• Tips & Modifications


    Classrooms outside of the Chesapeake Bay watershed can choose a location within the watershed—a recognizable destination such as Washington, D.C., or Richmond, Virginia—and work through the activities using the selected location as their starting point. 


    Depending on students’ comfort with technology, you may want to demonstrate the lesson first with a sample location, and then let students complete the activity on their own for their study site. 


    For younger students, you may need to give more time to get used to navigating the FieldScope map. Spend one class period using the tutorial, and let students explore how to use the various tools in steps 1 and 2. Then, in the next class period, let students begin working with the Create A Watershed Profile handout.


    If a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit is available, students can use the unit to record the class location.


    If, in your area of the watershed, streams are short with limited watersheds and few tributaries, have students compare a site near their location with at least one of several other sites that are near the boundary of the watershed, perhaps in a different state. Challenge students to formulate a rule or statement about the similarities or differences.


    Students can work from a predetermined location in the watershed, preferably the field study site where the class will conduct fieldwork. Students can also use home or school as a starting point. 

    1. Introduce the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

    Have a whole-class discussion about the following questions:

    • Where do you live in relation to the Chesapeake Bay?
    • How close to its shores is your home or school?
    • Do you visit the bay often?  

    Note that your students may not have been to the Chesapeake Bay, but there is a good chance they have visited one of the thousands of streams and rivers—small and large—that eventually flow into it.


    Explain that the Chesapeake Bay is a large estuary—the largest estuary in the United States and the third largest in the world. An estuary is a dynamic system where salt water—in this case, from the Atlantic Ocean—meets fresh water draining from a large area around it. That large area of land is called a watershed. People who live within reach of this watershed have a special connection to the bay. Their actions and the actions of their communities have a direct impact on the health of the bay and the many streams and rivers that drain into it.


    2. Have students explore the Chesapeake Bay FieldScope tool.

    Explain to students that as a class they will explore their connection to the Chesapeake Bay using the tool modeled after a geographic information system (GIS). GIS is used all over the world by governments, businesses, universities, and others for mapping and analyzing vast amounts of data about people, places, environments, human activities, and more.


    Project the Chesapeake Bay FieldScope map so the whole class can view it together. Show students the tutorial that opens at the start and how they can get to the tutorial at any time. Explain that this tutorial—and trial and error—will help them figure out how to use the tool.


    Give students a tour modeled after the tutorial so you can point to the various tabs, search, map layers, basemaps, and drawing and other tools. Students will be eager to navigate for themselves, but will need to read directions, expect trial and error, and use the tutorial to develop skill in using FieldScope. Expect to move back and forth between whole class demonstrations and small group work.


    3. Have students use FieldScope to find their location and distance to the bay.

    Give each student the Create A Watershed Profile worksheet. Working in pairs at computers, have students follow the step-by-step instructions in Part 1 to find their location in FieldScope, either their school or a pre-determined field study site.


    In Part 1, students locate their field study site in the watershed. They record the latitude and longitude of their location and add it to their watershed profile. Students can type the location address in the FieldScope search box or use the map tools to navigate to the site manually, using their own knowledge of local geography. Have them record the latitude and longitude, listed in the lower left corner of the screen.


    In step 2, students use the Measure tool to find out their distance to the bay. In step 3, they use the Compute Flow Path tool to begin to model the flow of water in the watershed. They look at the real route water travels from their location to the bay. To do this, have students select the Compute Flow Path tool and then click as close as possible to their school or field study site. After a few seconds, a flow line will appear that traces the path water takes to the bay.


    Explain to students that this tool uses an elevation dataset to model the path of water flow. This means the elevation dataset is only a representation of the Earth’s surface, and the tool will not compute the flow path with 100 percent accuracy. If possible, compute a flow path and, as a class, zoom in to trace the path. Discuss where the path lines up with the network of rivers and streams on the map and where it does not.


