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Virtual Watershed Avatar Activity

This exercise will be done before students begin the "Virtual Watershed" activities/fieldtrips.

Students will be given a base map of a small watershed near their school/camp to begin the exercise. The base map will include the watershed boundary, important land marks (i.e. the location of their school), and a satellite view zoomed in to the area of interest to help orient them.

Students can work on separate maps or all of the students can work on the same Google Map (this can be done through Google Apps for Education accounts or "guest" accounts set up by instructors). If necessary, this can be done on a single computer, with a small group of students taking turns adding their avatar to the map.

Students will begin by choosing an avatar of a plant, fish, bird or mammal. These avatars will be provided as custom Google Map icons, as well as jpeg files that can be inserted into Powerpoint/Google Presentation slides. (For more advanced students, you can instead have them create their own avatars using Google Drawing, save them as jpeg files, and upload them into the Google Map balloon custom icons. An example of this can be found in the Wild Weather exercise.)

Students will place their avatar within the watershed Google Map in a location that represents an appropriate habitat for that organism. The amount of help that they need with this step will help assess their level of competence with basic computer mapping skills.

Students will discuss why they chose their avatar and why they placed it where they did. This will demonstrate their knowledge of the ecology of the organism they chose, as well as their mapping skills.

Students will then be asked "how does your avatar make a living?" Their answer will be in the form of a single Powerpoint slide that portrays their avatar and images of significant ecosystem elements-- what it "eats" (for plants this would be sun and water, as well as soil nutrients), where it lives, and other things that are necessary for every day life. The ecosystem elements will be available as jpeg files from a file cabinet page. Students should not at this stage do research (such as a Google Search) to obtain their own images or additional information about their organisms- student should rely on their own knowledge at this stage. 

Google Tools Help


All of the student Powerpoint slides will be collected and uploaded into a Google Presentation that can be stored in the teacher's Google Drive.

The Google Presentation/Powerpoint can be projected in front of the class and when a student's slide appears have that student tell the "story" of its avatar's daily life.
Students can also write a short story of how their avatar "makes a living" and this information can either be added to the slides and/or to map icon balloons.

When the map is complete it can be added to the full map (below) to show how the small watershed that the students are mapping fits within a larger watershed. This can then be discussed in terms of "where does our river go" to assess how much the students know about the geography of their region.

This activity can be substituted for a pre-test before a camp or class unit on watershed science. Student artifacts can be added to an e-portfolio (for example, a folder on the teacher's Google Drive) and assessed using a rubric developed from the template we provide. After students complete their class/camp watershed activities, student work can be compared to assess how much they have advanced in their understanding of STEM concepts and computer skills.

Sample Rubric

We have created a sample rubric for the watershed "pre-test" Google Map and Google Presentation. The rubric includes both computer skills and science background. You can access it by clicking this link Assessment Rubric grades 4-6, or as a downloadable Excel Spreadsheet in the attachment section at the bottom of the page.

The illustrations below were created by Nasbah Ben
Avatar Gallery

Here are some avatars that you can use to tell the story of who lives in your stream. 


Water Potato 


Avatars to the left are created 
with Adobe Illustrator and those
to the right were created with
Goole Drawing.
Common Raccoon
Canadian Goose

This avatar was used for the example below - you can right click (PC) or Control click (Mac) to copy the image URL

Digital Atlas of Idaho includes fish, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, plants, geology and other aspects of natural history
Digital Atlas of Washington includes birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, plants, geology and other aspects of natural history. Limited coverage of fish.

Sample watershed

View Avatar Map in a larger map

This animation was created using the Scratch programming language click here

YouTube Video

Dr. Cynthia Annett,
Feb 23, 2013, 4:18 PM