What kinds of plants grow well in the soil where you live?
What do you think would be the biggest challenge in restoring an ecosystem? Why?
What do you think a sick ecosystem looks like? What, besides the soil, might need to change for a sick ecosystem to be healthy again?
How do you think the recent discoveries about soil microbes could potentially shape the world around us?
- Write the following question on the board: What is soil? Invite students to share what they know. Then guide the class to understand that soil is a mixture of pieces of rock, living and once living things, water and air. It is a natural resource that holds the water and nutrients that many plants-and ultimately animals-need to live and grow.
- Point out that there are many different types of soil. Each type of soil has different characteristics. Those characteristics affect what plants can grow in the soil in certain places. For example, sandy soils in the desert do a poor job of holding water. That's perfect for cactuses, but most other plants would die in this soil.
- As a class, in small groups or with a partner, invite students to conduct research to learn more about the characteristics of soil.
- Have students identify plants that they think would and would not grow well in the soil found in your area. Using what they learned about the characteristics of soil, challenge students to give one or more valid reasons to support each prediction.
Invite students to share their predictions with the class. Encourage classmates to evaluate each piece of evidence to determine whether or not it supports students' ideas about what will and will not grow in your area. If you like, encourage students to grow some of the plants they identified to test their predictions in the field.
CUSTOMIZE THE LESSON:
Investigate the characteristics of soil and complete the activity as a class. Instruct students to identify two plants that they think will grow well in your area and two that won't. Challenge them to give one valid reason to support each prediction.
Investigate the characteristics of soil as a class. Then have students complete the activity in small groups. Instruct each group to identify three plants that they think will grow well in your area and three that won't. Challenge them to give one or more valid reasons to support each prediction.
Have students investigate the characteristics of soil and complete the activity in small groups. Instruct each group to identify four plants that they think will grow well in your area and four that won't. Challenge them to give two valid reasons to support each prediction.
Have students investigate the characteristics of soil and complete the activity with a partner. Instruct each pair to identify five plants that they think will grow well in your area and five that won't. Challenge them to give at least two or more valid reasons to support each prediction.
Discover the amazing world of soils with images and information with this exhibit from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. The site includes interactive activities, videos and a variety of other educational materials along with an interview with a soil explorer.
Soils are living, breathing, changing natural systems that form the basis for all land ecosystems. Use this multi-step activity from the Smithsonian Learning Lab to help students explore what is in our soils while they get their hands dirty through environmental awareness.
This lesson plan for elementary students from the National Museum of Natural History presents the story of the Dust Bowl with two activities that demonstrate how the effects of farming practices contributed to severe soil erosion. The lesson includes extensions for each activity.
Help middle schools students investigate soils as they observe how water moves through different types of soil, how soil properties affect flow rate and water holding capacity, and how soil filters water with this lesson plan from the National Museum of Natural History.
Encourage high school students to investigate soils, learn about soil texture, soil water-holding capacity, and other properties of soils with this lesson plan from the National Museum of Natural History.
In this teacher-created lesson from the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, students design a habitat for worms as they learn about composting, nutrient cycles and the importance of decomposition.
Lead is a particular risk as people try to turn potentially contaminated urban sites into productive and sustainable farms. Read this Smithsonian magazine report to learn more.
Read this Smithsonian magazine article to learn how a buildup of salts on irrigated land has already degraded an area the size of France and is causing $27.3 billion annually in lost crops.