Bridging divides through earth education: Tying field observation of soils to broader understanding in science education

Thursday 2:45pm REC Center Medium Ice Overlook Room
Oral Presentation Part of Teaching For Diversity


Stephanie Ewing, Montana State University-Bozeman
Field and lecture based soils teaching for diverse populations can illuminate profound cultural divides on the topics of global change and environmental stewardship. These divides follow long-standing schisms among state university student groups from rural and urban or urbanizing backgrounds in the northern great plains and intermountain west. Embedded in discussion of soil disturbance and health are seemingly conflicting values related to the roles and responsibilities of land managers with a diverse range of goals such as wildlife conservation or management, ranch management, support of rural communities, traditional practices, and food production. For students considering these goals and their futures, this university teacher at a small state school is challenged to communicate the practical value of both broader knowledge generally, and independent thinking in the context of education. A few students are extremely receptive; many more are strongly resistant. Moreover, students from diverse communities bring critical knowledge to the classroom and to discussion of land management issues, but are commonly reluctant to share what they know with an unfamiliar audience. Often, field exercises accommodate these diverse views, and this presentation will highlight the successes of a "jigsaw" approach to soils observation in an upper division soils class, in which subsets of students make detailed observations of individual soil profiles and report back to the larger group. Soil profiles are chosen for their relationship on the landscape (e.g., a lithosequence) and subsequent discussion focuses on interpretation of the combined observations in the context of landscape position, plant communities, and land use. Profound revelations tend to emerge in these discussions, yet tying them back to the lecture portion of the class and the broader societal need to evaluate and protect soil resources can be challenging. Strategies for making these connections will be discussed.

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