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McREL Standards Activity

Straight Scoop on Soils, You Dig?

Purpose:As a result of this activity, students will be able to understand that soils differ in their composition, texture, and capacity to absorb water.
Related Standard & Benchmarks:
 Standard 2.Understands Earth's composition and structure
   Level II [Grade 3-5]
   Benchmark 4. Knows the composition and properties of soils (e.g., components of soil such as weathered rock, living organisms, products of plants and animals; properties of soil such as color, texture, capacity to retain water, ability to support plant growth)
Language Arts
 Standard 4.Gathers and uses information for research purposes
   Level II [Grade 3-5]
   Benchmark 7. Uses strategies to gather and record information for research topics (e.g., uses notes, maps, charts, graphs, tables, and other graphic organizers; paraphrases and summarizes information; gathers direct quotes; provides narrative descriptions)
Student Product:Chart
Material & Resources:Before conducting this investigation, four different soil samples need to be prepared and labeled for the students to examine, and the following materials collected for student use: magnifying glasses, water, measuring glasses, ringstand, wire mesh, filter paper.
Teacher's Note:This activity is appropriate for either an individual activity or a group activity. The four soil samples should be collected from areas with different soil properties (e.g., sandy, clay). Alternately, prepared samples may be obtained commercially. Alternative equipment: If ringstands and wire mesh is unavailable, jars (from grocery items) could be used as substitutes. The filter paper could be placed over the mouth of a jar and depressed slightly to make a shallow bowl for the soil. A rubber band can then be used to secure the paper.
Students are presented with the following scenario: Mr. Jones, a local farmer, has asked you to help him plan where he will plant his crops next year. The crops he plans to plant next year each have different soil requirements, and he needs you to examine the properties of soil from each of his four fields. He has provided you with samples from each of the fields he intends to plant next season; they are labeled Sample A, Sample B, Sample C, and Sample D. 1.Place each soil sample on a piece of filter paper and place on the ringstand using the wire mesh to keep the paper in place 2.Use your senses and a magnifying glass to observe the properties of the four soil samples Mr. Jones has provided you. 3.Create a chart to record the information you gather about the soil samples. Label the rows of your chart Sample A, Sample B, Sample C, and Sample D. Label the columns of your chart; color, texture, water capacity, and composition. 4.Observe and record the color and texture of each sample in your chart. 5.Pour measured amounts of water on the soil samples until water drips through the supporting screen to measure each sample’s capacity to retain water; record your results. 6.Finally, use your magnifying glass to determine the composition of the samples. Do any contain organic material, pieces of weathered rock? Record these results in your chart. After completing the chart, students should summarize the properties of each soil type that Mr. Jones might be interested in when planning where to plant his crops (e.g., if a plant needs soil that retains water well and has a coarse texture, which should he choose?) Students can be asked to look up information on crops grown in the area to determine which soil should be selected for particular crops.