Susan Riley | June 2018

Aboriginal Watershed STEAM Lesson

At the 2018 NAEA conference in Seattle, I had the pleasure of visiting the Seattle Art Museum.  There, I wandered into an entire gallery of Aboriginal art.  As I was reading the information about each exquisite piece, a common theme emerged: water.  Many of the pieces were highlighting the waterways of specific areas.

This immediately got me thinking about the study of watersheds in our middle school science curricula.  Not only do students explore their watersheds, but also how the flow of water is effected by weather conditions. In the Aboriginal Watershed STEAM lesson, students are exploring both the rich, cultural heritage and significance of Aboriginal Art and their local watersheds.

Materials List

I’ve actually been exploring a variety of Pacon products lately and have found them to be really great for use in a STEAM lesson.  Here’s a list of the materials that I used in this example:


Step 1:  Explore Images

View a variety of Aboriginal Paintings.  Many of these paintings document the path of water in dry Australia.  You can also view some teaching resources for the water theme at Japinka Aboriginal Art under the Themes tab.

Then, view your own local watershed ( and look at the map of real-time streamflow in your area. What do you notice? What patterns emerge?  Have students document these either alone or in a group.

Step 2: Trace, Cut and Outline

Print off the map of your state and have students trace it on their tracing paper.  Trace the circles and label each with the colors on the page. Place the tracing paper on a piece of black construction paper.  Outline the state on the black paper.

Step 3:  Add Modeling Dough for Water Markers

Using colored modeling dough, roll small balls to represent each retrieval area.  Glue each of these onto the black paper on the state as represented on the tracing paper.  

Step 4:  Fill in with dots and patterns

Use white paint and a q-tip or small paintbrush to add white dots as an outline for the state.  Continue to fill in the areas of the state between each water data point with painted dots.

Step 5: Formative Assessment

Engage in a class discussion and provide an exit ticket.  Ask questions about the project on an exit ticket. Then discuss as a class on ah-ha’s and questions.

  1. What does the watershed map tell us?
  2. How does our own map tell this story?
  3. How is Aboriginal art both useful and creative?
  4. What do you predict will happen in our watershed over the next few months?

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education.Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.Email Susan