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Students examining soil samples

Possibilities Just Beneath the Soil Surface

DATE:  March 23, 2020

LandPKS and the Asombro Institute partnered up to develop a three-lesson module to teach middle school students about sustainable land management.

Guest Post by Ryan Pemberton, Science Education Program Leader at Asombro Institute for Science Education

Ryan Pemberton

Asombro Institute for Science Education is a non-profit organization in New Mexico dedicated to increasing natural science literacy through engaging, place-based education. Asombro designed an engaging, three-lesson education module about land potential to prepare students to become informed decision-makers.

The ultimate goal of educators is to prepare today’s youth to be the citizens and leaders of tomorrow. According to climate scientists, tomorrow will be fraught with uncertainty. We are constantly bombarded with the message of uncertainty in weather patterns, access to food and water, and the health effects of these changes. So what are we as educators supposed to do? The same thing we do every day: give our future leaders the tools to navigate this uncertainty.

Student determining soil texture at different depths using LandPKS and the sustainable land management module.

Student determining soil texture at different depths using LandPKS and the sustainable land management module.

As a way to help educators give students the skills to succeed in this environment, Asombro Institute for Science Education partnered with LandPKS to develop a three-lesson module on sustainable land management that meets Next Generation Science Standards. This free, online lesson plan is  based on the LandPKS mobile app that guides users to access and collect climate, soils, and topography data of the land they are working with to better understand the potential of that area. By understanding land potential, landowners or managers can make decisions to be more degradation resistant and resilient, and to to promote sustainable agricultural production, biodiversity conservation, and other community objectives.

Student examining soil sample

For most of the past year, with help from the LandPKS team, I have been working to develop this three-part education module to accompany the LandPKS mobile app for 5th – 8th grade students to teach them the basics of land potential indicators, enable them to collect data using the app in their school yard, and apply their new knowledge to make land management decisions.

In the first part of this module, students literally get their hands dirty while working through activities to help them understand land potential indicators including slope and soil texture. These and other indicators can help determine how a plot of land should be used (i.e. agriculture, grazing, or  recreational purposes). In the second part of the module, students collect data outside on two plots in their schoolyard or other suitable area. Finally, in the third part of the lesson, students get to do one of their favorite things: use phones during class! In this lesson, students enter data into the app to determine the land’s sustainable potential using the Land Capability Classification (LCC) results.

The LCC system was created in the U.S. but is used globally to classify land into different categories describing how the land could best be used and highlights concerning limitations (i.e. erosion,  excess wetness, stoniness, etc.). Once students know what LCC is and what it can tell them, they use critical thinking skills to decide if their schoolyard is being used for its best potential or not, and come up with possible alternative uses.

This module has a lot of great aspects: it’s hands-on, students get to go outside, it is aligned to Next Generation Science Standards, and there are opportunities for them to be creative and express their opinions. My favorite part of this module is how well it applies to the real world. Students learn about a tool, get to use that tool, then they get to apply their knowledge and the data they collected to design a solution for their community and environment, just like they will have to do when they are the leaders.



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