ES326 Soil Genesis, Classification and Morphology

Katherine McCarville,
Upper Iowa University


The course is a field-oriented exploration of soils, including classification based on the USDA Soil Taxonomy system.

Course Size:
less than 15

Course Format:
Integrated lecture and lab

Course Context:

This course has a pre-requisite of Intro Geology+Lab. It is required in the Environmental Science major, the Agricultural Business major, and the Applied Plant Science major. It is also required in the Earth Science minor, which is taken by many Conservation Management majors. Students who take this course are eligible for certain jobs with the USDA NRCS and other employers. Lecture and lab are entirely integrated and both are taught in the same location.

Course Content:

This course starts with a quick review of the rock cycle, weathering and glacial geology (because of our location). We start looking at soil auger cores right away within walking distance and expand our field investigations over the course of the term to include natural, agricultural and engineered soils; we examine soil biota; each student prepares a presentation and a one-page handout on one of the USDA Soil Orders (including newer classifications of human-modified soils/substrates) which we gather into a class booklet.

Course Goals:

Students will be able to read and understand USDA Soil Series descriptions and soil maps.
Students will know how the properties of soils affect their uses, and be able to evaluate alternative treatments, amendments and/or location of different uses of soil/substrate.
Students will be able to effectively sample and describe soils.
Students will appreciate the importance of soils to human civilization and survival.

Course Features:

-Each student investigates a specific USDA Soil Order (or Anthropic soil/substrate), including physical and chemical properties, representative Soil Series Descriptions, and relevant scientific literature. Students present to peers and create a one-page handout (these are combined into a class booklet).
-The soil biota investigation is a window into a whole new world to students.
-The soil sampling and nutrient analysis lab activity involve students in assessing agricultural soils.
-The final field trip (to either Neal Smith Prairie or the UW Arboretum Greene Prairie) integrates their knowledge of soils with restoration ecology.

Course Philosophy:

We have great resources on campus, including a greenhouse, constructed prairie, forest, and wetland. We are in the midst of the most agriculturally productive region in the world. I totally integrated the lecture and lab/field components of this course as I developed it, partly because I noticed that students were not connecting their academic work to the outside world, future careers, and etc. I also think that relevance leads to retention.


Hard question.


Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Properties of Soils, Brady and Weil
It's THE text for teaching USDA Soil Taxonomy.

Ferreting out student misconceptions about soils has been very important in my development of the course and its goals.