Earth Systems Unit, Moncton – 2nd grade

Mar 1, 2018

In this 2nd grade unit, students construct their explanations about a puzzling and historical phenomenon: Why did a town next to a mountain (the town of “Moncton”) flood after a dam was built on the opposite side of the mountain? Throughout the unit, students engage in a number of activities (readings, investigations, and watching videos) to gather evidence and revise their models and explanations about how and why the town flooded. Students can learn about how dams affect water flow and landscapes, ice age and glacial moraines, how the structure and properties of different earth materials can affect water flow, and how water can change the shapes and kinds of land quickly or slowly. Written by Michelle Salgado, Jennifer Richards, Soo-Yean Shim, and Kitten Vaa in collaboration with the University of Washington’s Ambitious Science Teaching group and Highline Public Schools, with funding from the University of Washington, Highline Public Schools (Sub-award from the Department of Education, Race To The Top grant and the National Science Foundation (DRL 1417757).

See how Kitten Vaa’s second-grade class generated evidence-based arguments for what caused the town of Moncton to flood. This three-video series was created in partnership with the Teaching Channel and supported by funding from the National Science Foundation (DRL 1417757): 


Lesson title and investigation number: 1. Mini-lessons Maps & Mapmaking -Classroom Maps -Schoolyard Maps 2. Where does water come from? -Washington State Map 3. Introduction to the phenomenon -Model Scaffold Worksheet -Agree/disagree T-charts 4. Dams -Can you build a dam that doesn't leak? -How does a dam change the water flow? -Building Concerns & Debates (Map of North Wall) Can you build a dam that leaks? 5. Ice Age -Puget Sound Ice Sheet -Glacial Deposits -Seattle under glacier -Read Aloud: "Glaciers by Mari Schuh" 6. Ice Age created the Cedar River Watershed -Mapping the Cedar River Watershed -Creating a Watershed -Read Alouds: "Follow the Water from Brook to Ocean" by Arthur Dorros & "All the way to the Ocean" by Joel Harper 7. Geology of the Cascade Foothills -Soil, Sand, & Silt (Porosity and Permeability) Experiment 8. History of the Land -First People (Duwamish, Yakama, Wenatchee, Muckleshoot, Snoqualmie) & Prairies -Town of Moncton (aka. Cedar Falls) -Great Seattle fire creates the need for a dam 9. Final Lesson: Putting it all together. Understanding the science story behind the flooding of Moncton

Four young students looking at agree and disagree t charts with the claim at the top of the t charts reading: ; We claim that the water went through the ground to the town.A chart about earth materials. The chart poses the question: How and why does water flow differently in Earth materials? The chart also has columns for earth material (with different materials for each row such as pebbles and sand), time, what was observed, and model - why does this happen?


What the curriculum does well…

A page for students to draw what they think caused the town to flood with two panels. The top panel is of the town of Moncton before the flood in 1914, the lower panel is of the town after the flood in 1915.

  • The unit is organized around explaining a real-life, historic event in the state of Washington – why the town of Moncton flooded after a dam was built on the opposite side of a nearby mountain. It is an event that had major consequences for people living in the town of Moncton at the time, and that continues to have resonances today in terms of the sets of considerations and potential unintended impacts of environmental engineering decisions. 
  • A lesson specifically focuses on the history of the land and the people who have interacted with it over time, beginning with the First People.
  • The phenomenon and unit activities provide shared experiences and likely tap into common experiences young students have had with water and how it moves through different materials, making key ideas accessible. Students’ personal experiences are also continually valued as meaningful sources of evidence.
  • Students are introduced to the concept of watersheds and how their choices can impact water quality and the health of systems downstream. They have opportunities to connect their learning to observations of and potential actions with storm drains around their school.
  • The curriculum includes numerous examples of discussion norms and ground rules to support equity and justice in participation.
  • Sentence stems provide support for particular forms of language use (like using evidence to support claims).
  • Lessons regularly and intentionally integrate storytelling and work with maps with STEM, expanding cultural relevance and engagement.


What needs to be done to be justice-focused… 

    • Currently, the service learning project is positioned as an extension, but this project could be made more central and students could collectively take action on a current related issue, or teach their community this story and its lessons.
    • Students could have a deliberation session from the viewpoints of multiple stakeholders deciding what to do in terms of building the dam. Students could take the perspective of water, plants, animals, or townspeople, and discuss alternative solutions.
    • The model scaffold could be edited or expanded to include the sociohistorical aspects of the phenomenon (not just why the town was flooded, but why the dam was built).
    • This unit is deeply situated in the state of Washington and a specific watershed and set of geologic formations and may benefit from being adapted and connected as possible to local water systems (e.g., Investigation 2 may instead be situated in your state).

These critiques are starting places. Adapt tools and resources within this unit, please add or change activities based on ideas your students bring up in class, and critique our critiques!


Science & Children article (Shim et al., 2018): Read more about how “Agree/Disagree T-charts” provided meaningful through-lines as Kitten’s second-grade class developed evidence-based arguments over the course of this unit.

Agree/Disagree T-charts. Supporting young students in scientific argumentation and modeling. By Soo-Yean Shim, Jessica Thompson, Jennifer Richards, and Kitten Vaa Figure 1: An example of an Agree/Disagree T-chart with a claim about what caused a town to flood. 1. Claim: We claim the water made a new path around the hill to the town. 2. Student's drawings of what they think caused the town to flood. 3. Agree/Disagree T-chart: -Responses on the agree side of the T-chart: Water went in a river and... Water went around the log and rocks. At my home, the water goes around a rock. -Responses on the disagree side of the T-chart: The water soaked in the dirt. At the beach, I made a pool and came back and the water was gone. Constructing T-Charts. Identifying claims from students' initial models about a puzzling phenomenon. To begin the unit, Ms. V introduced the puzzling and historic phenomenon: Why did a particular town next to a mountain after a dam was built on the. An image is shown of six students as a group building a small dam in a container on a desk.


Teacher Educators & Professional Learning

If you are using this curriculum as a part of professional learning or teacher education, here are a few considerations:


Equity Questions for Teacher Reflection


  • What social and emotional learning environment components are in place in the classroom to ensure that all learners can feel comfortable and safe sharing their ideas in front of their teacher and peers?
  • This unit includes numerous earth materials investigations. How do you maintain a sense of “order” while also balancing the need for students to have room to “experience” the experiments in a developmentally appropriate manner?
  • How to engage students in a discussion about culturally sensitive and sometimes tension-filled topics while also not glossing over history?



Research and NGSS

  • Science & Children article (Shim et al., 2018): Read more about how “Agree/Disagree T-charts” provided meaningful through-lines as Kitten’s second-grade class developed evidence-based arguments over the course of this unit.


  • 2-ESS1-1. Use information from several sources to provide evidence that Earth events can occur quickly or slowly. [Clarification Statement: Examples of events and timescales could include volcanic explosions and earthquakes, which happen quickly and erosion of rocks, which occurs slowly.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include quantitative measurements of timescales.]

Related Posts

This site is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through Award #1907471 and #1315995