InTeGrate Modules and Courses >A Growing Concern > Unit 6: Creating an Agricultural "Fact Sheet"
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Unit 6: Creating an Agricultural "Fact Sheet"


Summary

For a given region, students will use what they have learned about the interdisciplinary problem of soil sustainability to make recommendations for agricultural practices in response to potential changes in climate. Students will present their findings in a fact sheet that describes best practices for mitigating potential changes while remaining sensitive to stakeholder concerns and feasibility. Finally, students will complete a final personal reflection on their own learning.

Learning Goals

Unit 6 is the summative assessment for the entire module. As such, the overarching module goals are addressed. In this assessment, students will demonstrate their ability to:

  1. Use geological data to develop a plan for sustainable soil management in one or more agricultural settings.

  2. Predict, using systems thinking, agricultural challenges that might result from climate change.

Upon successful completion of this summative assessment, students will be able to:

  • Synthesize information about soil erosion, climate, management practices, and sustainability.

  • Make recommendations for agricultural practices that can minimize erosion and address feasibility of these actions from the perspectives of key stakeholders.

  • Use evidence to show what actions are needed to mitigate soil erosion, thereby increasing sustainability of soils.

  • Apply the characteristics of good science communication to the general public by creating user-friendly fact sheets.

This unit directly supports multiple InTeGrate guiding principles. It addresses the grand challenge of sustainability by requiring students to consider land use practices and soil sustainability in the context of climate change. This problem is inherently interdisciplinary as it requires consideration of both geoscience data and stakeholder needs. Students must use systems thinking to investigate interactions between the geosphere and the anthrosphere, in particular the positive feedback between agricultural practices and the sustainability of soil as a vital resource.

Context for Use

This activity is intended for use as a summative assessment for the entire module and gives students the opportunity to apply knowledge gained in the other units. The overall structure of this activity can be adapted for use with a wide variety of other topics with societal implications. It can be used as a group or individual assessment and could be heavily structured by the instructor (by providing a template, for example) or assigned as a more open-ended, student-driven project.

Prior knowledge gained from completion of the activities in Units 1-5 of this module is required for students to successfully complete this summative assessment. Before beginning this activity, students should be able to:

  1. Use physiographic characteristics and soil characteristics of a given area to inform land management practices.
  2. Explain how the factors in the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) contribute to soil erosion.
  3. Identify how erosion rates for a given physiographic region may vary with changing climate.

This activity is designed for a 50-minute lecture period. Students will first complete an in-class activity that is designed to introduce the assignment, explain how to address the needs of stakeholders, and provide guidelines for writing about science to the general public. Students will then complete the fact sheet as an out-of-class assignment. It is expected that students will need 1-2 weeks outside of class to complete this assignment; the final due date should be determined by the instructor based on their instructional setting.

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity is motivated by the long-standing tradition of the US Cooperative Extension service providing research-based information to producers, consumers, and other community members. In this activity, students will work independently (individually or in groups) to create a fact sheet (example from the USGS) advising agricultural producers in their region about the potential impacts of climate change on the agricultural industry. They will use what they have learned about the factors that contribute to soil erosion and the modeled impact of climate change on erosion rates for their region to recommend changes in practice that might mitigate the effects of climate change.

Warm-up: 'brain dump' activity (10 minutes)

In this warm-up exercise, students will recall information they have learned in Units 1-5 in order to prepare them for the summative assessment. Instructors will give the students 60 seconds to write down everything they can remember about the topic of soil erosion without using their notes. Students will then compare lists with a partner and add any missed items to their own list (60 seconds). If conflicts arise, students should also note these. They will then compare their new list with a second partner and again add any missed items to their own list and attempt to resolve any conflicts. Finally, the instructor should ask for items from the whole class, one student at a time, and record them on the board.

Defining the issue (5 minutes)

Now that students have had a chance to think about what they have learned about soil erosion, they will spend a few minutes organizing their thoughts on the issue and its importance for agricultural sustainability. Students will do a 5-minute written response to the following prompt: "Describe the issue of soil sustainability, including why soil erosion occurs and why it is an important thing for agriculturalists to consider."

Introducing the project (5-10 minutes)

The instructor will introduce the assignment by handing out the Fact Sheet Student Handout and Fact Sheet Grading Rubric. The instructor will then prompt students to consider the type of agricultural production (row crops, orchards, grazing, etc.) that they will focus their fact sheet on. If students have prior knowledge of agriculture in their area, the instructor may choose to let the students decide on their own. If they need more guidance, the instructor can use this pdf from the USDA/ERS to identify the primary commodities in their region and assign a type of production.

Guidelines for format are intentionally left loose so students have a chance to be creative and consider how it might be best to present their information to the intended audience. Examples of "good" balance and "poor" balance are provided for students to consider. If desired, the instructor can project each example and have the students identify good and bad qualities of each.

  • Good example 1: USDA Demographics (Acrobat (PDF) 1.4MB Aug16 13)
    • readable font, informative headings, images and diagrams interspersed with text, ample white space
  • Good Example 2 - Click on "Aquatic Insects"
    • sections clearly demarcated and labeled, informative images for each section
    • title could be better (why these aquatic insects? are they common?)
  • Poor Example 1 - Click on "Bed Bugs"
    • Layout similar to "good example 2," but balance is too text-heavy in most sections
    • Management section is a particularly large block of text; people may not read the whole thing unless really interested
  • Poor Example 2 - Grass Carp
    • All text, pretty small font, no headings. This format is fine for an academic audience already interested in the topic, but will not encourage laypersons to read it

Knowing your audience: videos (5 minutes)

The instructor will discuss the need to write to your audience, which is defined as agricultural producers in the region for this assignment. In this context, this primarily means using and engaging tone and defining technical terms in a manner that is accessible to a lay audience. This is illustrated in the two videos on this page from the AAAS Communicating Science Website, which can be shown to the class if desired.

Outlining fact sheets: independent work time (~20 minutes)

Students will spend the majority of class time preparing to write their fact sheet by working on the "Chunking" worksheet. Chunking is a process that can help facilitate the writing process by separating the entire piece into smaller "chunks" that can be outlined individually and then combined into the final document. The worksheet provides some structure for this process by giving students prompts to help them organize their ideas into topical chunks. This activity should be done individually or in working groups, depending how the instructor has structured the activity. As students are working, the instructor will circulate, noting points of confusion that may need to be addressed with the whole class. It is strongly recommended that the instructor collect this worksheet to provide summative feedback before students complete the assignment.

Closing (5 minutes)

The instructor will address any points of confusion that came up during the independent work time and reiterate the deadline for the completed fact sheet. In addition, the instructor should distribute the Final Reflection Handout and instruct students to complete this after completing their fact sheet.

Materials

Teaching Notes and Tips

Formative assessment, in the form of collecting the chunking worksheet or reading a rough draft of the fact sheet itself, will be helpful for classes with students who are inexperienced in writing for this type of audience.

Students may struggle with addressing stakeholder needs due to lack of knowledge of what these needs might be. This can be addressed by providing an opportunity to talk with a farmer or someone else knowledgeable about agriculture in your region. Helping students understand the complexity of this issue and the importance of taking stakeholders into consideration will help them reach the InTeGrate goal of solving interdisciplinary problems.

Assessment

Fact sheets should be graded using the rubric that was given to the students. Instructors can modify this rubric to assign point values in a manner that is consistent with their course grading scheme.

Student metacognition is an important part of the learning process. The Final Reflection handout should be used to encourage students to reflect on their own learning during this module and its personal significance. Students' ideas should not be graded, but responses can be scored using the rubric included in the handout.

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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 »