Virtual Soil Classification

Karen Rose Cercone, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
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After watching a video, students classify soils using a ternary soil diagram and run online computer models to see how the proportion of sand, silt and clay affect drainage. Students then use the ternary soil diagram to predict how real soils (found from online soil maps) will behave in terms of runoff and infiltration.

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Learning Goals

Content/concepts goals
soil classification and prediction of soil behavior

Higher order thinking skills goals
plotting sediment percentages on a ternary diagram, predicting soil behavior from classification

Other skills goals
using online maps to determine the geology of soils near their own home

Context for Use

Type and level of course
This lab activity is currently used on-campus in a tablet-focused introductory lab for non-majors. It could easily be adapted to an online class activity.

Skills and concepts students should have mastered
They must understand the different size categories of sediment and the general formation process of soil.

How the activity is situated in the course
This activity is currently one of 10 lab activities oriented toward the use of tablets and computers in a lab setting.

Description and Teaching Materials

This handout is used in our lab manual and can be adapted for online use.
Online Soil Classification Exercise (Acrobat (PDF) 254kB May2 17)

Teaching Notes and Tips

The soil drainage experiment web-page uses Flash and will therefore NOT work on most tablets and smart phones. Students need to run these experiments on their computers.


Students take a pre-test after watching the video before lab where we ask them to plot a sample soil on the ternary diagram and predict its behavior. They take a post-test the following week in which we repeat this assessment.

References and Resources