Wonders of Soil

Climate change deserves our attention. Most years, I incorporate some discussion of this topic on a very surface level. There are several units, though, where we talk about strategies to keep our planet healthy without directly talking about climate change. This year, I decided to be more direct after I listened to a lecture, received copious emails, saw numerous Facebook posts, and then saw the movie, “Kiss The Ground for Schools”. The reception of this content by my students inspired me, so I thought I should share with the rest of you.

In 2015, Pope Francis wrote “Laudato Si . . . On Care For Our Common Home”. Recently, I attended (virtually) a lecture on this letter and the importance of teaching climate change in our classrooms. I followed this lecture with a viewing of “Kiss the Ground for School” (there is a full-length version, but I have not seen it). Next I was ready to take on the topic in the classroom šŸ™‚

We started with a trip to our OLE. While there, I challenged students to examine two different clumps of soil – one dug up from under a plant (I asked for the plant to be a weed so we could kill it at the same time!) and one from bare soil. In their examinations, students noticed the texture, moisture, smell, and composition of the samples. We returned to the classroom and discussed their observations. I used our digital microscope to zoom in on each of the soil types and project them on the wall. Under the microscope, we could see organisms alive in the soil – especially the sample from under the plant.

Next, we watched the documentary. Though it is only 45 minutes or so, I broke it up into two days. We took notes as we watched. I encouraged students to include questions they had as they watched, too, including questions or comments on statements or scenes they were not sure they agreed with, so we could look for more information later. I modeled the note-taking by writing words and phrases on the board as I heard them in the film. Afterward, we discussed the film. We started with small group discussions in which students had to agree in their groups on the four most important take-aways from the film – items everyone in the room should have on their notes besides what I had written on the board. Then, the groups had to come up with at least one question that needed to be answered.

When the group conversations lulled, we shared out. It was surprising to hear the questions that arose. Not one group said anything like, “Is climate change even real?” or “Is this really such a big deal?” Instead, they asked “What can we do to help?”, “How can we encourage change?”, and “If these things are so bad, why are people still doing them?” These questions provided a jumping off point for further discussion and exploration.

Biology class (and plenty of others) holds the opportunity for confronting difficult and controversial topics. If you teach, please do not be afraid to TEACH the topics that are necessary for their understanding. It can be intimidating not knowing what questions or opinions the students might bring to the conversation, but those conversations need to happen. Be sure you have done the background research and you know the science of the topic, and then go for it! Present the science and let the students learn!

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