Make a Mini Water Cycle


The water cycle, also known as the hydrological cycle, is the process in which water moves and changes on Earth. All the water on Earth, whether it’s the water that we drink, the water that sustains the ocean or the rain that falls from the sky, has been around for millions of years. Because of the atmosphere, water molecules are trapped here on Earth for us, and all other life forms, to drink, use and enjoy.

There are three states of water: solid (ice), liquid and gas (water vapor). Water changes from one state to another because of the application of heat.  As you heat up the molecules in ice, it melts and becomes water and eventually evaporates into water vapor. Removing that heat causes water to condense and reverse this process.  This is the water cycle.

You can easily make your own mini water cycle at home using just a few materials. Here is what you need:

  • 1 plastic tub
  • 1 plastic cup
  • 1 small rock or marble
  • 1 roll of cling wrap plastic (or similar)
  • 1 roll of wide tape to seal the still
  • Water_cycleSoil or sand
  • 1 – 2  cups of water


  1. Add your soil to the plastic tub.
  2. Position the plastic cup in the center of the tub, partially submerged in the soil for stability.
  3. Sprinkle 1-2 cups of water over the soil.
  4. Seal the tub with cling wrap and tape. Add a pebble or large marble directly above the cup forming a depression in the cling wrap.
  5. Place the solar still in a still and sunny location. Observe your still throughout the day. What do you notice happening?

Follow-up Questions:

  1. How does water get into the oceans?
  2. What are clouds? What are clouds made of?
  3. How does rain form?

Did you build your own water cycle? We want to see! Send us a picture at and be featured on our blog.

Are you a teacher who wants to use environmental education lessons in your classroom? Checkout Project SWELL: a school-based science curriculum that teaches children about the importance of the San Diego region’s waterways. The project helps teachers empower students about how to understand and improve the condition of San Diego waterways.

We Receive $14,000 Grant to Expand Project SWELL in Oceanside


What do you remember about your elementary school science classes?

I remember sitting in class, reading textbooks while the teacher droned on and on about some obscure science concept that was dense, dry and so distant from my life that I could never really envision employing the concepts that I had learned. For many students, this is their day-to-day interaction with science.

But for students in Oceanside, it doesn’t have to be.

Thanks to a $14,000 grant, awarded to San Diego Coastkeeper by The Oceanside Charitable Foundation, an affiliate of The San Diego Foundation with support from The McLaughlin Endowment Fund of The San Diego Foundation, more students will get access to engaging lessons in science and environmental education through Project SWELL. The funding will allow Project SWELL to be implemented in 5th and 6th grade classes throughout Oceanside Unified School District, provide teachers with professional development, online access to the curriculum and materials for hands-on learning.


Project SWELL was developed through a ground-breaking partnership between San Diego CoastkeeperThink Blue (the City of San Diego) and the San Diego Unified School District. Project SWELL is a school-based science curriculum that teaches children about the importance of the San Diego region’s waterways using hands-on engagement and inquiry based learning. The project helps teachers empower students to understand and improve the condition of San Diego County waterways. The Project SWELL curriculum is customized to the City of Oceanside and helps students to address the distinct challenges that their city faces when dealing with water supply, quality and conservation issues and gives the students tangible ways to address these issues and impact their community ‘right now.’

Each SWELL unit of study:

  • Educates students about local watersheds
  • Promotes stewardship for our natural environment
  • Aligns with California State Science Standards

Currently, over 160,000 students (grades K, 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6) in San Diego Unified School district and over 1,600 students (grade 5) in Oceanside Unified School District have access to Project SWELL in their classroom. With this additional funding, Project SWELL will expand to include 6th grade, another 1,600 students.

Are you a teacher who wants to use Project SWELL in your classroom? Learn more at

Build Your Own Watershed

A watershed is an area of land where all the water from rainfall, streams and rivers drain to a common outlet like reservoirs, bays or larger rivers. It is the ecosystem in which we all live including the wildlife, surface waters and, of course, our neighborhoods. Sometimes, the word watershed is used synonymously with drainage basin or catchment. In San Diego County, we have a total of eleven watersheds.

Try this experiment: build your own watershed at home and explore how water flows across the land.

