Students, science and soil


By Christine Zieger and Amanda Kimble-Evans

Researchers and staff at the Rodale Institute are getting ready to welcome area high school students out to the farm for day two of a two-day intensive training seminar on soil biology. The project was developed in partnership with Reading High School science instructor Christine Pellegrini and was made possible by a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP).

Beginning in July, Pellegrini worked with Rodale Institute’s Rebecca Pfeufer, soil biology research technician, and Christine Ziegler, research agroecologist and science editor, to develop a curriculum for high school students on the carbon cycle, soil carbon and its role in climate change. The women worked closely to develop in-class and in-field materials and demonstrations that would cover basic soil biology with the goal of creating a strong connection between the lessons and why it matters to the students in their daily lives.

In the classroom

By late October Pfeufer and Ziegler were ready to visit the students in their laboratory in what became day one of the two-day intensive training. The students received introductory information on soil biology with an interactive presentation and demonstrations. They also gained a working knowledge of soil particles, the microbes that live in the soil, and how the two work together to perform a basic function that is essential to us all: supporting the plants that supply all the food we humans eat.

The project will initially serve the 10th grade biology students at Reading High School, but the curriculum developed through this work will be designed to reach science students throughout Pennsylvania. The project will also serve Pennsylvania’s secondary science teachers by providing an interesting and effective carbon cycling teaching unit that will integrate easily into their curricula.

In the field

Today the students will spend the day at the Rodale Institute to do some hands-on soil science activities and to learn more about the methods of farming the Institute employs to improve soil biology, both at the farm and garden scale. Some of the soil carbon/climate change activities will include:

• Collecting soil cores and analyzing them for carbon content with the Institute’s Mobile Field Lab equipment and in-lab Variomax combustion analyzer
• Studying the cores for microbes and larger micro-fauna with microscopes
• Participating in some soil-improving gardening activities in the Institute’s demonstration garden

The participating students’ interests and comprehension are being gauged by pre- and post-training tests to help guide development of a written curriculum (geared to meet PA’s statewide teaching standards) based on the classroom and field activities.

“We read about and look at video clips regarding all these topics but to see firsthand will really be beneficial,” says Pellegrini. “The Rodale Institute is a beautiful example of sustainable methods and good human values. It is a place my students will be able to learn a great deal from.”

Leave a Reply