Investigating Erosion Control Methods

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SWBAT research and investigate a variety of erosion control methods while observing how Earth's systems interact to either cause or prevent the erosional process.

Big Idea

In this lesson, students conduct investigations to test erosion control methods. Then students compare models to determine which method most successfully prevented soil erosion and to discuss how Earth's systems interact during the erosion process.

Lesson Overview

Inquiry Based Instructional Model

To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):

1. Focus

2. Explore

3. Reflect

4. Apply

A framework for implementation can be found here

I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase while others may begin at the explore phase. 

Finally, an amazing article found at, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEM, very clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices. 

Unit Explanation

In this unit, students will study each of Earth's major systems: biosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere. In addition, students will investigate how these systems interact in multiple ways to affect Earth's materials and processes by conducting research, constructing graphs, creating models, carrying out scientific investigations, and analyzing real-world applications. 

Summary of Lesson

Today, I open the lesson by showing a couple videos of the Dust Bowl. Next, students explore and create a list of erosion control methods using an online resource. Teams will then choose and complete an erosion control investigation. Following student investigations, the class will observe which erosion control methods were most effective and how Earth's interacting systems can cause and prevent the erosion process. 

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will support the following NGSS Standard(s):'

5-ESS2-1. Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.  

Scientific & Engineering Practices

For this lesson, students are engaged in Science & Engineering Practice:

Science & Engineering Practice 3: Planning and Carrying out Investigations 

Students create a list of erosion control methods. Then, each group conducts an investigation using one of the methods from the class list. At the end of this process, students compare models to determine which method most successfully prevented soil erosion. 

Crosscutting Concepts

To relate ideas across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on the following Crosscutting Concept

Crosscutting Concept 4: Systems and System Models 

Students observe who the Earth' major systems interact during the erosion process by examining the components and interactions of each system. 

Disciplinary Core Ideas

In addition, this lesson also aligns with the following Disciplinary Core Ideas

ESS2.A:  Earth Materials and Systems

Earth’s major systems are the geosphere (solid and molten rock, soil, and sediments), the hydrosphere (water and ice), the atmosphere (air), and the biosphere (living things, including humans). These systems interact in multiple ways to affect Earth’s surface materials and processes. The ocean supports a variety of ecosystems and organisms, shapes landforms, and influences climate. Winds and clouds in the atmosphere interact with the landforms to determine patterns of weather. (5-ESS2-1)

ESS3.C:  Human Impacts on Earth Systems

Human activities in agriculture, industry, and everyday life have had major effects on the land, vegetation, streams, ocean, air, and even outer space. But individuals and communities are doing things to help protect Earth’s resources and environments. (5-ESS3-1)

ELA Integration

To add depth to student understanding, when I can, I'll often integrate ELA standards with science lessons. Today, students will work on meeting CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.7: Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently. In this lesson, students will be using an online resource to locate key information involving erosion control methods. 

Choosing Science Teams

With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of two or three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half or thirds. 

Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles

To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!  


15 minutes

Now that students have learned about each of the Earth's spheres (biosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere), I want to provide students with the opportunity to examine real-world applications using this new knowledge. For this reason, over a three-lesson period, students will research the weathering and erosion processes, construct a stream table model, analyze how the Earth's systems interact during the weathering and erosion processes, and use their understanding of systems interacting to investigate erosion control methods. 

Lesson Explanation

Day 1: On the first day, students researched the difference between weathering and erosion. Then, they explored the erosion process further by researching online resources. 

Day 2: Yesterday, students continued studying the process of erosion by observing a stream table model. Students also examined how the Earth's systems interact during the weathering and erosion processes. 

Day 3: Today, students use their understanding of how the Earth's system interact during the erosion process to investigate the Dust Bowl and erosion control methods. 


I want to inspire interest in today's lesson and capitalize on student curiosity, so I show two videos on the Dust Bowl. Ultimately, I want students to understand how the interactions between the Earth's spheres can both cause erosion and prevent erosion. 

Video 1

The first video provides students with an overview of the Dust Bowl and connects the black storms with farming practices.


