Course Profile

Goals of the Course

To provide the encouragement and academic background that will motivate students to develop a life-long interest in observing and studying soils and landscapes as they relate to the environment and to equip them to be a resource to others in applying soil science to plant growth, natural resource management, building practices, and environmental sustainability. 

Who is it designed for?

The course is available for students in the Colleges of Agriculture, Science, and Engineering. Most of the students who take the course are interested in careers in the Agriculture sector as Farm Managers, Soil and Crop Scientists, Teachers, Seed Producers, Crop Consultants and Agricultural Sales and Marketing Specialists. Other students take the course because of their interest in environmental issues and become Environmental Consultants or work with the local, state or federal government in an environmental capacity.  

Learning Objectives

There are five learning objectives for the Soil Science course. 1) Be able to interpret landscapes and their related soil profiles in terms of the five soil forming factors (parent material, climate, topography, biotic factors, and time) and the soil forming processes (additions, translocations, transformations, and losses). 2 ) Be able to explain how soil chemical, biological, and physical properties affect nutrient availability, water availability, root zone aeration, land use, and environmental sustainability of our soil resources. 3) Be able to list the seventeen essential nutrients for plant growth and describe how diagnostic techniques such as observation, soil testing, and plant analysis can be used to develop an appropriate nutrient management plan. 4) Be able to explain how management practices that include inorganic and organic fertilizers and crop rotations can be used to meet crop nutrient needs in an environmental and economically sustainable way. 5) Be able to evaluate soils for their sensitivity to impacts related to natural environmental changes and those influenced by man.  

Maker skills it develops

We continually develop and incorporate learner-directed materials and activities into our course. For example, each week’s instruction in the soil science course consists of a one hour lecture, three hours in the Soils Resource Center (SRC), and a one hour small group discussion session. The lecture begins the week’s unit by providing an opportunity for lecture, demonstrations, Internet, YouTube, and information-transfer activities that are most efficiently done in large groups. The second meeting takes place in the highly interactive, state-of-the-art SRC where a multitude of computer directed activities, individual tutoring, collaborative projects, displays and mini-lectures and discussions are available. The SRC is open 36 hours per week and students choose when to complete the weekly laboratory assignment. The third class each week consists of small group discussions. The organization of the discussion sessions gives the students an opportunity to learn and interact with the course material in a variety of ways. They must write, discuss and teach. By the end of the course students will have a fundamental understanding of soil science and will be able to critically assess issues related to soils from an agricultural, environmental, and natural resource perspective.    


Undergraduate level CHM 10901 Minimum Grade of D- or Undergraduate level CHM 11100 Minimum Grade of D- or Undergraduate level CHM 11500 Minimum Grade of D- or Undergraduate level CHM 12500 Minimum Grade of D- or Undergraduate level CHM 12300 Minimum Grade of D- or Undergraduate level CHM 12901 Minimum Grade of D- or Undergraduate level CHM 13500 Minimum Grade of D- or (Undergraduate level CHEM C1010 Minimum Grade of D- and Undergraduate level CHEM C1210 Minimum Grade of D-) or (Undergraduate level CHEM C1050 Minimum Grade of D- and Undergraduate level CHEM C1250 Minimum Grade of D-)

Skills, Tools and Technologies Used

Skills which are formerly introduced in the course include: active learning, team building, writing, communication, and computer skills. The computer skills include special assessment of landscapes and the interpretation of soil properties for various uses. 

Key Examples and Prior Work

The key practice examples include: creativity, hands-on experiences, and innovative problem solving. We constantly incorporate innovative ideas and practices into the soil science course such as the Integrating Spatial Educational Experiences (Isee) using digital mapping of landscapes. This new digital teaching tool allows students to learn complex spatial concepts of how soils are distributed across landscapes. By incorporating the Isee program , the soil’s teaching team has expanded the student-centered approach to facilitate interactive learning for the soil science students. 

Key Resources

Key Resources:

1) Fourteen (14) unit study guides with approximately a dozen behavioral objectives for each unit (week).

2) Text Book – Elements of the Nature and Properties of Soils.

3) Computer programs that direct student learning in the Soils Resource Center.

4) Practice problems for soil erosion, soil moisture, and soil test report calculations.

5) Lectures notes available on the course website before and after lecture.

6) A Self-Test for each unit that is randomly generated and unique for each learner.

7) 350 soil monoliths from around the world that engage students in the study of soils. How to take a soil monolith can be viewed in this short video.

Example Assignment

Chemical Partitioning Experiment:

Students calculate a partition coefficient, or Kd, as an indicator of the sorptive behavior of a pesticide. This is typically done by mixing together soil, water and different amounts of the contaminant of interest. The students learn about partitioning by extracting the pigments from a Coleus plant and partitioning them between an aqueous phase and a hydrophobic phase. Vinegar is used as the aqueous phase and vegetable oil as the hydrophobic phase which mimics soil humus. The pigments extracted from the Coleus plant are meant to simulate soil pollutants and their behavior. Students learn about partitioning, hydrophobicity, neutrality and polarity and record their findings on a study guide for the week on “Soils and Chemical Pollution”.

With an understanding of partition coefficients the students can complete the hand-in exercise for the week by evaluating several soil monoliths and making a recommendation on fate and transport of two chemicals Atrazine and Dicamba through the soil based on soil organic matter content and soil texture.

Another unit includes a soil monolith review in which 40 soil monoliths are on display for students to evaluate soil order, parent material, climate, time, and topography. The opportunity for interaction amongst the students or between the professor or teaching assistant and the student encourages critical thinking and higher level learning skills. This is one example of the highly interactive nature of the Soils Resource Center.     

Lessons Learned

The importance of peer to peer learning and active involvement in the learning process by the students. Use of technology to assist in directing the learning process while faculty are freed to question and probe students during their weekly studies.