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Lazy River? No Such Thing!

Grand Canyon hermits rest / Wikimedia Commons: chensiyuan
Create a riverbed at home science-projectPhotos: Wikimedia Commons (top); Science Buddies (bottom).

Bringing a River Down to Size

What does the Grand Canyon photo (top) have to do with the jug and sand set-up shown in the second photo? Modeling a river at home is a great way for students to explore, hands-on, how a river shapes surrounding land.

Scientists tell us that rivers have formed some of our most fantastic landscapes—think Grand Canyon! Explore the power of rivers to shape surrounding terrain with this fun hands-on science experiment.

By Kim Mullin


Water can be a powerful force. We hear about floods and tidal waves in the news because they cause massive destruction in a very short time. But even an ordinary river can have a major influence on the land it passes through. Have you ever considered how the normal flow of a river can affect its environment over hundreds or even millions of years?

Up close, a river may look smooth and serene or dramatic and dangerous. What rivers do you know about? Is there a river near you or running through your city or state? Is the water crystal clear or brown with silt? Is it slow-moving or fast? What would the river look like if you could get a bird's-eye view? Is it curvy like a slithering snake? Is it "braided," with many sections separating and rejoining again?


Changing Rivers

Chances are, a river that you are familiar with looked different thousands of years ago. Rivers change in appearance over time because water erodes, or wears down, the soil and rock that forms their banks and bottoms. Through the power of erosion over millions of years, rivers can even create canyons that are thousands of feet deep!


Create Your Own Small-scale River

You certainly don't have millions of years to spend on a science experiment, no matter how much fun it is! However, using lightweight materials such as sand and cornmeal, you can be a hydrologist (water scientist) for a day. The "Go with the Flow: Model Rivers with Cornmeal, Sand, & Water" geology Project Idea shows you step-by-step how to create your own riverbed to imitate and observe the powerful force of erosion.

Consider these questions as your river flows: how does the speed of the water flow affect the erosion? Where do the eroded materials go? How do objects partially obstructing the flow of water change the erosion? What happens to the riverbed where there is a waterfall? What other questions can your students think of that setting up a model river and bank might help you explore?

You know it's going to be fun to create a river...what are you waiting for?


The Flow of Summer Science

Parents—this is a great, wet, opportunity for hands-on science with your students during the long hot summer!




Science Buddies Project Ideas in geology are sponsored by Chevron.

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Your Science!
What will you explore for your science project this year? What is your favorite classroom science activity? Email us a short (one to three sentences) summary of your science project or teaching tip. You might end up featured in an upcoming Science Buddies newsletter!



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