Through the activities on this Web site, students will decide on a research question, propose a hypothesis, establish a study site at their school, conduct field research, take notes on their findings in a scientific journal, and modify their hypothesis based on what they find. More importantly, they will interact with the world around them in new and exciting ways.
Each activity provided on this site is designed as a stand-alone learning opportunity that can fit in with your existing curriculum and lesson plans—or you can combine multiple activities into a cohesive curriculum unit on the physical properties and biodiversity of soil. This program was developed as a fifth-grade environmental science curriculum. However, the activities are interdisciplinary and are appropriate for grades 3-8.
The Goals of Underground Adventure:
- To combine outdoor education with technology to create a unique learning experience
- To teach the scientific method by investigating soils and underground life
- To create soil education materials that help educators meet existing Illinois state learning standards
- To interest young people in careers in science
- To sow the seeds of environmental literacy and stewardship in a broad range of communities
Why Do Outdoor Soil Studies With Your Students?
Children are innately interested in the natural world in which they live. Seeing a new creature, rock, or constellation for the first time, students are often motivated to turn voluntarily to their textbooks to learn more about their discoveries. The quest for the who, what, and how of the world's mysteries can be an exciting adventure in learning.
There is no more highly stimulating setting than the outdoor classroom. No books can rival the vividness of the real world. Outdoor learning involves all of the senses and changes with the seasons.
By studying nature, students can see themselves as part of the natural world rather than removed or separate from it. Students may then develop a sense of responsibility for the world in which they live and on which they depend for survival. Meaningful outdoor learning experiences may lead to a more environmentally literate society. Who knows? One of your students may grow up to solve some of our most pressing environmental dilemmas.
The activities in the Underground Adventure Web site guide students through an outdoor field study of soil life and some of the variables that affect soil biodiversity. Through these activities, students will gain experience in scientific skills such as hypothesis, observation, and inference. When done together as a unit of study, the activities are designed to help students answer this research question: What is the relationship between the soil's physical properties, environmental and human factors, and soil biodiversity? However, each activity is written as a stand-alone lesson so that you can focus your study of soil biodiversity on one or more variables as best fits your time and your students' needs. Simply tailor the research question to reflect the activities you will do or choose activities that will help answer research questions posed by students. In addition, this set of activities can serve as a model after which students can design their own inquiry to study a research question that interests them.
Your students will need the following resources as they get ready to conduct soil research through the activities provided below:
- Field Journal
Students will learn why scientists use field journals, take a peek at some field journals from Field Museum scientists, and start their own field journals. Time: 30 minutes
- Field Site
Students will learn why a good field site is so important to field work. A Field Museum scientist will share his secret for finding a good field site. Then students will have an opportunity to try finding a good site for a soil study. Time: 30 minutes
- Setting Up Quadrants
For several of the activities in their soil exploration, students will need to set up quadrants—50 cm x 50 cm squares in which to test the soil. This activity guides students through setting up a quadrant. Time: 15 minutes
- Field Guide
The Underground Adventure Field Guide has information about soil types and soil critters students are likely to encounter in their soil explorations.Time: Varies
- Soil Properties Overview
This section includes information about soil types and soil compaction, as well as other information students need for testing the physical properties of the soil at their field site. All of the activities in this section use the following worksheets:
- Texture Test
In this activity, students will determine the composition of the soil by feeling the texture of the soil. They will then use these data to classify the soil as sand, silt, or clay. Time: 30-45 minutes
- Mud Shake
In this activity, students will determine the composition of the soil by separating the soil particles into layers. They will then classify the soil as sand, silt, or clay. Time: 15-20 minutes, over two days
- Soil Temperature
In this activity, students will measure and record the soil temperature at their field site over time. Time: 15-20 minutes
- Compaction Test
In this activity, students will measure and record how far a pencil can be pushed into the soil at their field site. Students will use these data to infer the degree of compaction of the soil.
Time: 15-20 minutes
- Percolation Test
In this activity, students will measure and record how long it takes water to soak into the soil at the selected field site. Students will use these data to infer the degree of compaction of the soil. Time: 45-60 minutes
- Factors That Affect the Soil Overview
This section includes an overview of environmental and human factors that can affect the physical properties and biodiversity of soil. These factors are variables—your students can measure and track these variables over time as part of their research on the physical properties and/or biodiversity at their field site. All of the activities in this section use the following worksheet:
- Air Temperature
In this activity, students will measure and record the air temperature at their field site over time. Time: 5-10 minutes
- Cloud Cover
In this activity, students will measure and record the percentage of cloud cover at their field site over time. Time: 5-10 minutes
- Food Source Habitat
In this activity, students will research the main food sources for four soil critters and match each critter to the soil habitat type best suited to its food source needs. Time: 60-90 minutes
- Ground Cover
In this activity, students will practice mapping skills, increase spatial reasoning and estimation, and gain an understanding of the soil environments at their field site. Time: 60-90 minutes
- Soil Biodiversity Overview
This section includes information about soil organisms and other information students need for observing and identifying the soil critters they find at their field site. The activities in this section use the following worksheet:
- Looking for Life
In this activity, students will look for, identify and count the organisms found in soil samples from their field site. Time: 45-60 minutes
- Rock Flip
In this activity, students will sample the soil critter population at their field site by flipping over a board or rock and counting the different types of critters they find. Time: 30-45 minutes on two days
- Worm Bins
This resource provides information on starting a worm bin in your classroom.