The new Purdue Soil Health Education website, www.purdue.edu/SoilHealth, was created to share soil health educational activities, introductory (short) videos, pictures, and general information with a broad public audience. The photo and video libraries are useful for any educator teaching about soil health. Teacher resources include hands-on and exploratory learning activities on soil basics and soil health. The learning activities include a brief introduction, the activities, introductory videos, and, in many instances, additional resources. Videos and print resources come from both Purdue and USDA-NRCS. The content was generated and reviewed by Purdue College of Agriculture faculty, staff, and teachers. This website was created to help the public better understand the importance of healthy and how to create it with an ultimate goal of sustaining farming practices far into the future.
Short-term outcomes expected are increased participant knowledge of the importance of soil health and an awareness of farming and gardening practices that improve or decrease soil health. Educators and other Ag professionals, teachers, and farmers are expected to learn about (or more about) the importance of healthy soil and the techniques and resources that they can use to teach others about soil health. Many educators (teachers, governmental agency personnel, Extension Educators, and others), both those who attended trainings and received our soil health activity kits, and those that found the website online, are expected to use the website resources in their own trainings with farmers, colleagues, other adults, and youth. High school teachers are a primary audience for these resources and their stated need for these educational materials was the impetus for the creation of the Purdue Soil Health website.
Working with many other colleagues and through multiple venues we hope that the long-term outcome of our combined work results in improved soil health in the Midwest. Improving soil health will lead to increased sustainability for farmers, improved environmental quality, and better protection of a nonrenewable, on-farm resource: soil. Collaborations between organizations to plan and provide soil health educational workshops (sharing resources and staff) will increase their capacity to provide programs in sustainable agriculture. These efforts will ultimately enhance the economic stability of farmers.
The new Purdue Soil Health Education website, www.purdue.edu/SoilHealth, provides hands-on soil health educational activities for high school teachers, a photo and video library, and general information about Purdue soil health research and educational workshops. The educational goals of this resource are, for farmers, adults, and youth to have an improved understanding of the importance of soil health and an increased understanding of how agriculture professionals, farmers, and gardeners can achieve soil health. The site provides resources that teachers (both formal and informal) can use to educate others about soil health. Ultimately, we hope this collaborative work will lead to improved, soil-friendly farming and gardening practices thereby improving environmental quality, sustainability, and efficiency.
The website contains an introduction to the purpose, information about soil health work at Purdue and in Indiana, a photo and video repository, and, the main feature of the website, curriculum on “Soil Basics” to introduce middle and high school students to the study of soil and “Soil Health” a more advanced study of the importance of soil health and how to achieve it.
New educational activities, focusing on soil health, were developed to compliment hands-on activities from the Indiana 4-H Soil and Water Science (SWS) curriculum (available from Purdue Extension’s The Education Store, www.edustore.purdue.edu) and provide an online soil health resource for high school agriculture and biology teachers. The new activities were developed, as were the SWS activities, using the experiential learning model and incorporating as many hands-on activities as feasible for the particular lesson being taught. The activities were divided into two main categories: Soil Basics and Soil Health. Teachers who already have a strong background and/or lesson plans in soil basics can immediately use the Soil Health activities. Those who don’t can introduce the basic soil information they need from the Soil Basics section. Short, introductory videos are provided with nearly all the activities (USDA-NRCS and new videos created at Purdue).
Education & Outreach Initiatives
To provide soil health educational activities for high school teachers and resources for educators who provide workshops, webinars, and other training for adults.
We have developed educational activities, videos, and additional resources. for high school teachers to use to teach students about soil health. These resources are available for free online at www.purdue.edu/SoilHealth. We have also provided photos and videos for Extension Educators and other educators who provide training to farmers, agency personnel, and others.
Our goal is to provide Extension Educators, agricultural professionals, and teachers an easily accessible, online soil health resource to assist them in teaching about soil health. We expect that many of the site users will educate others (especially farmers and youth) about soil health and increase learner knowledge, attitudes, skills, and awareness) about the importance of soil health and how to improve soil health. This improved knowledge will, ultimately, lead to improved, soil-friendly farming practices thereby improving environmental quality, sustainability, and farm efficiency.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Only six people opened the survey on the Purdue Soil Health website homepage, where we were hoping to get reportable information on project outcomes. So, we asked the survey question on a paper survey at our last trianging in March, 2019. There were 39 participants and 87% (34) said that the resources would help imporve learner’s awarness of the importance of soil health. 90% (35) participants said that learner’s belief of the importance of soil health was increased. Further, participants have used the Purdue Soil Health website in training 207 others in the 2 months after the training.
Teacher requests for Teacher’s Guide (available via request only) indicate a higher level of use of the curriculum. Eight Indiana teachers, plus one educator each from The Ohio State Univ, NDSU (Langdon, ND), Calhoun, Georgia, and the St. Louis Science Center. Educators requested the Teacher’s Guide. They were asked where they were using the resource. Those who answer the question, replied (individual answers are delimited by ‘/’): Natural Resource – Soils Unit; Plant & Soil Science Class; I use soil lessons in all of my AG classes (AS, NR, PS, & Intro) as well as coaching resources for our FFA Soil judging team / Introduction to Agriculture / I am interesting in exploring ways to connect farmers to soil biology. / The economics of soil health module interests me.; Programs for all age groups. / Columbus City Schools program / FFA Plant and Soil Science Natural Resources Horticulture Intro to Ag / AP Environmental Science / Environmental Science Class and Biology.
Direct feedback from the web survey: “Thank you for tailoring this intensive soils lesson program to a reasonable and manageable compilation. It is quite useful!!” And, the coordinator of one of the agricultural teacher trainings, sent: “Thank you for taking the time to present at the Indiana Agricultural Educators Workshop. Comments in the evaluation were favorable and one teacher in particular enjoyed it. We always appreciate hands on activities that we can bring to the classroom and the website should prove to be very useful.”
In order to assess the amount of traffic on the Purdue Soil Health website, we ran web statistics on August 27, 2019 (almost one year after we began promoting this resource. We were happy to see that we have had 4,745 visitors. Most visitors are from Indiana (~1,100), by California (~500), and New York (~280), followed by Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan with less than 200 people from these states. Over 70% of the visitors are from tue U.S. with 6% from China, 3% from the Russian Federation, and 2% from Canada. These visitors have used the resource repeatedly with a total of 117,225 hits since the start of the project. As expected, most hits (85%) ocurred during the week (about 20,000/day with Friday being a little lower at 17,000).
Teachers have downloaded many of the educational activity sheets (5,910). The PDF that was downloaded most often is the NRCS Slake Test description (250 visitors, 394 downloads). The NRCS slake test video, which is linked to the slake test learning activity, was also the most popular video.