Dr. Soil Learning Activity
Beginning Level Learning Activity That Introduces The Soil
Dr. Soil was developed by: Jennifer Lockett, GLOBE Mentor Teacher, GLOBE in Alabama Program, http://www.globe.uah.edu/
This learning activity is written as a narrative, and it is an excellent way to introduce concepts of soil science on a beginning level so that all students can relate to the soil and to the soil protocols in GLOBE.
It is understood that student learning takes place when the material has some relevance in their lives.
Soil is often only viewed as "dirt" with no understanding of how it relates to the earth as a system. To help primary students understand the importance of soil, bring it to LIFE!
All primary students have an understanding of health and being healthy. To introduce the concept of soil actually being alive, I performed a lesson as "Dr. Soil."
My third grade audience was aghast when I rushed into the classroom a few minutes late with soil smeared on my clothes and face. Their immediate reaction was why was I so dirty. I explained that I had become a soil doctor. The soil had become ill.
To help them understand how soils can become ill, I needed to make them see that it was actually alive. This discussion sparked with questions like what was soil and why we desperately need it. This is a perfect place to use the apple model learning activity [see "How Much Soil Is There" at: http://soil.gsfc.nasa.gov/index.php?section=70] to show how much soil we actually have to use. This is also a place to introduce particle size, as the students could look around the room and see all their different sizes and shapes. A simple clay, sand, and silt discussion took place using their bodies in groups to demonstrate how close the particles could be. They were led to a basic understanding of porosity and how this effects the uses of soil. At this point, they were all together on their thoughts about soil and could actually begin to consider the characterization of soil.
The introduction of the different points should only be guided by their input into the discussion. By not ordering the ideas, you can allow them to naturally process what they are thinking. For example soil temperature can come before or after soil color.
The dialogue for this class happened in approximately this way.
The students quickly realized a fever was one of the first symptoms of not feeling well. Someone would take their temperature. Introduce the soil thermometer! Discuss how soil temperature is important to what the soil can do.
Often when the students get sick their color changes. Introduce the soil color book. First, conduct a quick poll on how many soil colors there are. Wow, were they surprised. (Be sure to count the number of sample colors beforehand!) Explain how soil color can change and how parent material can be a big factor just like their parents are the factor in their color.
Sometimes you just don't feel well. Texture fits in perfectly here. I used the standard examples to explain the different textures. (Depending on time you can actually have samples ready to share.)
Finally, some students noticed (with a little prompting) that when you have a fever that you could actually smell it. This idea led into the smell of a good soil. Several samples were passed around and the differences were easily noticed. The discussion then went into the idea of what goes into a soil.
From here we went into a brief discussion of what they do to feel better and what we can do to make to the soil feel better. The final discussion turned to conservation and what they could go home and explain to their parents about keeping the soil healthy.
This worked very well for third grade but I really think it can be adapted up or down a grade or two.