you will be contacted by Cacapon Institute staff to ensure that you are a teacher, and not a student, prior to receiving the requested material.

Benthic Macroinvertebrate/Stream Sampling

Have you ever found yourself out by the river with a bunch of students, trying desperately to get them to focus on stream sampling – and all they want to do is play in the water and hunt for crayfish? 

Use the Benthic Macroinvertebrate activities in the classroom before your field trip to introduce key concepts and the cast of characters they might see in the stream.  That will help them focus on the lesson when they are in the field -- and they might find themselves competing in a diversity treasure hunt to find stoneflies, water pennies, and mayflies instead of just crayfish.  Use the BMI material when you get back to the classroom to reinforce their learning.  The BMI/Stream Sampling lesson plan for elementary students is in development.   However, the Middle School BMI/Stream Sampling lesson plan may prove suitable for advanced elementary school students, and it is currently available here and also available for download as a PDF file.


Cacapon Institute - From the Cacapon to the Potomac to the Chesapeake Bay, we protect rivers and watersheds using science and education.

Cacapon Institute
PO Box 68
High View, WV 26808
304-856-1385 (tele)
304-856-1386 (fax)
Click here to send us an email
Frank Rodgers,  Executive Director

Website  made possible by funding from The Norcross Wildlife Foundation,  the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Virginia Environmental Endowment, NOAA-BWET, USEPA, The MARPAT Foundation, and our generous members.