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Soil Solutions

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two girls performing a soil experiment

Soil Solutions brims with hands-on science lessons that utilize the local school landscape to connect students to the world of soils and plants in an inviting and relevant way. Students will discover the soil beneath their feet, watch as a basil seed germinates before their eyes and nibble on nutritious and delicious salad greens they have grown themselves. Activities are structured to foster wonder and curiosity and encourage ways to turn student questions into investigations. The teacher’s role becomes one of a collaborator and a partner in inquiry with their students. Aligned to meet the North Carolina’s third grade science standard course of study in plant and soils, the curriculum draws from current research and knowledge in crops, horticulture and soil sciences. Each lesson includes background information for teachers, questions to focus student thinking and activities that emphasize observation and problem solving.

Using the 4-H Experiential Learning model as a framework, the curriculum seeks to further life skills like communication, teamwork, critical thinking, and more, by engaging students to learn by doing, sharing their experience with each other, reflecting on their results and generalizing and applying what they know to new situations.

Soil Solutions contains eight engaging lessons. Below are brief summaries of the lessons and a sampling of activities, assessments, and worksheets contained within the curriculum. Contact your county 4-H agent at your local Cooperative Extension office.

Soil Properties

Students will sample and observe soil from the schoolyard, determine soil type using hand texturing techniques and a soil shimmy dance. Students perform a soil particle play to understand the spatial relationship between different soil particles and the impacts on plant growth. Duration: 1.5 hours or two 45-minute sessions

Soil Water Relationships

Starting with a sponge demonstration, students will begin to understand the four different parts of soil: soil particles, air, water, and organic matter. Continuing the schoolyard soil investigations, students will conduct experiments to determine how water flows through different soil types. Duration: 45 minutes

Soil and Water Relationships –  Each lesson includes active assessment strategies to gain an understanding of your student’s knowledge and skills.

Soil and Plant Growth

Through a dancing and brainstorm session, students determine what plants contributed to their lunch and where the plants might be grown in North Carolina. Using information gained from previous lessons, students develop an experiment to test the ability of their native soil to support different crops. Duration: 1 hour followed by 15 minute weekly observations for 6-8 weeks.

Seed Germination Experiment

Students watch a short time-lapse video illustrating seed germination and then discover the process for themselves by sprinkling water on basil seeds and watching the seeds immediately start the germination process. Students discuss what seeds need to germinate and delve deeper with an experiment to encourage morning glories out of dormancy. Duration: 1 hour for initial lesson, followed by 5 to 10 minute observation each day for 7-10 days.

Sprouting Basil Seeds: Most activities begin with a “hook” to engage student interest.

Pollination Partners

Students act out the process of pollination using homemade props and puppets that demonstrate the relationship of a flower shape to its pollinator. Students collect flowers and dissect them to identify the different parts. Teachers share intriguing pollination stories with students that engage their interest in plant / pollinator relationships. Duration: 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Pollination Partners: Beyond the Garden Gate: Each lesson contains project ideas for students to do at home

Plant Growth Experiment: A Nutrient Study

Using the Fast Plant growing systems students design an experiment to explore how environmental variables influence plant growth. The short life cycle of the Fast Plants enable students to observe the entire plant growth process, including pollination and seed development. Duration: 1 to 1.5 hours for initial experiment design, followed by 10 minutes two to three times a week for observation.

Plant Growth Worksheet: Numerous worksheets are contained within the curriculum to provide a starting framework to record and discuss ideas explored

Salad Bowl Experiment

Students will determine what characteristics they would like in a salad green and use these ideas to inform their data collection on an experiment they design to evaluate salad greens for school lunches. Students create the experiment, by developing questions, making hypotheses, collecting data, drawing graphs and writing a consumer report marketing the “best” salad green. Duration: 1 to 1.5 hours, 10 minutes once a week for data collection


Students begin by sorting through a “trash bin” to discover which items are compostable and non-compostable. Build a classroom bin to which they can contribute compostable ingredients and record observations around temperature and length of time for something to decompose. Duration: 45 minutes to 1 hour, additional weekly observations of 15 minutes.

Compost Card Sort:  Tools are included to further conceptual understanding of students in a fun and interactive way.


Liz Driscoll

Try the first lesson of Soil Solutions, Chapter 1. The full curriculum may be obtained for free by contacting your local Cooperative Extension office.