Instructor Materials: Overview of the Growing Concern Module
Summative Assessment: Students 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 present their findings in a summative "Fact Sheet" that describes best practices for mitigating potential changes while remaining sensitive to stakeholder concerns and feasibility. Learn more about assessing student learning in this module.
Human sustainability depends upon agricultural productivity, which in turn requires sustainable management of water, soil, and minerals. This module provides students the opportunity to compare and contrast intensively managed agricultural landscapes (e.g. grazelands, conventional tillage) with natural landscapes (e.g., forested or natural vegetative types). Students will examine physical properties of soils and work with geospatial data; they will use their findings to recognize how varying management practices impact landscapes differently. Using this awareness, students will develop a rudimentary yet broad understanding of the how varying land management practices can promote agricultural sustainability.
The module consists of six units structured to build complexity; each unit begins with an experiential component that engages students in making direct observations upon which subsequent activities build. Each activity is constructed to encourage students to work collaboratively by making predictions and observations, asking questions, and using findings to draw their own conclusions. All units include background readings, guiding questions, and formative assessments that review topics addressed in the module (soil characteristics, climate change, etc.). The units are designed for in-class use within 50-minute periods; we also offer options for field-based extensions and alternative class structures.
Students will learn how to relate physiographic features to land use. They will view photographs of both agricultural and natural landscapes, make independent observations, and reach conclusions about how the physiography of the land affects or is affected by various land use practices and discuss their observations. Instructors can customize the module to focus on landscapes in their area by selecting locally representative landscape photographs.
In a hands-on exercise students will learn to describe and quantify the soil properties of porosity and permeability of soil samples representative of both agricultural and natural environments. They will use this information to compare and contrast soils from varying environments in an exercise that requires them to model the role of a soil assessment expert. Instructors are provided with directions for collecting or assembling simple soil models.
Students will identify their perceptions of erosion through examining images of mountain and agricultural landscapes and discussing which environment is more erosive. Students will then use geospatial figures to compare erosion rates associated with natural and agricultural landscapes in the United States. They will then consider how the presence of agriculture has greatly reduced the area of soil production, replacing them with regions of soil loss. They will reflect on the negative implications of agricultural erosion on soil sustainability.
Students will use SoilWebTM, which is a smartphone and web application that pulls detailed soil survey data from both the 1:24,0000 scale Soil Survey Geographic database (SSURGO) and the 1:250,000 scale State Soil Geographic database (STATSGO). Students will retrieve soil information for the soil beneath them. They will diagram soil horizons, compare them to a profile of soil organic matter, and determine the most fertile horizon. Finally, students will complete a jigsaw activity comparing local soil erosion rates, soil horizons, and soil organic matter to other sites. After students share site comparisons, they will reflect on our agricultural future and solutions needed to mitigate lost soil resources. They will discuss how the speed at which we implement soil solutions will impact society and the economy.
Students will work with the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) to investigate how factors that influence erosion work together to produce an overall erosion rate for a given agricultural area. These factors are: rainfall-runoff erosivity, soil erodibility, slope characteristics, cover management, and agricultural support practices. Students will then analyze modeled changes in precipitation due to climate change to consider how these changes could influence soil erosion in their local region.
Students will use evidence from previous activities and what they have learned about the factors influencing erosion to make recommendations for agricultural practices in response to climate change for a given region. Students will construct a fact sheet that describes necessary actions but also presents their findings in a manner that is sensitive to stakeholder needs.
Making the Module Work
To adapt all or part of the Growing Concern module for your classroom you will also want to read through
- Instructor Stories, which detail how the Growing Concern module was adapted for use at three different institutions, as well as our guide to
- Adapting InTeGrate Modules and Courses for Your Classroom, which outlines how to effectively use InTeGrate modules and courses.