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STEM Activities

STEM Activity: Slow the Flow

Spring has sprung! As snow melts, river and lake water levels often rise. With this activity, children will create a system to control the flow of water and prevent spring flooding.


Materials Needed

  • Blocks or building bricks
  • Cardboard box, cut into flat panels
  • Clay or playdough
  • Craft sticks, straws or toothpicks
  • Crayons or markers
  • Recyclables (optional)
  • Wax paper or aluminum foil


At-Home or In-Classroom Instructions

1. Draw a large river on flat cardboard with markers or crayons.

2. Build a city on the river’s edge using blocks or building bricks.

3. Encourage participants to transform their materials into a structure that will keep the river from flooding in order to protect the city.

4. For inspiration, explore the designs of beaver dams, constructed by nature’s architects.

5. Remember to make the system waterproof and ensure that it will not cause any harm to the environment or wildlife.

6. Give a tour of your model to a family member or friend!


What are we learning?

Many animals thrive as snow melts and rivers rise in spring, including beavers. When beavers build dams and slow the flow of water, it creates the perfect environment for salmon spawning later in the summer.

However, cities that are built near rivers sometimes struggle with seasonal floods when water levels rise. Civil engineers often rely on ideas from great inventors to solve these flooding challenges.

In 1887, National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee Harriet Strong created and patented an innovative water storage and flood control system to help slow the flow of water. Her system consisted of a series of dams placed so that the water in a lower basin would act as a brace for the dams above. Major federally supported flood control systems based on Strong’s pioneering technology include the Hoover Dam and the All-American Canal.


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