STEM Educator Empowerment Newsletter

STEM Educator Empowerment Newsletter

STEM Educator Empowerment Newsletter
STEM Educator Empowerment Workshop: Soil with STEM Expert: Harold Thompson, Earth Team Volunteer, from Marion County Soil & Water Conservation


Tuesday, 9/11/18,  5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. at Moore Road Farm

Registration fee – $15 Register here.

Parents and Educators:  Leave with new content knowledge, ideas for the classroom, and “ready to teach” lesson to implement tomorrow

PGP and CYC points offered.


Meet Harold Thompson

Harold has an extensive background in the conservation field. He worked for many years as a District Conservationist with NRCS. Recently, he has assisted the SWCD’s soil health and cost share programs in his capacity as an Earth Team Volunteer.

STEM Connection Upcoming Events:

STEM@Night: Friday, September 14, 2018 6:00 – 9:00pm

STEM@Night: Saturday, October 13, 2018  5:00 – 8:00pm

Family STEM Night: Saturday, November 10, 2018, 5:30-7pm

STEM@Night: Saturday, December 8, 2018, 5:00 – 8:00pm

Year-round field trips: Come explore the farm with your class or group!  Field trips run year-round and include a guided hike and two STEM activities.

More information can be found at

The STEM Connection Content Specialists – Soil

By Andrea Elstro
STEM Connection Facilitator
Content Specialist

One of the best things about working with youth is all the questions you encounter. On our farm, we run an experiment that allows children to determine what type of soil has the most organic matter in it. We provide them with three samples: soil from our garden, soil from our creek, and potting soil purchased from a hardware store. After observing differences and presenting a hypothesis, we have them add drops of hydrogen peroxide to each sample see what happens. The more bubbles you see, the more organic matter.

Question 1: Why does the hydrogen peroxide bubble when it comes into contact with organic matter?

Hydrogen peroxide contains two hydrogen molecules and two oxygen molecules. It is unstable and ready to give away that extra oxygen so it can become the more stable compound, water. When hydrogen peroxide comes in contact with living or dead organic matter, an enzyme called catalase begins the reaction that allows it to release that oxygen. Therefore, the bubbles you see are actually oxygen being released. The more organic matter there is, the more enzymes there are to release the oxygen.

Question 2: Why doesn’t the potting soil have organic matter in it? Does this mean it isn’t good for planting?

Although potting soil contains many things that can help plants grow – peat, bark, plant husks, rocks, nutrients – manufacturers can’t quite replicate the conditions of garden soil that has naturally broken down rocks, sediments, and dead plants and animals over hundreds or even thousands of years. They also can’t replicate the living matter that occurs in nature, such as worms, insects, microorganisms, bacteria, etc. Potting soil is good for plants and your plants will grow, but it simply can’t replicate what takes nature a long time to create.

Question 3: Since different soils have different uses, can I still use my soil for whatever I want?

Most of the time, you can use your soil for anything you want, but you will have better outcomes if you use it for its designated purpose. An example of an exception to this would be trying to grow vegetables in incredibly sandy soil. The plants would need far too much water and sand does not hold water (or nutrients) well. The soil we see in the Midwest is great for growing a variety of plants, so get growing! Happy summer and happy gardening!

Content Standards/Topics

K-6 Related Content Standards:  It is helpful to see how these standards scaffold for students through the grade levels.  Knowing when a topic is introduced and how standards connect from year to year allows us to build meaningful experiences that build on background knowledge for our learners.  The K-12 Science and Engineering Process Standards (SEPS) are also relevant to the topic of life science, as they reflect the way students are working and thinking while investigating and learning the various content standards.


K.LS.3 Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including  humans) need to survive.

K.ESS.4 Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air, and/or other living things in the local environment.


1.LS.4 Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants and animals (including humans) and the places they live.

1.ESS.2 Observe and compare properties of sand, clay, silt, and organic matter. Look for evidence of sand, clay, silt, and organic matter as components of soil samples.

1.ESS.3 Observe a variety of soil samples and describe in words and pictures the soil properties in terms of color, particle size and shape, texture, and recognizable living and nonliving items.

1.ESS.4 Develop solutions that could be implemented to reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air, and/or other living things in the local environment.


2.LS.1 Determine patterns and behavior (adaptations) of parents and offspring which help offspring to survive.

2.LS.3 Classify living organisms according to variations in specific physical features (i.e. body coverings, appendages) and describe how those features may provide an advantage for survival in different environments.

2.ESS.3 Investigate how wind or water change the shape of the land and design solutions for prevention.

K-2 Related Engineering Standards

K-2.E.1 Pose questions, make observations, and obtain information about a situation people want to change. Use this data to define a simple problem that can be solved through the construction of a new or improved object or tool.

K-2.E.2 Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate and investigate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve an identified problem.

K-2.E.3 Analyze data from the investigation of two objects constructed to solve the same problem to compare the strengths and weaknesses of how each performs


3.LS.2 Plan and conduct an investigation to determine the basic needs of plants to grow, develop, and reproduce.

3.LS.3 Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.

3.ESS.3 Observe the detailed characteristics of rocks and minerals. Identify and classify rocks as being composed of different combinations of minerals.

3.ESS.4 Determine how fossils are formed, discovered, layered over time, and used to provide evidence of the organisms and the environments in which they lived long ago.


4.LS.2 Use evidence to support the explanation that a change in the environment may result in a plant or animal will survive and reproduce, move to a new location, or die.

4.LS.3 Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction in a different ecosystems.

4.ESS.2 Obtain and combine information to describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and their uses affect the environment.

4.ESS.3 Describe how geological forces change the shape of the land suddenly and over time.

4.ESS.4 Develop solutions that could be implemented to reduce the impact of humans on the natural environment and the natural environment on humans.


5.LS.1 Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.

5.LS.2 Observe and classify common Indiana organisms as producers, consumers, decomposers, or predator and prey based on their relationships and interactions with other organisms in their ecosystem.

5.ESS.3 Investigate ways individual communities within the United States protect the Earth’s resources and environment.

5.ESS.4 Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.

3-5 Related Engineering Standards

3-5.E.1 Identify a simple problem with the design of an object that reflects a need or a want.  Include criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

3-5.E.2 Construct and compare multiple plausible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

3-5.E.3 Construct and perform fair investigations in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.


6.LS.1 Investigate and describe how homeostasis is maintained as living things seek out their basic needs of food, water, shelter, space, and air.

6.LS.3 Describe specific relationships  (predator/prey, consumer/producer, parasite/host) and symbiotic relationships between organisms. Construct an explanation that predicts why patterns of interactions develop between organisms in an ecosystem.

6.LS.4 Investigate and use data to explain how changes in biotic and abiotic components in a given habitat can be beneficial or detrimental to native plants and animals.

Literacy Links

The following books are useful in engaging students in thinking about and exploring the topics of rocks, minerals, and soil science.

A Rock is Lively by Dianna Aston

How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World by Faith McNulty

Exploring Soils: A Hidden World Underground by Samantha Grover

Dirt by Steve Tomecek

Dirt: The Scoop on Soil by Natalie Rosinsky

Leaf Litter Critters by Leslie Bulion

Lesson Links:

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