    4. Have students explore tributaries and places of interest.

    In steps 4-6, students look closely at the land and water on the way to the bay. Students can use the information on the map and in different layers to answer the questions. In step 6, students select specific features along the way, such as major towns, cities, parks, or military bases. Encourage them to toggle between the different basemap layers, which show a variety of place names, features, and other information.


    5. Have students find their watersheds.

    In large, complex river systems like the Chesapeake Bay watershed, it can be difficult to trace the different smaller watersheds within it. Talk about the text in the introduction to Part 2. Explain that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has drawn outlines of the different watersheds within the larger Chesapeake Bay watershed, shown in the Watershed Boundaries layer.


    In addition to the USGS layer, FieldScope uses an elevation dataset to automatically calculate a watershed area from a particular point. In Part 2, students learn about both the USGS watershed boundaries and how water flows to certain points along the flow path. Both ultimately represent water flow to the Chesapeake Bay. Have students complete Part 2 of the worksheet.


    6. Mark and save a map for your watershed profile.

    For Part 3, have your students complete the watershed profile for your location by using different FieldScope tools and layers to show the site and its connection to the bay.


    Informal Assessment

    Evaluate students’ Create A Watershed Profile worksheets and the maps they have created. Maps should mark the site location, characteristics of the flow path, and at least one example of the concept of a smaller watershed within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

    Extending the Learning

    As students explore their flow path to the bay, have them identify how the environment has been modified.  Consider having students investigate one tributary that has lots of urban development along it and another that is more rural in nature. Discuss: What environmental issues might be associated with each?

  • Subjects & Disciplines

    Learning Objectives

    Students will:

    • Describe their location within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including distance to the bay and the route water travels from their location to the bay.
    • Identify and describe human and physical features within the watershed.
    • Determine elevation at different locations in the flow path to recognize flow of water from higher to lower elevations.
    • Create a map using FieldScope that shows their relationship to multiple watersheds within the larger Chesapeake Bay watershed.

    Teaching Approach

    • Learning-for-use

    Teaching Methods

    • Discussions
    • Hands-on learning

    Skills Summary

    This activity targets the following skills:

    National Standards, Principles, and Practices

    National Council for Social Studies Curriculum Standards

    • Theme 3:  People, Places, and Environments

    National Geography Standards

    • Standard 18:  How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future
    • Standard 3:  How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth's surface
    • Standard 4:  The physical and human characteristics of places
    • Standard 5:  That people create regions to interpret Earth's complexity

    National Science Education Standards

    Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy

  • What You’ll Need

    Materials You Provide

    • Pencils, pens

    Required Technology

    • Internet Access: Required
    • Tech Setup: 1 computer per small group
    • Plug-Ins: Flash

    Physical Space

    • Classroom
    • Computer lab


    • Large-group instruction
  • Background Information

    Knowing watershed locations and developing watershed profiles are key steps in the process of becoming informed watershed citizens.

    Prior Knowledge

    Concept of a watershed



    Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    elevation Noun

    height above or below sea level.

    Encyclopedic Entry: elevation
    estuary Noun

    mouth of a river where the river's current meets the sea's tide.

    Encyclopedic Entry: estuary
    geographic information system (GIS) Noun

    any system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on the Earth's surface.

    Encyclopedic Entry: GIS (geographic information system)
    latitude Noun

    distance north or south of the Equator, measured in degrees.

    Encyclopedic Entry: latitude
    longitude Noun

    distance east or west of the prime meridian, measured in degrees.

    Encyclopedic Entry: longitude
    topographic map Noun

    map showing natural and human-made features of the land, and marked by contour lines showing elevation.

    tributary Noun

    stream that feeds, or flows, into a larger stream.

    Encyclopedic Entry: tributary
    watershed Noun

    entire river system or an area drained by a river and its tributaries.

    Encyclopedic Entry: watershed

    For Further Exploration



NOAA (FieldScope Activities)