Before the video begins playing, I explain: During the 1800s, major technological advances were made in the United States. Work that was once done all by hand (such planting seeds and harvesting wheat) was replaced with more efficient machinery. Turn and talk: How might an advancement in farming equipment (biosphere) affect the land (geosphere)? Students eventually agree that an advancement in farming equipment would lead to more and more farming. Reflecting on our studies of deforestation during our Ecosystems unit, students also point out that when you farm, it means you have to cut down trees and existing vegetation to have room for crops. 

I also pause the video at 1:21 and ask students to turn and talk: What happened to the geosphere during this time and why? We then discuss this question as a class. Students decide that the soil began to blow away because it became more exposed to the atmosphere (blowing air). This is because the "tough prairie grasses" (biosphere) that were cut down for farming used to hold the soil in place. 

Video 2

The second video, found at the following link: PBS Dust Bowl Environmental Catastrophe, provides students with firsthand accounts of this time period. I stop this video at 7:45 (just before the film pictures a dead cow). Instead of pausing this video, I just let students watch without interruptions. At this point, all students are so interested in learning more that frequent questioning to raise student engagement is not so necessary! 

Lesson Introduction & Goal 

I introduce today's learning goal: I can research and investigate a variety of erosion control methods while observing how Earth's systems interact to either cause or prevent the erosional process. 

Turn and talk: What is erosion? (the movement of Earth materials from one place to another) 

What Earth systems can cause erosion? Students come up with a variety of examples (atmosphere: wind blowing sediment, hydrosphere: water washing sediment downstream in a river, biosphere: animals transporting dust on their fur, geosphere: when one rock hits another and moves the rock into a new location).

Why would we want to control erosion or stop erosion from happening? Students reflect upon the Dust Bowl videos and decide that erosion can blow away valuable soil (geosphere) that is necessary for plaints and animals (the biosphere). Erosion of soil can also cause dust storms in the atmosphere that block out sunlight and make it difficult for the animals in the biosphere to breathe. We also discuss other situations in which erosion control is helpful, such as preventing soil on a hillside from washing down onto a sidewalk. 

Today, we are going to take a closer look at different erosion control methods and how the Earth systems can prevent erosion too! 


30 minutes

For the rest of the today's lesson, students will first research and make a list of erosion control methods. Then, each team will choose an erosion control method they are most interested in testing and will set up a stream table investigation (such as the one pictured here: Stream Table Investigation Example) to determine how well the method works at preventing the erosion of soil. Throughout this process, we will discuss how the Earth's systems are interacting to either cause or prevent erosion. 


I set out the following materials for ten groups to complete today's investigation. Prior to student research, I want to refer to the upcoming investigation so that students are motivated and have a purpose for researching erosion control methods! 

Getting Ready

Referring to the 10 Paint Tray Stream Tables on the back table and the "mystery" Erosion Control Materials Hidden Under a Cloth, I explain: Today, you will be researching and making a list of erosion control methods. Then, each team will choose a method they would like to investigate further using some of the mystery materials hidden under this cloth! Students are excited to not only complete an investigation, but to also find out what's hidden under the mysterious cloth! 

Erosion Method Research

At this point, I want to give students the opportunity to study erosion control methods by reading an online resource and taking notes. Each of my students has a google email account, so emailing students links to online resources is quick and easy! Prior to this lesson, I email the following link to students. I explain: This text is a higher level text with several complex words. Your job today is to scan the text for erosion control methods, instead of reading and trying to make sense of every word! 

Today you will be working in groups of two. Students know that this means they will work with their elbow partners (the students sitting right next to them). I then ask partners to silently show me which partner is a #1 and #2 using their fingers. Students know that I expect them to do this quickly and without talking. Setting this expectation ahead of time saves instructional time. To encourage collaboration between partners, I ask that just #2 students get a laptop to share with his/her partner. 

Then, I invite all students to get out their science journals for note-taking. We write the research question at the top of a new page: How can humans stop soil erosion? 

