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Water Pipelines- An Amazing Real-Life Challenge

Water Pipelines are perfect for Earth Day and it will be here before you know it, but why wait for a specific day. Celebrate the Earth every day!   

We have so many STEM challenges that we try in the spring and this one is perfect.  

It’s the Water Pipeline Challenge! We also try Solar Ovens and Earthquake Resistant Structures!

Water Pipelines- a real-life STEM Challenge for the elementary classroom. Students create a working gravity-fed pipeline system using basic materials.

The Backstory of Water Pipelines

We learned first about the water pipelines in Panama. There are remote villages in that country that rely on gravity-fed pipelines to bring water to a large water tank. The villagers journey to the water tank with buckets and jugs to collect their water.  

We looked at photos of the pipelines and talked about all the ways these are good and then about the problems the villagers might have with this system. This led to a very hands-on way to recreate the pipelines and illustrate just how problematic the leaks in the pipelines might be. Very eye-opening!

In this challenge, students will be using materials to design and build a gravity-powered water pipeline. They will transport water from the main tank to a smaller tank using an incline that will allow this movement. They must also carefully connect the pipes and make sure those connections are watertight.

Setting up the Tanks

Groups had to have a main tank that was elevated and would hold the supply of water. When this water is released it will flow through their pipeline into a holding tank at the end.

You can see one of the dilemmas we ran into quickly. Where and how do you make a hole in the tank so the water can flow out? Many groups just punched a hole in the cup and thought the water would flow out.

Notice we had towels nearby!  

Problem #1- The hole in the elevated tank cannot be high up on the side of the tank. If it is then water cannot flow out after the level is lower than that hole! Sometimes you learn things the hard way…

In this challenge, students will be using materials to design and build a gravity-powered water pipeline. They will transport water from the main tank to a smaller tank using an incline that will allow this movement. They must also carefully connect the pipes and make sure those connections are watertight.

In this photo, you can see another group’s way of making that draining hole.

They used the bendy part of the straw coming out of the bottom of the cup.   

Problem #2: Masking tape can stop those leaks, but not after it gets wet!

The water pipelines had to be tested frequently!

Water Pipelines- a real-life STEM Challenge for the elementary classroom. Students create a working gravity-fed pipeline system using basic materials.

Problem #3: The elevation of the first tank and then the pipeline along its path is important. Since we are relying on gravity, the pipeline cannot be parallel to the table.

Students learned to use the materials to create an elevated tank. but it had to be stable.

I can’t tell you how many turned over when water was poured in!

Here’s a fantastic Earth Day challenge that can be used all year long! It’s a water pipeline event! This has turned out to be one of our favorite challenges. The kids cheer when it is announced and yours will love it, too. Students create a working pipeline that uses a fun background scenario as the inspiration for the task.

Towels!

Problem #4: My suggestion to you if you ever do any kind of challenge that involves water leakage is that you have REAL towels on hand. They are much more absorbent than paper towels and cheaper. I give each group a large towel and maybe some smaller ones. Later I just throw those in the washer and dryer that our school has!

Here’s a fantastic Earth Day challenge that can be used all year long! It’s a water pipeline event! This has turned out to be one of our favorite challenges. The kids cheer when it is announced and yours will love it, too. Students create a working pipeline that uses a fun background scenario as the inspiration for the task.

Can you stop all the drips?

Yes, you can! I have seen several pipelines built that did not leak at all. I have seen many that have small drips- like the one in the photo!

The real-life component of this challenge is one that brings great interest and engagement to the task in our lab. Since the kids know that there are communities that have the same problems they had with their small pipelines I think they have an appreciation for the challenge. It’s also really fun!   

Problem #5: It is really hard not to laugh while I am watching kids race around with cups and towels and their scooped hands trying to catch all the dripping water!

Students love this Water Pipelines challenge- I love watching them catch all those leaks! Click on any of the photos to see the details about the resource. You might also enjoy these real-life challenges:

Water Pipelines- a real-life STEM Challenge for the elementary classroom. Students create a working gravity-fed pipeline system using basic materials.