Teach the Earth > Hydrogeology > Hydrogeology, Soils, Geochemistry 2013 > Teaching Activities > Soils as Construction Materials

Soils as Construction Materials

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 will introduce you with the concept of using soils as construction materials.This project involves characterizing soils using various laboratory analyses and applying the Unified Soil Classification System in naming the soil.

Keywords: Geotechnical, Mass Wetness, Grain Size Analysis, Atterberg Limits



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

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have prior experience in Excel, reading topographic maps, and running grain-size analysis of sediment.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is Part 1 of a two part geotechnical exercise. It can be a stand alone activity or be used with my activity: Geotechnical Part II which allows the students to apply the data in a geotechnical exercise.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students should be able to describe fully the characteristics of soils and classify the soil using the United Soil Classification System.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Other skills goals for this activity

Students learn efficient means of calculating and graphing data in Excel.

Description and Teaching Materials

Files attached include the activity, soil proctors, and site map. I have also included a power point to introduce the material.

Geotechnical Part 1 (Acrobat (PDF) 134kB Apr29 13)

Soil Proctors (Acrobat (PDF) 72kB Apr29 13)

Site Map (Acrobat (PDF) 223kB Apr29 13)

Power Point Geotechnical Activity (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 2.7MB Jun9 13)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity is typically started in a 75 minute class and continued by the student during non-class hours. An extra 75 minutes outside of class is typically required.


The students have properly classified the soil through the multiple tests run in this exercise. They were able to successfully calculate the Liquid and Plastic Limits and Index and accurately plot their results onto the table provided.

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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