Here are a few examples of student lists during this time:


Monitoring Student Understanding

Once students begin working, I conference with every group. My goal is to support students by asking guiding questions (listed below). I also want to encourage students to engage in Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence

  1. What patterns have you noticed? 
  2. Why do you suppose ____? 
  3. What have you found so far? 
  4. Has your thinking changed? 
  5. What evidence do you have? 
  6. How did you decide _____?
  7. What conclusion can you draw about ____?
  8. How can humans use the Earth's spheres to prevent soil erosion?

Student Conferences

Here, Students Discussing Building a Fence, this pair of students discuss how a fence might prevent erosion. I love how they connect this to their experiences with wind and snow barriers! By asking students to explain how this erosion method will work, it encourages them to think of how this method might be improved by building a ditch as well. 

During this conference, Students Discussing Vegetation, the students realize how vegetation can prevent soil erosion due to the roots holding the soil in place. 

Reflect & Apply

50 minutes

Sharing Findings

Now that students have built meaning and understanding by researching erosion control methods, it is important to provide students with the opportunity to share their findings! For this reason, I invite students to help create a list of erosion control investigations on the board. The list can be found below. I guide the class to decide that one group needs to investigate how much soil washes away without using an erosion control method for comparison purposes. However, students suggest most of the other investigations with little guidance from me! 

  1. Just Soil 
  2. Brush or Wood Fence
  3. Silt Fence
  4. Netting (Fiber Roll)
  5. Add Wood Chips (Mulch)
  6. Armored Ditch (Small Rocks)
  7. Armored Ditch (Large Rocks)
  8. Vegetation (Sod)
  9. Add Leaves (Mulch)
  10. Add Moss (Mulch)


Each team of students then discusses and decides which investigation(s) they are most interested in completing. I draw glitter sticks (popsicle sticks with student names) in order to fairly call on groups and allow them to announce the erosion control investigation that they want to explore further today. 


At this time, students leave to classroom to attend physical education class. This provides me with a little time to write out the student-generated investigation ideas on cards (Erosion Control Method Cards) and to hand out materials to each of the groups:



Upon return, students are excited to begin investigating! To set students up for success, I ask the "Just Soil" group to bring their investigation to the back table to model this process: Soil Group Demonstrating Set Up

  1. First, the students situate the soil so that it's located at the top portion of the paint tray.
  2. Then, they secure a ruler and drip cup (cup with holes) above the soil.
  3. Next, the team slowly pours the one-liter bottle of water into the drip cup. 
  4. As a result, the water transports soil to the bottom of the paint tray and then the water drips out of the three holes into the tub below. 
  5. At the end of the investigation, the students are able to observe how much soil eroded away by analyzing the amount of soil that collected in the lower portion of the stream table: Just Soil Results.



Students are now ready to complete their own erosion control investigations! During this time, I rotate the classroom and conference with each team. 

Here, Students Investigating Vegetation, the students are testing how sod impacts soil erosion. I try to make sure students are connecting this to the real world by asking, "What do you think could have prevented the black blizzards during the Dust Bowl?"

Here, Students Discovering Ways to Improve, the students realize a way that they would improve their erosion control method if they were to use it the real world! 

Class Discussion

Following the investigation, I ask each group to bring their paint tray to the back table so that the class can gather around and make observations: Stream Tables at the Back Table for Observations

Teacher Note: During this time, students don't record observations, however, if given more time, this could be an added requirement. 

Here, Students Observing Methods, students share which erosion control methods they thought were the most successful. To encourage students to consider the bigger picture and how the biosphere might be impacted by each method, I ask students to consider which method helps support a healthy environment for animals: Connecting Erosion Methods with our Ecosystems Unit.

To bring closure to this lesson, I ask students to turn and talk: How can the interactions between Earth's systems prevent erosion? Students reflect upon today's stream table models and decide:

  • The biosphere, such as a plant's roots, can hold soil in place, so the hydrosphere (precipitation) doesn't wash away the soil. 
  • Humans in the biosphere can use erosion prevention methods to protect Earth materials from washing away. 
  • Rocks in the geosphere can be used to create armored ditches. 

Teacher Note: I did not create a final assessment for this unit. Instead, I assessed student understanding by examining their daily work.