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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The materials are free and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
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Instructor Materials: Overview of the Soils and Society Module

Module Goal: Students (pre-service elementary teachers) will apply geoscientific data, inquiry practices and systems thinking to analyze a relevant societal issue in the context of soils. Students will then design, develop, and present a standards-based K–8 soils Kit, incorporating a locally and broadly relevant societal issue that integrates scientific content and inquiry practices.

Summative Assessment: The summative assessment for this module is the Soils, Systems, and Society Kit. Guidelines and a rubric for the Kit are presented early in the module (in Unit 1) and the Kits are presented in Unit 4. Learn more about assessing student learning in this module.

These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards. At the top of each page, you can click on the NGSS logo to see the specific connections. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more about the process of alignment and how to use InTeGrate materials to implement the NGSS.

NGSS in this Module

Supported Next Generation Science Standards:

Performance expectation: 5-ESS2-1. Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.

Science and engineering practices: Analyzing and interpreting data

Cross-cutting concepts: Systems and system models; patterns

Disciplinary core ideas: ESS2.D Weather and climate, ESS3.D Global climate change

Connections to nature of science: Scientific investigations use a variety of methods

Unit 1 Introduction to Soils and Society

Unit 1 begins with a brief class discussion of several scaffolded focus questions about making science relevant. This leads into a discussion about soils and their role in society. The class discussion can also help the instructor identify any misconceptions about science or soils that need to be addressed in later activities. Students are asked to consider what local and global soil issues exist. Students are introduced to concept mapping and create a starting Earth systems concept map which will be revised after each unit and included as part of their summative assessment—the Kit. Unit 1 may end with the Soil, Systems, and Society issues homework assignment.

Unit 2 Mapping Patterns

In Unit 2, students work in small groups to examine and analyze map data to identify patterns (precipitation, soil, agriculture, topographic) and, through a jigsaw discussion, describe the interactions between Earth systems.

Unit 3 Soil Investigation and Classification

Unit 3 is set up as a series of stations to apply soil testing methods (pH, pore volume, etc.) to characterize the regional soils collected by the instructor. Each student gathers and records data from stations that may apply to their chosen soil issue. The groups come back together as a class to discuss soil resources and locally relevant soil issues and their results from the period's work.

Unit 4 Soils, Systems, and Society Kit Presentation

In Unit 4, through their own open-ended inquiry, students design and create a standards-based Soils, Systems, and Society Kit (the "Kit") containing lessons and supporting materials to teach K–8 students about an important soil and locally relevant societal issue or problem of their choosing. This unit is designed to be a curriculum element in a K–8 science methods course that is relevant and has a real-life context. The student's Kit should be an authentic curriculum and—for the pre-service teachers—a metacognitive experience in developing an integrated curriculum. This process will strengthen their abilities to design instruction, linking the real world to their classroom.

Making the Module Work

To adapt all or part of the Soils, Systems, and Society Module for your classroom, you will also want to read through

If you have the flexibility to teach this module throughout your course term, you may consider the following suggested timeline. This module can also be completed in 3–4 consecutive weeks.

  • Weeks 1–2 of quarter or semester: Complete Unit 1 and prepare the students for Unit 2.
  • Weeks 2–4: Complete Units 2–3 in class. Follow Unit 2 or 3 with a detailed discussion of the Kit assignment (Unit 4).
  • Weeks 3–6: Instructor checks on progress of students toward completion of Kit. Students should have a minimum of 2 weeks to complete their Kits; 3–6 weeks with regular review and discussion is preferable.
  • Weeks 4–10 of the quarter or semester: Conduct the gallery walk or presentation session with students presenting their Kits.

In a science teaching methods course, it is essential that students not only experience appropriate teaching pedagogies but also learn the benefits and limitations of these pedagogies through practice. The pedagogies are the majority of the content the students learn in a methods course.

