3. Soil Analysis

Soil Profile from Tabott county, Tennessee

Students conduct 4 tests of soil quality in the classroom that can then be applied to their terraqua columns and to the outdoors: visual observation, soil separation, pH, and Tullgren Funnel (to isolate living things in the soil). They make comparisons between 2 different types of soil and draw conclusions about how "healthy" each soil is. Through this process, students discover the major "ingredients" of soil: clay, silt, sand, organic material, water, air, living things, and minerals. By recording information in their science journals, they learn how to keep good notes and share the information with others in the class during a concluding class discussion about what "healthy" soil might look like and why.

Watersheds Box

This box covers watersheds, wetlands, and the shaping of the San Francisco Bay Area. Students will create several 3 dimensional classroom models to explore watersheds, erosion, sedimentation, and wetlands.Students will explore the geography of the local area through maps and physical exploration, thereby learning where water in the Bay comes from and the path it takes before it reaches the ocean. Throughout the unit are strategies to apply classroom learning to the real world in the form of:

  • case studies - learning about the science behind the recent Hurricane Katrina disaster
  • projects - studying erosion at a local creek and staging a town hall meeting about California's levee system

1. Terraqua Columns


Students discover what ecosystems are by exploring the relationships between him/herself, other living things, and the student's environment. Students create and study miniature ecosystems by building a terraqua column - a 2 story soda bottle tower with soil and plants on the top and a water source on the bottom. The terraqua columns will be used throughout the ecology unit for practice with water and soil quality monitoring and with making and recording observations. Later in the unit students can conduct independent investigations with their terraqua columns.

Ecology Box


The Ecology Box covers ecosystems, food webs, habitats, and water/soil quality monitoring. Students will investigate water and soil quality, study habitats ranging from a drop of pond water to a rotten log, and learn about population change through various case studies. At the core of this unit is a long term project where students build mini-ecosystems with water collected from a local creek, soil from the schoolyard, and seeds. Their ecosystem will be monitored over one month as the plants grow and the water quality changes (measured by pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and water volume). In the second month, students will design their own experiments with their mini-ecosystems. Student teams will model various human environmental impacts (pollution, acid rain, global warming, etc.) and observe the effects on the plants, soil, and water in their mini-ecosystem.