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Activity: Water woes

AOs | Indicators | Outcomes | Snapshot | Learning experiences
Cross curricular |  Assessment | Spotlight | Links | Connections


Explore issue of water shortage to develop understandings of practical measurement, calculations of volume, estimation and rounding.

Achievement objectives

This task could be structured to focus entirely on measurement and calculation, or statistics and collecting data. Achievement objectives should be selected from those listed below. The level that the task is aimed at will depend on the level of the students in the class and what the teaching and learning goals are.

  • NA5-4 Use rates and ratios.
  • GM5-1 Select and use appropriate metric units for length, area, volume and capacity, weight (mass), temperature, angle, and time, with awareness that measurements are approximate.
  • GM5-2 Convert between metric units, using decimals.
  • GM5-3 Deduce and use formulae to find the perimeters and areas of polygons and the volumes of prisms.
  • GM5-4 Find the perimeters and areas of circles and composite shapes and the volumes of prisms, including cylinders.
  • GM6-1 Measure at a level of precision appropriate to the task.
  • GM6-2 Apply the relationships between units in the metric system, including the units for measuring different attributes and derived measures.
  • GM6-3 Calculate volumes, including prisms, pyramids, cones, and spheres, using formulae.
  • S6-1 Plan and conduct investigations using the statistical enquiry cycle:
    • A Justifying the variables and measures used.
    • B Managing sources of variation, including through the use of random sampling.
    • C Identifying and communicating features in context (trends, relationships between variables, and differences within and between distributions), using multiple displays.
    • D Making informal inferences about populations from sample data.
    • E Justifying findings, using displays and measures.


  • Understands the effect of using different measures on the accuracy for subsequent calculation, for example, using lengths to find areas and/or volumes.
  • Identifies limits of accuracy for a measurement.
  • Selects appropriate units for measuring tasks.
  • Estimates sensibly.
  • Converts between units. This includes converting between units for volume (capacity) and mass, and between simple derived units.
  • Uses derived measures to describe rates.
  • Models objects using 3D shapes.
  • Solves problems involving finding volume(s).
  • Uses volume formulae appropriately.
  • Uses the statistical enquiry cycle to conduct investigations:
    • Poses investigative questions.
    • Selects, uses and justifies variables and their measures to use in order to solve a problem.
    • Collects and manages data.
    • Uses appropriate statistical graphs and tables to explore the data and communicates relevant detail and overall distributions.
    • Explores data.

Specific learning outcomes

Students will be able to:

  • select and use appropriate equipment for measuring tasks
  • make accurate measures
  • find the volume of a variety of shapes
  • make estimations
  • use rates
  • engage in the enquiry cycle to solve a problem.

Links with KCs, for example, thinking and communicating.

Diagnostic snapshot(s)

Quick fire questions on measurement and calculations:

  • How much water do you think we use in a day or a week at school?
    • You, our whole class, the entire school?
    • How would you go about finding this out?

Planned learning experiences

Set the scene, giving task and focus questions (whole class).

Example: A small rural school needs to save water, particularly as the school pays for water, but also from a conservation point of view.

Some schools have to get their water trucked in and stored in reservoir tanks. Others are connected to the city water supply. No matter what type of school you are at, conserving water can save money which can be used for other things that the school needs.

Conserving water is also a key action for a sustainable future.

Possibly use PPDAC type cycle (not necessarily statistical enquiry).

As a class pose a question to investigate in regard to water conservation. For example, how can we save water (and money) at our school?

Students work in pairs or groups to plan how they will go about answering the investigative question.

Initially students should look at variables that might be of interest for this question:

  1. How do we use water in this school?
    For example: Toilets, drinking fountains, in subject areas, for example, science, home economics, showers (gym), tea/coffee; how much laundry is done, on or off site? School pool, washing hands, watering gardens and fields, cleaning.
    • How much water do we use... in a day, in a week, in a month?
    • How much water do the toilets use? The sprinklers use?
    • How could we measure this?
  2. What are the costs associated with usage, purchase?
  3. Number of students and staff at the school.
    • Does everyone use the same amount of water?
    • How much water do we use per day? Units to use (litres), making calculations with rates.
  • Decide on which variable(s) can be investigated or can be considered in saving water.
  • Having decided what data/information they need to collect, students will need to decide how they are going to measure and collect the data/information they need.
  • Students will need to identify any equipment they need, for example, rulers, liquid measures.