  • Inquiry: Students first use structured inquiry to build soil testing skills and then develop their own guided inquiry lessons for the Kit. Inquiry is the center of scientific activity and the framework for the essential scientific practices outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). It is essential for pre-service teachers to develop inquiry practices and integrate them into science lesson planning and teaching. See the InTeGrate site for Geoscientific Thinking.
  • Geoscientific Data and Technology: Geoscientific data have many forms. It is important for students to learn that scientists use many different methods to obtain and analyze data. This is demonstrated in our module by using map data in Unit 2 and soil data (they collect using technology) in Unit 3 to draw conclusions about local soils. Students are then required to include the same technologies and geoscientific data (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and tables) in their Kits. Data collection and interpretation are essential practices of inquiry and the NGSS. The use of soil technologies and data improves geoscientific literacy in pre-service teachers, thus improving their ability to develop these skills and knowledge in their future K–8 students. Extension lessons that address image use skills are included in the Activity Extensions of this module.
  • Science Journals: Students gather and record data and ideas in a science journal/notebook. Science journals promote scientific inquiry by providing students with a canvas for recording their observations and questions. Journals enhance writing skills and provide one mechanism for integrating science and literacy. They also support differentiated learning; for example, K–8 students with limited writing skills can use drawings to demonstrate learning. Journals are also a useful assessment tool for teachers, particularly because they are easily scaffolded and can capture growth over time.
    • Our students record daily class notes and reflections in their science journals. The journals include experimental/activity data and write-ups, reading reflections, independent project data/notes, and formative assessment activities.
    • We typically assess journals 2–3 times over a 10-week quarter. The first assessments are formative (can be graded or not but worth less than the final assessment if graded) so that students have the opportunity to improve their journals over the quarter. Read more about using and assessing (with rubric examples) journals/notebooks in college classrooms or K-12 classrooms.
  • Research: Students must use research to identify a locally and broadly relevant soil societal issue and find data and materials for teaching about this issue for their Kits. Through research students will learn to recognize credible geoscience data. Finding appropriate materials and content is an essential skill for scientists and teachers alike.
  • Cooperative Learning and Discussion: Students work in small groups to collect and interpret soil data. They may also work in groups to develop their Kits at the direction of their instructor. Cooperative learning helps students develop a deeper understanding of content than individual study alone. Moreover, cooperative learning helps pre-service teachers develop the necessary teamwork skills to work in effective teaching teams. Through this process pre-service teachers also learn to modify data to fit the grade level of their students.
  • Presentation and Communication: Students present their Kits to the class. Presentation and communication are essential practices of inquiry and the NGSS.

This module is designed for a traditional or blended elementary science teaching methods course with low numbers of students (16–32). It can use devices such as electronic portfolios to upload student data, but these are not required. It could be used in a lecture/lab setting with some modification. In an ideal setting, this module should be taught in conjunction with a field experience, so that students could teach some of their Kit lessons at an elementary or middle school. The module should be taught so that the student's background knowledge is enhanced to provide the necessary soil testing skills and methods, map skills, inquiry skills, and data collection skills.

If time allows, this module could benefit from a local soil collecting field trip. A journey to the field that coordinates habitats and crops to specific soils would be highly beneficial. Computer access is highly desirable, although access to a computer lab is not required. The research work the student does is generally done outside class. It is necessary that the instructors have access to the activity materials and have practiced the background knowledge activities contained in Unit 3. In addition, the instructor may want to visit the resources/references provided to gather information about local soils.

In-class activities as presented should fit within five or six 2.5–3-hour class periods, but ideally Units 3 and presentation of 4 should be scheduled at least 2–6 weeks apart so students have sufficient out-of-class time to complete their Kit assignments. Note: If the pre-service students have not had a previous introduction to certain laboratory and inquiry skills and methods, as well as experience linking science and society/environment, then instructors should consider building in additional time to successfully meet the goals of this unit. Additionally, preparation for the final presentations may require some class time, especially if the students need the resources of the classroom and the assistance of the instructor.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »