I Dig It

Soils provide food, fibers, and fuel to our growing world population. They also regulate water resources, nitrogen and phosphorous flows, and climate via long-term organic matter and carbon sequestration, in addition to supporting biodiversity. From a global economy standpoint, soils are a cornerstone of all supply chains and jobs involving plants and animals and, to some extent, of water resource and energy production; they are also foundational to most recreational and touristic industries. However, soils remain an unfamiliar topic to both our civil society as well as many stakeholders including land owners, business communities, and many levels of governments.

Professor Julie Loisel and her team of 7 talented undergraduate students are developing I Dig It, a geography education toolkit for high school teachers that is specifically designed to familiarize their students with the importance of soils and land use change. The toolkit consists of a suite of short teaching modules made of texts, videos, infographics, and activities centered around three key themes: (1) soil structure, function, and health, (2) agriculture and ranching in Texas, and (3) land-use change and soil degradation around the world. High school teachers will be able to choose how much of each theme they wish to use in their classroom, allowing I Dig It modules to be easily integrated to AP Human Geography and AP Environmental Sciences. All of our modules will be freely available online in early 2019. A few Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping and analytical exercises, which can be completed using free online software, are also being developed. Through these modules, students will learn about a wide range of topics associate with soil condition, function, and land use change, from the connection between Texas soils and cotton farming, to what caused the Dust Bowl, how is irrigation in semi-arid areas connected to the physical geography of large regions (and even commercial fishing!), and many other topics.

 

Thomas Jefferson

“Civilization itself rests upon the soil.”

Thomas Jefferson

Our flagship class activity consists of an entrepreneurial composting capstone project that involves building a composter, taking care of a compost pile throughout the academic year, and selling compost at the local farmer’s market at the end of the school year. While I Dig It is specifically designed to enable Texas teachers to develop and implement challenging classroom lessons related to the TEKS and CCRS, our toolkit will also be available online and follow national standards to enable out-of-state and international uses. The flexible modules are adaptable to classrooms of any size.

Loisel and her undergraduate students are developing I Dig It in close collaboration with three high school teachers who have complementary expertise. Students Vivian Pope and Kimberly Cook have already tested some of their material on the desertification in the Aral Sea region at Cypress Ranch High School (Cypress-Fairbanks ISD), under the supervision of Kara Smart. In 2019, our team will offer a series of workshops to coach high school teachers about soils, composting, and land-use change while providing participants with CPE credits. For questions about this outreach program, please contact Julie Loisel.

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