Learning from the ground up

Jamie Brown took her 6th graders at Miami East Junior High through an extensive exploration of soil and its impact on agriculture, using a variety of lessons from the Ohio Corn & Wheat-sponsored Feed the World workshop.

Brown’s class looked at soil stability and how it affects plant growth. They performed a soil slake test with three different types of soil: potting soil, garden soil, and dirt. Students first made predictions of how the soil would act when placed in water, then recorded what they saw. She said, “They were very surprised to see that the potting soil floated. However, we had a conversation of why that occurred and how the soil floating tweaks the results we see.” Students saw that the soil with the most “rooty” material stayed together the best while the dirt that had been dried out and indoors for over a year had very little stability.

Next, students made connections to which soil type would be best for growing in terms of stability. This visual provided students with the evidence on why they would choose the soil type they did. After performing the slake test, students then moved on to test nutrient levels for a variety of different soils. Most soils were from fields and regions around our school. Brown also included some soil from Utah just to provide something a little different.

Brown had students assess their soil to see which soil would be the best for growing based on nutrient results. A heavy emphasis was put on finding the pH of the soil and how that connected to growth as students will discuss pH further later this year. Many students thought that if something was acidic, whether liquid or solid, it was very harmful to living things. Little did they know, many plants enjoy slightly acidic soil!

Last but not least, to wrap up the soil unit students participated in the Farming for the Future activity. Brown said, “I told the students that their table had now just transformed into a village. At that point, they were hooked!”

“I provided them with time to ‘plant their field’. During this time, their conversation was so rich. At first, some students refused to plant things because they didn’t like to eat them in real life. We had a conversation about what it looks like to focus on your entire village instead of just yourself. Once we got past that point, students were engaged in great conversation about whether to take risks and plan for a very dry or wet year, or to try to balance out their crops so they would be successful in either type of weather. At the end of the simulation, we spent quite a bit of time discussing the impact cards and how they relate to what occurs in everyday life. Quite a few classes were very interested in the impact that wells and literacy classes have, which led to a good discussion about the things we are fortunate to have in our country. This provided students with a deeper understanding of how farming practices in our local community and within the United States are both similar and widely different from those in other countries. Students greatly enjoyed this activity and seemed to get a much better grasp on having a global mindset.”

As part of state standards, sixth grade students must understand what causes soil to have different properties such as texture or stability. By performing a slake test, students were able to see how soil is affected based on what is grown or its contents. Testing soil gave students a better understanding of the nutrients within soil and how that impacts the future use of soil. Lastly, the Farming for the Future activity allowed students to connect their knowledge of soil and how soil’s fertility and use impacts much more than just a local farmer.

Brown said, “The workshop provided me with a variety of ways to connect my soil curriculum with what happens in our local community and what happens globally. While my district is in an predominately rural area, students often don’t understand what is happening in those fields right outside their doors. I gained a better grasp on all the different things that affect soil and ways to better demonstrate those items (such as nutrients and stability) to my students. Soil can sometimes be a boring topic to students but the activities we took part in during the workshop allowed me to bring these topics to life!”

Register now for the next Feed the World workshop!