Strand V
Use Scientific Knowledge from the Earth and Space Sciences in Real-World Contexts


Science/Strand V
Content Standard 1
All students will describe the Earth’s surface; describe and explain how the Earth’s features change over time; and analyze effects of technology on the Earth’s surface and resources. (Geosphere)


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 1
Middle School


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 1/Middle School
Benchmark 3
Explain how rocks are broken down, how soil is formed, and how surface features change.

Benchmark Clarification

Soil formation is related to mechanical (physical) and chemical weathering that breaks down rocks and changes the surface of the Earth.

Students will:

  • Explain how weathering, erosion contribute to soil formation.
    : decomposition is really chemical weathering which would be included under “weathering”
  • Explain how mechanical weathering (i.e., frost action, water, and wind) and chemical weathering (i.e., acid rain and acid secretions by decomposers like fungi and lichens) change surface features

Key Concept / Real World Context / Instructional Example / Assessment Example / Resources


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 1/Middle School/Benchmark 3
Key Concept
Chemical and mechanical weathering

Erosion by:

  • glaciers
  • water
  • wind
  • down-slope movement

Decomposition (Chemical Weathering) by:

  • fungi
  • lichens


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 1/Middle School/Benchmark 3
Real World Context
Regions in Michigan where erosion by wind, water, or glaciers have occurred:

  • river valleys
  • gullies
  • shoreline of Great Lakes
  • along the shoulders of roads
  • under downspouts
  • chemical weathering from acid rain
  • formation of caves
  • sinkholes

Physical weathering from frost action:

  • potholes
  • cracks in sidewalks

Physical and chemical weathering by:

  • bacteria
  • fungi
  • worms
  • rodents
  • other animals


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 1/Middle School/Benchmark 3
Instructional Example

Benchmark Question: How does soil determine surface changes over time?

Focus Question: What are the basic soil sample types and what characteristics do they have?

The class will examine three different types of sediments: sand, silt, and clay and compare grain size, shape, and color.

The class will collect and identify three very different types of soil samples by analyzing their components and describing their qualities.

While collecting their samples, students will need to list features of the environment — number of trees, percent of ground cover, standing water, etc.

Students will place their samples in jars with water, shake their jars, and observe them.

Students will record observations of the layers of sediment and measure the depth of each layer.

Students will estimate the percent of sand, silt, and/or clay in their soil samples. They will classify their soil samples based on these estimates.

Students will apply their gathered environmental data to hypothesize what surface changes can occur at the soil sample site due to wind, water, and erosion.

Students will present their findings and discuss their conclusions in written lab reports.

Note: This is a good activity related to soil and surface change. Students may not be able to collect three different types of sediments. Sandy, silty, and clayey soil (soil texture) may not be found on one campus (or town). The teacher may need to get these soils well ahead of time. Surface samples will have plenty of organic matter that will cloud the water so much that it will be difficult to see the sediment. Teachers should get soil samples that are relatively free of organic matter.

Also, the number of trees, percent of ground cover, standing water, etc. are not likely to be distinguished by soil type on a campus as a function of texture because other factors (perched water table, amount of humus, presence of surface impermeable surface) can mask the effect of soil textures.

Constructing: (SCI.I.1.MS.1), (SCI.I.1.MS.2), (SCI.I.1.MS.3), (SCI.I.1.MS.4), (SCI.I.1.MS.6).

Reflecting: (SCI.II.1.MS.1), (SCI.II.1.MS.2), (SCI.II.1.MS.3), (SCI.II.1.MS.5).


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 1/Middle School/Benchmark 3
Assessment Example

Each student will write an essay that answers the following questions:

  • How does the soil type affect the amount of water that is filtered or remains on the surface?
  • How does that water contribute to surface erosion?
  • How does that water contribute to the creation of landforms such as caves, gullies, etc.?

Each student will create a visual aid (i.e., a picture, map, 3D model) that lists the three basic soil types and describes their characteristics.

Each student will orally present his or her essay and visual aid to the class.

(Give students rubric before activity.)

Scoring Rubric






Accuracy of essay

Writes an essay that is irrelevant to topic.

Writes an essay that states basic terms.

Writes an essay that is accurate and elaborates on relevant concepts.

Writes an essay that contains no contradictions and elaborates on all relevant concepts and terms in detail.

Correctness of visual aid

Identifies three soil types.

Identifies three soil types and shows the relationship between soil and one factor.

Identifies three soil types and shows the relationship between two soil types and studied factors.

Identifies three soil types and shows the accurate relationship between all soil types and studied factors.

Effectiveness of presentation

Presents limited information relevant to the topic.

Presents information that is relevant to the topic and demonstrates an effort to organize that information.

Presents an accurate, interesting, and organized report.

Presents an interesting and accurate program that is clearly focused.


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 1/Middle School/Benchmark 3


County Soil Survey books.

USDA. Dig In! Hands-On Soil Investigations. NSTA, 2001.

DETERMINATION OF SOIL TEXTURE IN THE FIELD: A University of Florida brochure for using the hand texture test properly.

Soil Quality Information Sheets: concise, readable summaries of soil quality resource concerns like erosion, compaction, salinization, and pesticides. There is also a section on how soil quality can be judged through organic matter, pH, and infiltration.

National Resources Conservation Service Educational Resources: an introduction for K-6 level students answering basic questions about the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soil with a special emphasis on soil conservation.

NASA's Soil Science Education Page: “This page contains a lot of new, exciting, funand informative material on the soil.”