Example focus: toilet flushes
What can a school do to conserve water? – Reduce amount of water used in toilet flushes.

Practical measurement – how much water do you use to flush the toilet?

Investigate how much water is used by using a:

  •  half flush (measurement)
  •  full flush.

How much do you save by putting a brick into the cistern? (measurement)

Collect data and information, make measures.

The analysis will depend on what the students have decided to investigate.
It may include finding out some of the following:

  • How much water does the school use each day?
  • How many students/teachers/others? (Number – estimate)
  • How frequently does someone use a toilet at school (Stats investigation)


  • How much does 1,10,1000 litres of water cost?
  • How much water can be sensibly saved?

Calculate savings per day/week/term.

Present and justify findings, explain limitations.

Possible adaptations to the activity

This framework/structure could be used to explore any of a range of issues of interest to the students.

Achievement objectives would depend on the context. For example:

  • teenage drinking could focus on measurement, rates, volumes, graphs
  • carbon credits could focus on number, percentages, etc
  • power usage or emissions tax credits could focus on number, graphs, statistical literacy.

Where to next?

  • Ask questions about water issues globally – bring in statistics, compare NZ context with that of another country, for example, Abu Dhabi or Australia.
  • Saving water at home – how to reduce your household costs.

For students who are struggling
Focus only on one variable, for example, toilet flushing, and how much water can be saved per person per day.

For students who are ready for extension
Students could investigate:

  • What is the mass of 10 litres of water?
  • How can we store water?
  • How much water is held in the reservoir or water tank when it is ¾ full?
  • If it rains, how much water could you collect from the roof of the gym?
  • How can we measure rainfall?
  • Practical investigation measuring/collecting rainfall and/or analysing rainfall records.
  • Conversion between inches and mL for measuring rainfall.

Cross curricular links

  • Science
  • Geography
  • Social studies
  • Education for Sustainability
  • Economics

Planned assessment

Students present ideas – poster, PowerPoint, oral, written report
(It is not about the presentation – it is about the thinking and the mathematics and statistics.)

This teaching and learning activity could lead towards assessment in any of the following achievement standards, depending on the actual achievement objectives focused on.

Or as evidence towards the three numeracy unit standards: number, measurement and statistics.

Spotlight on


  • Facilitating shared learning:
    • Students working in groups.
    • Students having learning conversations.
  • Making connections to prior learning and experience:
    • Providing real-life problems in which the context is relevant to students.

Key competencies

  • Thinking:
    • Students select appropriate methods and strategies when solving problems.
    • Students use mathematics to model real life, they make conjectures and engage in sense making.
  • Managing self:
    • Students rise to new challenges.
    • Students manage time effectively.
  • Participating and contributing:
    • Students take on appropriate roles in different situations.
    • Students contribute to a shared vision.


Students will be encouraged to value:

  • innovation, inquiry, and curiosity by thinking critically, creatively, and reflectively
  • ecological sustainability, which includes care for the environment.


Planning for content and language learning

  • ESOL Online -  The ESOL Principles 
  • Ensure a balance between receptive and productive language.
    • Are the students using both productive (speaking, writing) and receptive (listening, reading) language in this lesson?
  • Use of wide vocabulary in discussion re: everyday use of water.



  • Lovitt, C., & Clarke, D. (1992). The mathematics of hunger. MCTP professional development package: Activity bank volume 1 (p. 132). Carlton, Victoria: Curriculum Corporation.
  • Lovitt, C., & Clarke, D. (1992). Public versus private transport. MCTP professional development package: Activity bank volume 1 (p. 134). Carlton, Victoria: Curriculum Corporation.
  • Lovitt, C., & Clarke, D. (1992). Iceberg towing – using an iceberg for water supply problems. MCTP professional development package: Activity bank volume 2 (p. 591). Carlton, Victoria: Curriculum Corporation.
  • Lowe, I. (1991). Public vs private transport. Mathematics at work - modelling your world: Volume 1 (p. 170). Canberra, ACT: Australian Academy of Science.

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Last updated September 23, 2020