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ISU students take on soil health challenge

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In a year when annual events such as the Soil Health Conference at Iowa State University (ISU) were canceled, students with an interest and affinity for exploring soil health issues looked to new opportunities and outlets. Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) tapped the enthusiasm and creativity of these ISU students through its Cyclone Soil Health Sweepstakes that took place during the spring 2021 semester.

Student groups were encouraged to create unique video messages about soil health for an audience of their choosing. The prospect of earning cash rewards for the participants and student organizations they represented provided additional incentive to bring their “A game” to the competition. Video projects were evaluated by a judging panel for creativity, appropriateness for target audience and sound scientific bases.

“Our goal with this contest was to challenge students to put what they’ve learned into formats and language that would resonate with different constituencies,” says Jacqueline Comito, ILF and Water Rocks! director. “The video projects selected by the panel and the People’s Choice winner selected by open voting on Facebook represent some excellent perspectives in teaching tools that can become part of the greater ILF library of video resources.”

Courtesy of Iowa Learning FarmsISU students Jacob Handel and Robyn Byl  and soil health contest video

SHOWCASING SOIL HEALTH: Each three- to five-minute video entered in the soil health contest was created, recorded and edited to demonstrate the importance of a specific aspect, characteristic or property of soil health. In this photo taken from the team’s video, Iowa State University students Jacob Handel and Robyn Byl compare soils from row crop ground to those from pasture. Not pictured is team member Amber Anderson.

Each three- to five-minute video entered in the contest was created, recorded and edited to demonstrate the importance of a specific aspect, characteristic or property of soil health. The contents included animations and demonstrations, and were focused on specific learning objectives each viewer in the target group should attain.

“As researchers, scientists and educators in the university community, we get excited about the discoveries and progress we are making, and sometimes forget to put ourselves in the shoes of our audience,” Comito continues. “Challenging these students to present the science in ways that resonate with a particular audience not only prepares them for the future, but also helps to remind us all to keep focused on who we are trying to connect with, and how we deliver educational material.”

Top 3 videos

The winning video in the Cyclone Soil Health Sweepstakes was created by ISU students Abbie Van Raden, a senior in animal ecology; Kari Jeffrey, a junior in animal ecology; and Heather King a junior in animal ecology. These students are members of the ISU Environmental Education Club. The video covers the issues of soil compaction and water infiltration for elementary-aged learners, providing insights on how creatures such as moles and earthworms work as “soil engineers” to loosen and enrich soil through everyday burrowing and life. View this video.

The People’s Choice winner and second-place selection by the judging panel was submitted by the team of Jacob Schultz, a senior in agronomy; and Meyer Bohn, a graduate student in soil genesis and morphology, both members of the ISU Soil Judging Team. The video provides an informative visual demonstration of the effects of different cover crop seeding densities on soil erosion. Their do-it-yourself erosion simulator can be easily replicated in a classroom, providing teachers and students with hands-on opportunities to learn about and explore how soil moves with water, and what can be done to limit or reduce erosion through application of practices such as planting cover crops. View this video.

Courtesy of Iowa Learning FarmsThe winning soil health contest video was created by ISU students Abbie Van Raden, Kari Jeffrey, and Heather King

WINNING VIDEO: The winning video was created by ISU students Abbie Van Raden, Kari Jeffrey and Heather King, who are members of the ISU Environmental Education Club. The video covers the issues of soil compaction and water infiltration for elementary-aged learners, providing insights on how creatures like moles and earthworms work as “soil engineers” to loosen and enrich soil through burrowing.

Rounding out the award winners in the sweepstakes was the entry prepared by Jacob Handel, a senior in environmental science; Robyn Byl, a senior in agronomy; and Amber Anderson, a graduate student in agronomy. These competitors are also members of the ISU Soil Judging Team. This video contrasts the long-term soil impacts of pasture versus crop uses. Presenting research-based implications of different use models through observation and analysis of soil cores taken from two adjacent fields, the video highlights the value of building organic matter in the upper layers of the soil to improve soil health in either application. Designed for upper-level learners, view this video.

Although the topics and target audiences covered a broad range, all videos submitted in the sweepstakes supported the ILF mission of helping Iowans create a culture of conservation through improved awareness of challenges and solutions that affect the quality of water and soil throughout the state.

Ripley is a conservation outreach specialist with Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks.

 



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