San Diego Watersheds

You will need the following:

  • 1 large tupperware container or roasting pan
  • Scrap paper or newspaper
  • Rocks of various sizes
  • White trash bag
  • Cup of cocoa mix, iced tea mix, or other flavored drink mix (to represent chemicals)
  • 1 spray bottle filled with blue-colored water


  1. Use the paper and rocks to make an uneven surface in you container. You are constructing the topography of your watershed.
  2. Cover your topography with the white trash bag; be sure to tuck in the edges under the rocks. It might be helpful to use some rocks to hold the trash bag in place.
  3. Spray your watershed with the blue-colored water to simulate precipitation. Where does the water in the watershed flow?
  4. Sprinkle the cocoa mix over part of your model. The cocoa mix represents chemical runoff that is polluting the watershed. Spray the model again and watch how the contaminated water travels through the watershed.



Follow-up Questions:

  1. What are some things that can pollute our watershed?
  2. How can we reduce the impact that we have on the watershed and the environment?

Did you build your own watershed? We want to see! Send us a picture at and be featured on our blog.

Are you a teacher who wants to use environmental education lessons in your classroom? Checkout Project SWELL: a school-based science curriculum that teaches children about the importance of the San Diego region’s waterways. Project SWELL helps teachers empower students about how to understand and improve the condition of San Diego waterways. For more information go to

Photo credit: Shannon Switzer

SWELL is picking up in San Diego Unified

Project SWELL (Stewardship: Water Education for Lifelong Leadership) is getting a lot of attention from San Diego Unified School District elementary teachers after last week’s professional development workshops. Targeting K, 1st, and 6th grade teachers, the workshops were well attended with 47 teachers learning the curriculum, many for the first time. If all these teachers implement SWELL, then about 1,400 more elementary students will learn about local water issues in their classrooms this year.

In a post-workshop survey, all teachers rated the workshop as very well-organized and would recommend the workshop to other teachers. Perhaps it had something to do with the sandwiches and cookies provided after a long day of teaching, thanks to generous donors to Project SWELL through Coastkeeper. Or the gift packs and reusable water bottles from Project SWELL partners City of San Diego Think Blue. More likely, it has to do with the thoughtfulness and care put into the creation of the curriculum. Project SWELL was created for teachers by teachers, and it’s easy for teachers to squeeze in the hands-on lessons as part of their regular science curriculum.

The trainings are a great way to share news and new developments with the SWELL program, especially recent updates to the SWELL website and a tutorial of how to access the supplemental curriculum materials (maps, pictures, and graphics) as part of a password protected section of that site. SWELL is adapting quickly to be applicable in the 21st century classroom with smartboards, notebooks, and ipads!

Coastkeeper loves interacting with the teachers who make water education a priority in their classrooms. We took a few videos of the teachers after the workshops to learn more about their motivation and desire to teach Project SWELL lessons. Enjoy!

Teaching Teachers to Teach SWELL

There are many ways to approach environmental education. One (and in my view, the most important) is to ensure students have opportunities to see, touch, smell and taste Mother Nature while hiking, swimming or participating in an outdoor activity. Another method is to bring guest speakers into the classroom to entertain students and teach them about animals, plants, watersheds or some other engaging topic. The model of Project SWELL (Stewardship: Water Education for Lifelong Leadership) is unique and effective: it provides hands on activity kits to classrooms and trains teachers to educate about the local aquatic environment as part of their science curriculum. Lessons actively involve students in learning about water supply and conservation, pollution prevention, and the local coastal habitat and wildlife, while reinforcing classroom principles such as the scientific method.

In early November, Project SWELL partners City of San Diego Storm Water & Transportation Department – Think Blue, San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) and San Diego Coastkeeper joined forces to offer professional development workshops for elementary teachers in 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th grades. The response from the workshops was overwhelmingly positive and while most teachers were new to SWELL, a few returning teachers came to refresh and re-engage with the program. A fourth grade teacher from Edison Elementary School, Rebecca Brown, took a moment to share her experiences with SWELL in the video on the left.


