Poster Number 190
Monday, 6 October 2008
George R. Brown Convention Center, Exhibit Hall E
To enhance student learning in a Soil Physics course, we installed a weather station and eight soil monitoring sites in a small watershed on campus rangelands. The objectives were to expose students to modern soil monitoring technology while still teaching the fundamentals, and provide students with project-based learning opportunity. Soil Physics is a senior-level course open also to graduate students, required of Soil Science majors and an elective for Earth Science majors. Learning objectives for the course include comprehension and understanding of fundamental soil physical properties and processes, condition and movement of matter and energy in soil, relationships of water and energy with soils and plants on the landscape, and development of professional-caliber technical writing skills. The watershed was chosen based on its history of hydrologic monitoring, and proximity to the main campus. The weather station records data every hour. Soil monitoring includes volumetric soil moisture content, electrical conductivity, and soil temperature, at 25 and 60 cm, also recorded hourly. Data were presented to students in a spreadsheet. Several activities and laboratories conducted in the field gave students exposure to the monitoring sites. In the first week, students collected samples for particle size analysis, Atterberg limits, and aggregate stability. After these laboratory analyses were performed, students returned to the field to collect clods and cores for bulk density and cores for water potential by pressure plate and pressure membrane. Two weeks before the end of the quarter, as a final assignment, students were given a year’s weather and soil data and asked to make interpretations. Assessment of the effectiveness of this project in enhancing student learning is one of several challenges. We are developing a rubric for evaluating laboratory reports and questions to be embedded in lecture examinations, to assess attainment of educational objectives.