On the Cutting Edge - Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
Teaching Hydrogeology, Soils, and Low-T Geochemistry in the 21st Century
University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM
Cutting Edge > Hydrogeology > Hydrogeology, Soils, Geochemistry 2013 > Teaching Activities > Geotechnical Part II

Geotechnical Part II

Douglas Kowalewski, Worcester State University

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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Jun 6, 2013


This geotechnical project allows the student to become familiar with laboratory soil report and construction site maps. Student gain insight to the responsibilities of a Geotechnical Soil Scientist through determining the best use of soils and location for building structures and retention ponds.

The student is the on-site soil scientist/engineer for a construction project. The project is to build a local farm stand. Three site maps are provided: a topographic map of the site, a topographic map showing the location of the building pad and boreholes; a site map showing the topography after the construction is complete. The building pad will be at 27' and be the foundation for the farm stand. In this lab, students will solve problems that typically arise during the design and construction phase of a project. To help complete the lab, students need to create a soil laboratory report (see my activity: Soils as Construction Materials).



The class is: Introduction to Soils, and is an undergraduate course.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students must be able to classify soils using the United Soil Classification System (see my activity: Soils as Construction Materials) and understand their use in a built-environment. I have had greater success in this activity when students are proficient in ArcGIS in which to complete the map and make volumetric calculations for cut and fill.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is Part 2 of a two-part Geotechnical project.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

(1) How to read basic construction site plans

(2) How to create a cross section from a topo map

(3) Determining regions of cut and fill based on topographic maps

(4) Interpret laboratory soil reports to evaluate soils for construction uses

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Knowing the spatial distribution of different soils and the site topography, students will determine prime areas for certain build features including a parking lot and a retention pond.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students will use data to create a professional lab report and create a cut/fill geotechnical map in ArcGIS.

Description and Teaching Materials

Attached is Part 2 of the Geotechnical Activity. Please see Part 1 (my activity: Soils as Construction Materials) to download all necessary maps and soil data.

Part 2 Geotechnical Activity (Acrobat (PDF) 99kB Apr29 13)

Teaching Notes and Tips

The project begins in a 75 minute class. There is a follow up class for which students construct their map in ArcGIS or can use the given maps to draw on. Additional ideas are for the students to calculate the volume of cut and fill and attempt to have those be equal so no net material is added or subtracted from the site. Students also investigate "green" construction practices (i.e. "green parking lots") which adds a social component to the project.


I make sure students identify and accurately map the cut and fill region; I ensure proper use of soils as construction material. Each student's map and report differ due to selecting different soils to analyze from part 1 which adds interest.

References and Resources

Gregg Drilling and Testing has a great pdf for the United Soil Classification System: http://www.geology.wmich.edu/fhydro/HFC%20Docs/Gregg%20-%20Unified%20Soil%20Classification.pdf

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