Emerson students first to test out interactive virtual erosion lesson

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The popular soil and erosion lessons with Linda Pettit, an environmental education specialist with the Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District, were virtual at Emerson Elementary last year because of the pandemic.

The conservation district’s Education team wanted to build off that experience by making the lessons more interactive and tested their new approach with Emerson students on Wednesday.

Like last year, Pettit and Amy Tressler, also an environmental education specialist with Franklin Soil and Water, were displayed on the whiteboards of fourth-grade classrooms at Emerson via Zoom. Teachers Mara Katz and Kathy Riesterer set up separate laptops in their classrooms so students could ask and answer questions directly to their guest speakers.

New this year: a “loan kit” featuring materials for students to run experiments during the lesson, including a smaller-scale version of the water erosion model Pettit typically brings for her in-person demonstrations.

As Pettit explored erosion with students — what causes it, why it’s a problem and how it can be prevented — students conducted experiments with Play-Doh and a plastic cube to understand glacial erosion and sand and a hand-held fan to understand wind erosion. The presentation culminated with students building a soil erosion simulator, where they had to predict and compare the effects of rain falling on grass, bare soil and mulched soil.

Katz said her students were thrilled to participate in the activity this year. Typically, a handful of student volunteers would help run the soil erosion simulator during Pettit’s in-person demonstration. This format allowed all students to engage in the experiment.  

“Working with materials in small groups at first seemed a bit daunting and could have been very messy, but the kids did so well with the materials and loved getting their hands on a science activity altogether,” Katz said.

Pettit was also pleased with the lesson and how well they followed along with the experiments.

“We thank the teachers for being willing to try this out for us,” she said.