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Teacher's Guide
Dirtmeister's Science Reporters: Erosion
Grade Levels: 3 – 6

^Activity Snapshot
^National Standards Correlations
^How to Use this Activity
^Background Information

Activity Snapshot
Science is all around us — from a bicycle brake to a pine cone to a flag pole. In "Dirtmeister's Science Reporters," students lead their own investigation in observing, identifying, and describing the science found in their world — then write about their findings. With the help of science expert Steve Tomecek (the "Dirtmeister"), students learn to ask scientific questions, communicate their observations, and construct explanations of natural phenomena.

In this installment, "Dirtmeister's Science Reporters" focuses on erosion. Each student is asked to observe and describe one way that erosion has an impact in his or her neighborhood or local area. Using the questions listed on the assignment sheet, students should describe in detail where the erosion is happening; what agent (wind, water, ice, etc.) is causing it; where the eroded material is going to; how the erosion might be reduced; and where else similar erosion problems occur. Please note that students should write their final report in complete sentences (questions 2-5) and not simply fill in one-word answers.

This activity offers an exciting way to teach inquiry-based science, as each new investigation helps reinforce basic science concepts.

Learning Objectives
Through participation in "Dirtmeister's Science Reporters," students will:

  • Explore, observe, and describe the world around them.
  • Understand how forces control events in our world.
  • Investigate materials, organisms, and properties of common objects.
  • Construct explanations of natural and man-made phenomena.
  • Develop the ability to ask scientific questions, investigate aspects of the world around them, and use their observations to construct reasonable explanations for the questions posed.
  • Ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environment.
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation.
  • Communicate their ideas to others.
  • Develop their science knowledge.
  • Learn through the inquiry process how to communicate their own investigations.

Time Required
Teachers who participate in "Dirtmeister's Science Reporters" should allow students two class periods (45-minute blocks) to complete the assignment. This includes time for students to retrieve and review the assignment, read the background material, find and observe their subject, answer questions about their findings, and write their reports.

You may wish to assign the step of finding and observing a subject as homework. We also suggest that students who participate submit a "draft" of their report to you before final writing. In this way, you can determine if the student is "on target" with his or her assignment.

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National Standards Correlations
The "Dirtmeister's Science Reporters" Erosion investigation helps students meet the following science content standards as set forth by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.

  • Students conduct a simple investigation. (Content Standard A)
  • Students communicate investigations and explanations. (Content Standard A)
  • As a result of these activities, students develop an understanding of the properties of objects and materials. (Content Standard B)
  • Students discover and understand that changes in the earth can either be fast or slow. (Content Standard B)
  • Students understand that water is a solvent and that is can dissolve and remove rock. (Content Standard B)
  • Students understand that changes in environments can be natural or influenced by humans. (Content Standard F)
  • Students understand that human activities can induce hazards through land use. (Content Standard F)

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How to Use This Activity
In "Dirtmeister's Science Reporters" students are introduced to new science concepts. After gaining knowledge about the concept by reading background information, students seek out an example of that concept in the real world — whether it's found in their home, school, or community. They answer questions about their observations using an observation sheet provided by the Dirtmeister. This observation sheet encourages scientific observation, critical thinking, and directed student writing.

Finally, students write their reports. They can see samples of what other students have found.

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Background Information: Erosion
We explore the process of erosion to see how it affects us in our daily lives. While erosion is a natural process, it is often accelerated by human actions, causing many serious problems. Basically, erosion happens when sediment — the loose residue caused by the chemical and mechanical weathering of rock — is transported downhill in response to the force of gravity. Most often, the agent causing the erosion is some type of substance such as wind, water, or ice. Occasionally, erosion can happen simply due to gravity, as in the case of rockslides, avalanches, and meteorite impacts.

Once erosion removes sediment from one location, the eroded material has to go somewhere else. Often, the problems associated with the "deposition" of eroded materials are far greater than the problems caused by the erosion itself. Recent stories about mud flows burying entire villages after severe storms bear this out.

On a local level, problems with erosion and deposition due to human activities may not be as severe, but they still are costly in both time and money. Catch basins and storm sewers that get clogged due to uncontrolled erosion from construction sites have to be cleaned out. If they get clogged during a severe storm, the result might be sudden flash floods, which threaten both lives and property. Sediment-choked streams flowing through agricultural areas often fill up reservoirs and ponds with mud and silt, leaving little room for stored water. This in turn leads to water shortages and loss of environment for fish and other aquatic animals.

While the costs associated with erosion are high, the solution to the problem is often quite simple. Bare soil erodes much faster than covered soil. Many farmers have taken to planting cover crops whose sole purpose is to keep the soil in place between their actual cash crops. At construction sites, the use of mulch to cover bare soil significantly reduces the loss; diverting water away from exposed areas helps even more. Since gravity is the key force driving erosion, one of the easiest ways to solve the problem is to reduce the slope. This not only aids in stabilizing an area, but it helps to minimize future losses if a disaster were to happen.

The bottom line is that humans will never stop erosion. The forces of nature are just too powerful and too pervasive. Given enough time, even the strongest structures are destined to collapse. By learning to work within the natural environment and having kids understand how erosion and deposition work, future generations may be able to avoid some of the problems faced by people of the past.

You and your students can find out more about Erosion in the investigate the facts section.

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Here are some suggestions to enhance the experience of Dirtmeister's Science Reporters for your students:

  • Have the class make a list of all the different places where they encounter erosion in and around their neighborhood and surrounding local area.
  • Have students describe how they might be able to decrease the erosion potential of each of these areas and what actions they can take to reduce the risks.
  • For younger students — those in K-3 — have them experiment with stream tables to see how different types of sediments and slopes affect erosion.
  • Make a photo-log of erosion around the world. Have students collect pictures of different types of erosion and compare them to the erosion that was located in the neighborhood or surrounding local area.
  • Talk with your school librarian or media specialist about researching erosion in the library, including books and multimedia resources. (See "Resources" section below.)
  • Have the class use the computer to search the Web for supplementary articles on erosion.
  • Provide space on a classroom bulletin board for the Dirtmeister's Science Observer.
  • Using computer software such as ClarisWorks™ or Microsoft Works™, have students create and maintain electronic science journals. Encourage students to illustrate their work by using the software's drawing or painting features. This is an excellent way of keeping notes and storing reports for future use.

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The following Scholastic supplemental materials can be used in conjunction with Dirtmeister's Science Reporters:

  • Big Books: Science (Grades K–4). This book series covers a variety of topics, from bugs to wind. They are brightly illustrated and great for the classroom library.
  • Be a Scientist skills books (Grades 3–6). This series includes featured scientists, hands-on activities, and an emphasis on practical process skills. The series consists of three sets of three books each for grades 3–4, 4–5, and 5–6.
  • Super Science (Grades 3–6). Super Science covers science news and classroom-tested experiments for extending the learning experience of science concepts and integrates science with reading, math, language arts, and social studies objectives already in the classroom curriculum.
  • Quick and Easy Learning Centers: Science, by Lynne Kepler (Grades 1–3). This Professional Resource book focuses on the use of everyday materials to promote independent, hands-on learning. Information on how-tos, management, experiments, and reproducibles are included in this helpful book.

Complete descriptions of these resources and more can be found in Scholastic's Supplemental Materials Catalog. You can also call Scholastic directly at 1-800-724-6527.

Related Web Sites

General Science Sites

The Natural History Museum (London)

Edison National Historic Site

Endangered Species Program

National Inventors Hall of Fame

Understanding Our Planet Through Chemistry

Maps and References

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