The sweet world of soil microbiology

May 01, 2008

Using classroom, hands-on activities can help instructors to communicate difficult scientific concepts and stimulate student thinking. Despite its importance, the diversity in soil microbes can conceptually be difficult to teach, especially in natural resource classrooms composed primarily of undergraduates who have had little exposure to microbiology. That's where the candy comes into play.

Stephanie Yarwood and Elizabeth Sulzman (now deceased), Oregon State University, report on the sweet world of soil microbial diversity in the 2008 Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education.

This article describes two activities that introduce students to soil microbial diversity and show strategies that soil microbiologists use to better understand life within the soil. With a minimal investment of time and resources, an instructor can use familiar items to introduce abstract ideas.

In one activity, an opaque bag filled with various types of candy is used to represent a soil microbial community. This bag includes candies of several different shapes and sizes, each representing a unique soil microorganism. The physical appearance of the candy is a substitute for the phenotypic and genetic diversity that microbiologists would find in a soil microbial community.

Small student groups work to organize the candy. They base their characterizations on the physical appearance of candy pieces as a proxy for microbial diversity. At this point students decide what characteristics of the candy should be used to define groups. Students are asked to think about the various ways that microorganisms can be defined (for example, by the way they look or function).

"In-class activities can be helpful to demonstrate the complexity and importance of the soil microbial world. These activities are a fun, creative way to engage students and to teach them about an important aspect of soil microbiology." says Dr. Yarwood.

After participating in these activities, students’ assessment scores increased by 35%, and final exam results showed that a high percentage of students retained the major concepts demonstrated.

Source: Soil Science Society of America

Explore further: Study: Alcatraz inmates could have survived escape

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

People finding their 'waze' to once-hidden streets

3 hours ago

When the people whose houses hug the narrow warren of streets paralleling the busiest urban freeway in America began to see bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling by their homes a year or so ago, they were baffled.

Identity theft victims face months of hassle

4 hours ago

As soon as Mark Kim found out his personal information was compromised in a data breach at Target last year, the 36-year-old tech worker signed up for the retailer's free credit monitoring offer so he would ...

Observers slam 'lackluster' Lima climate deal

4 hours ago

A carbon-curbing deal struck in Lima on Sunday was a watered-down compromise where national intransigence threatened the goal of a pact to save Earth's climate system, green groups said.

Your info has been hacked. Now what do you do?

4 hours ago

Criminals stole personal information from tens of millions of Americans in data breaches this past year. Of those affected, one in three may become victims of identity theft, according to research firm Javelin. ...

New Bond script stolen in Sony hack

4 hours ago

An "early version" of the screenplay for the new James Bond film was the latest victim of a massive hacking attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, its producers said in a statement on their website Sunday.

Ag-tech could change how the world eats

9 hours ago

Investors and entrepreneurs behind some of the world's newest industries have started to put their money and tech talents into farming - the world's oldest industry - with an audacious agenda: to make sure there is enough ...

Recommended for you

Study: Alcatraz inmates could have survived escape

7 hours ago

The three prisoners who escaped from Alcatraz in one of the most famous and elaborate prison breaks in U.S. history could have survived and made it to land, scientists concluded in a recent study.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.