Soil Conversion Lesson Plan

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Sustainable Agriculture: Soil Conservation 


Sustainable agriculture is the practice of producing food, fuel, and fiber in a manner that will not compromise the ability of future generations to do the same. This is achieved by reducing the negative impacts on air, water, and soil, that may be caused by the agricultural industry. Soil conservation is the act of managing soils in order to prevent the loss and degradation of topsoil through practices like conservation tillage, cover cropping, and carbon rich amendments.  


Our human population is growing at an exponential rate increasing the global caloric requirement. Farmers have been left with the task of meeting these global needs in an efficient and inexpensive manner, and often times, harmful to our natural resources. Water, both below ground and in above ground reservoirs can become contaminated with human made soil amendments like nitrogen fertilizer. Air quality can also be compromised due to barren soils when topsoil mixes into the air increasing particulate matter concentration. Issues like loss of topsoil through soil tillage and water runoff are of most concern since topsoil takes thousands of years to form. Our growing society greatly depends on the topsoil in agriculture lands to provide food and other goods. Sustainable agriculture and soil conservation is one of the many tools we can used to ensure a healthy, equitable, and peaceful society for generations to come.

Lesson Plan

Objective: Compare the difference in soil health and plant growth in soils with varying management practices.  


  • soil health kit 
  • filtered water 
  • measuring cup 
  • disposable gloves 
  • rhizotrons 
  • mason jars
  • remade soil amendments
  • multiple local soil samples
  • plant seeds
  • ruler
  • notebook
  • pepper towels
  • mass balance
  • centrifuge test tubes

Procedure:To see how soil conservation management practices can improve the health of soil and produce similar yield to that of conventional soil management practices we will obtain soil from 2-3 different locations. We will grow seeds in the soils and apply varying treatments like different amounts and quality of water and fertilizer as well as starting with disturbed and non-disturbed (tillage and no tillage) soils. In order to quantify the difference in treatments we will be taking weekly notes and measurements of the above and below ground growth. We will also determine soil texture prior to planting and look at the soil structure after we collect the final biomass of the plants. Lastly, we will use a soil health kit to determine the nutrient content of the soils. 

Weekly lesson topics:  

  1. What is soil? + soil texture activity+ plant seeds  
  • Soil forming process  
  • Components of soil  
  • Soil minerals  
  • Learn how to calculate percentages to determine soil texture  

2. Agriculture in today’s society + Collect rhizotron observation 

  • Types of agricultural systems  
  • Common agricultural practices from around the world:
    • cropping systems
    • Irrigation systems: Calculate water needed for plant growth
    • Fertilizer types and uses: Macro and Micro elements
    • Agricultural insects and pesticide use
    • review of scientific method

3. Soil and the carbon cycle + collect rhizotron observation

  • Carbon cycle
    •  Review of elements
    • Carbon sources in agriculture  
    • Carbon in the ocean and the earths interior
    • Excess carbon in the atmosphere and its impacts on climate  

4. Plant physiology 

  • Plant cells  
  • Respiration and transpiration 
  • Photosynthesis  
  •  Germination of seeds
  • Physiology of seedling
  • Plant reproduction cycle

5. Soil health + soil health kit (2 weeks) 

  • Indicators of soil health 
    • Soil structure
    • Soil organic matter (decomposed and biomass)
    • Nutrient availability
    • Soil pH
    • Salinity
    • Inorganic pollutants
  • Soil and air quality 
    • Particulates in the air  
  • Soil and water quality
    •   Turbidity
    • Nitrogen 

6. Work on posters for fair (2 weeks)

  • Review the scientific method
  • Learn how to communicate scientific topics
  • Learn how to make a graph to represent scientific findings

7. Projects: 

  • Rhizotron
    • use of metric system
    • observe plant physiology
    • learn about plant nutrients
  • Soil texture
    • Use basic algebra to calculate mineral percentages
    • Learn about soil mineral characteristics  
  • Soil fertility kit
    • Determine soil health 
    • Learn about plant nutrients  
    • Learn how to measure soil pH

Learning outcomes: Students will learn about sustainable agriculture as well as how to implement concepts of the scientific method like learning how to make scientific observations. Students will use their math skills to calculate basic soil physical properties and practice using the metric system. Students will learn about the local regional climate and geography as well as local and global environmental issues.