OOS 1-8
Pedagogy for the pedosphere: Soil organisms and the ecosystem service of education

Monday, August 10, 2015: 4:00 PM
310, Baltimore Convention Center
Loren B. Byrne, Department of Biology, Marine Biology and Environmental Science, Roger Williams University, Bristol, RI

Soil organisms are ubiquitous and fascinating; many are beautiful with unique natural histories that spark curiosity. They have irreplaceable roles for supporting human well-being by generating crucial ecosystem services. Nonetheless they are often overlooked, underappreciated, and even disparaged and reviled (as “dirty,” slimy, creepy, unhealthy, etc.). Of course, many people (soil biologists, gardeners, farmers and others) intimately know about the wonder and importance of soil organisms and passionately promote their virtues. How can this community more effectively spread excitement and knowledge about soil organisms? What pedagogical approaches can best help people of all ages around the world learn about the pedosphere? The objective of this presentation is to examine contemporary pedagogical theory, research and methods in context of soil biodiversity educational goals. Examples of teaching resources that can help increase people’s “environmental soil literacy” will be shared.


Soil organisms have enormous untapped potential as foci for environmental education. Many of their characteristics make them easy and exemplary to use as “teachers” that provide the ecosystem service of education. Human teachers can exploit this through a variety of pedagogical approaches. Living and “imagined” soil organisms can be used in simple learner-centered activities such as hands-on demonstrations, role-playing and data analysis exercises, and small experiments. Problem-based learning and socio-scientific issues engage learners in developing scientific and critical thinking skills; using case studies that feature soil organisms would help teach about soil-human relationships. Assessment is a way to not only measure learning gains, but also help students learn; as such, stronger soil biodiversity education can be accomplished through formative-assessment “soil surveys” delivered through quizzes, minute papers, essays and technologically-based clicker-questions. Engaging students’ affective dimensions (emotions, attitudes) through self-reflection about soil biodiversity can be accomplished with internet videos. Although other online soil educational resources are available, alongside soil biodiversity books for children and non-scientist adults, enormous opportunities exist to develop new materials and disseminate them by teaching teachers how to integrate soil content into their curricula. The Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative and Global Urban Soil Ecology and Education Network are leading the way with networks that can bring the soil biodiversity education community together to share resources and discuss strategies. Only by weaving the world’s “soil ecological knowledge web” will we build the scientific and societal support for weaving the soil biodiversity food web. During this International Year of Soils, it is time for the global soil biodiversity education revolution to begin!