Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Earth & Space Science: Session 1

Lesson and Curriculum

Mackey's ClassroomLesson at a Glance:
Curriculum: Activity designed by Tim Mackey
(download the lesson plan as an Adobe PDF document)
Grade: Fifth
Topic: Soil


The fifth graders in Tim’s class engage in an activity that he designed called: “Exploring Soil” (you can download the lesson plan as an Adobe PDF document). His emphasis on the inquiry process connects this exploration to other science activities and distinguishes “playing in the dirt” from undertaking a scientific approach to studying soil. “The world of children is the world of play,” says Tim. “And at this point, they’re old enough now as fifth graders to be able to stop and take a good look….That’s the hard part…to go from the excitement of getting your hands dirty to the discipline of…what’s in this, and what are we going to learn from this?”

Tim starts the activity by asking questions to determine what his students think about soil. He asks, “What is soil? What is dirt? Is there a difference, or are they just synonyms for the same thing?” He describes his students as being “city kids” who are likely to equate soil with the maintained fields that they play on, and think that all soil is pretty similar.

After bringing the students outside and digging up a shovel-full of soil from the school property, Tim provides his students with core samples of soil taken from six very different locations: a river bank, an Amish farm, a baseball diamond, a mulched area in his yard, a landfill and a construction site. In small groups, students make observations and record the properties of their samples, and try to predict where the soil was obtained.

Tim was pleased with the results of the soil investigation. "Most of them (the students) learned from this lesson that soil isn't all the same. It does vary from location to location. And there’s a variety of things that can affect the soil and change it." Tim will use their soil investigation as a springboard to learning about water quality.

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