Teaching soil science, round two: fall field trips!
Fall semester is in full swing: the undergrads are swamped with midterms, the trees are turning red, and a horde of those electric scooters has appeared quite suddenly on campus. I’m TAing our Soils & Surface Processes class again this year, and we’ve already wrapped up our two main field trips to nearby parks/nature preserves to show, rather than tell, the students about soils. Our first field trip was to a research park, the George Reserve, where lots of ecology studies are carried out. Here, the main goals for the students were to look at soils in wetlands vs. forests, describe major physical and chemical differences, and think about differences in formation processes. We got pretty lucky with the weather – humid but nice! They collected soil and plant samples for some of the labs we’ll do coming up – they will get to look at the actual C:N and C isotope data from these sites and think about the carbon and nutrient cycling that’s occurring in these different ecosystems.
Our second trip was more recent, and we didn’t get so lucky with the weather; despite the fact that it was just a short morning trip to the Eddy Discovery Center near Chelsea, we went through a few cycles of ‘nice fall weather’ -> pouring rain -> nice weather -> pouring (this time with thunder). Here, we were looking for similar differences between wetland and forest sites while also looking at some of the cool glacial features – hello, subglacial drainage river channel that’s inversely preserved!
Even though teaching and lab prep can take up a decent chunk of time, which can sometimes be frustrating, field trips like these often remind me how much I really do enjoy teaching and sharing my nerdiness excitement about science with students, and seeing what gets them interested and engaged. It’s neat, actually: this year’s group is very heavily skewed towards the environmental side of things, whereas last year we had a more geology-centric group. So while we might have to go over, say, Bowen’s reaction series a little more, these students would be walking around in the forests identifying every tree and mushroom that we saw. Every year it’s different, and different groups bring different strengths and learning opportunities to the table.
Now I’m off to proctor their exam – something they’re less excited about than hiking in the Michigan woods.