According to a recent study, educators in Los Angeles are spending less time teaching science and are receiving less training to do so. Teachers across the country are pressed for time, balancing language and math testing requirements with special needs students and second language learners. We, San Diegans, often insist that we have very little in common with Los Angeles, but the SDUSD is the second largest school district in the state (16th in the nation) and experiences many of the same woes as its big sister LA Unified. Yet a few SDUSD Board of Education Members believe strongly in the value of science in preparing tomorrow’s leaders and SDUSD science scores are above average when compared with the rest of the state. Thanks to the board and educator leadership, strong partnerships and generous donors, valuable programs like SWELL continue to thrive and train teachers even in periods of budget cuts.

Just like many students, many teachers love learning about science. And the more they feel fluent with the content, equipped with the materials to teach lessons, the more likely they are to pass along a love of learning science. Project SWELL trainings will continue each Spring and Fall for SDUSD teachers. Explore the recently revamped Project SWELL website for new developments, access to online curriculum for SDUSD teachers and contact us with any questions or suggestions.


Kindergarten Students Learn About Pollution Prevention

San Diego Coastkeeper and the City of San Diego recently launched the Project SWELL Kindergarten curriculum in San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). Through these lessons students learn about the different plants and animals living in San Diego’s aquatic environments and about storm drain pollution. 

Project SWELL (Stewardship: Water Education for Lifelong Leadership) promotes awareness of clean water and fosters a sense of environmental stewardship by engaging children in improving the health of our ocean and waterways. This unique environmental education program enhances the existing science curriculum with hands-on lessons to teach students about pollution prevention in their local environment. 

Including the Kindergarten lessons, Project SWELL will be taught to approximately 50,000 students in five grades in SDUSD and one grade in Oceanside Unified School District annually. Ultimately, the City of San Diego and San Diego Coastkeeper plan to develop Project SWELL in all K-12 classrooms in SDUSD and continue to expand the program into other school districts in San Diego County.

Educating the Environmental Caretakers of the Future

Educating San Diego’s youth about the importance of clean water and healthy marine ecosystems is a priority for San Diego Coastkeeper. Thanks to our environmental science education program, Project SWELL (Stewardship: Water Education for Lifelong Leadership), more than 50,000 students are personally involved in protecting San Diego’s natural water resources annually.

Project SWELL is hands-on, K-12 water quality and pollution prevention curricula that teaches children about the importance of our recreational waterways and human-water interaction from both environmental-conservation and environmental-science standpoints.

Most children (as well as their parents) are unaware that our bays and beaches are dangerously polluted, and ever fewer understand the role we play in this problem and must play in its solution. This unique San Diego-based education program supports progressive change by educating students on ways they can minimize impacts to this sensitive coastal environment and address environmental issues pertaining specifically to our region.

Project SWELL is in Kindergarten,  2nd, 4th, 5th & 6th grade classrooms in San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) and in 5th grade in Oceanside Unified School District (OUSD). In 2011, we will launch the 1st grade curriculum in SDUSD and the 6th grade lessons in OUSD.

Coastkeeper is working to expand the program county-wide to enhance environmental awareness among every K-12 student in San Diego County. Through Project SWELL, we can help empower and educate these future leaders of America to understand and improve the condition of San Diego’s coast and waterways. Read more about Project SWELL.

Fighting for Science in San Diego Schools

This past year, San Diego Coastkeeper has been leading the fight for strong science programs in San Diego schools. Since 2000, science education and performance has improved dramatically in San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). The district is the second largest school district in California and it now ranks competitively with coastal districts and is currently the most proficient urban district in California in science performance.

However, severe state and district education budget cuts, a change in focus and three major reorganizations at the district have changed the way science is taught in SDUSD. SDUSD Board of Education members Richard Barrera and John Lee Evans asked Coastkeeper’s Executive Director, Bruce Reznik, to convene and chair a Science Advisory Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) to evaluate SDUSD’s science curricula and its delivery to the classroom.

The BRTF developed a final report and presented their findings and recommendations to the Board of Education in December 2009 to help SDUSD stay on track to create a world-class science program. In 2010, the BRTF and SDUSD senior staff had three joint meetings to develop an implementation strategy to ensure strong science in San Diego schools  to best prepare students for the educational and job opportunities in the 21st Century economy. Coastkeeper will continue to work with SDUSD on implementation of the recommendations.