How Many Ways Can You Stop a Pipeline Leak?

Earth day 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!

STEM Challenges for elementary students! Students will experiment with heat-resistant materials and then use their test results to design the best oven possible. This is so exciting as they troop outside to test the materials, record the temperatures of the ovens, & choose the materials to design the best oven. Finally, they put together a chocolate treat and use the sun to help cook the item.  This STEM resource includes detailed teacher directions, photos, lab sheets, and rubrics.


The Backstory

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 took a look 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!

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.

STEM Challenges for elementary students! Students will learn about the need for water pipelines in certain places and then try to build one themselves. The pipeline must connect a full water tank to a lower reservoir and then transport water along the entire line. Can they stop those leaking places? They will build, test it, and make immediate repairs. They will cheer when the water makes it the whole way! This STEM resource includes detailed teacher directions, photos, and lab sheets.
Above 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...

STEM Challenges for elementary students! Students will learn about the need for water pipelines in certain places and then try to build one themselves. The pipeline must connect a full water tank to a lower reservoir and then transport water along the entire line. Can they stop those leaking places? They will build, test it, and make immediate repairs. They will cheer when the water makes it the whole way! This STEM resource includes detailed teacher directions, photos, and lab sheets.
Above 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!

Below are a few other tanks in the process of being built or being tested.
STEM Challenges for elementary students! Students will learn about the need for water pipelines in certain places and then try to build one themselves. The pipeline must connect a full water tank to a lower reservoir and then transport water along the entire line. Can they stop those leaking places? They will build, test it, and make immediate repairs. They will cheer when the water makes it the whole way! This STEM resource includes detailed teacher directions, photos, and lab sheets.

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.

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!

STEM Challenges for elementary students! Students will learn about the need for water pipelines in certain places and then try to build one themselves. The pipeline must connect a full water tank to a lower reservoir and then transport water along the entire line. Can they stop those leaking places? They will build, test it, and make immediate repairs. They will cheer when the water makes it the whole way! This STEM resource includes detailed teacher directions, photos, and lab sheets.

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 below!

STEM Challenges for elementary students! Students will learn about the need for water pipelines in certain places and then try to build one themselves. The pipeline must connect a full water tank to a lower reservoir and then transport water along the entire line. Can they stop those leaking places? They will build, test it, and make immediate repairs. They will cheer when the water makes it the whole way! This STEM resource includes detailed teacher directions, photos, and lab sheets.
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!

We have two other really special Earth Day Challenges so check these links:


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