Dig This! Erosion Investigation

Science for Ohio (John Farmer, director; Melissa Breuer, author)
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Unit , Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.


In this short unit students are introduced to erosion and propose solutions to an erosion problem on school grounds. The teacher first briefly demonstrates what erosion is, and then students investigate examples of natural or human caused erosion on the school grounds. Next, students see demonstrations of three types of erosion (here it would be better to have students investigate and experiment with these types of erosion rather than just see them). In lesson three they do some background research on types of erosion. Lesson four, the focus of this review because of the engineering design being done, has students come up with solutions for the erosion problem they found. The final lesson has students present their solutions (and while it suggests having the teacher videotape only the top three, taping all seems more appropriate).


Engineering practices underlie this series of lessons, as students investigate problems of erosion, build background knowledge, design solutions, and present their designs.

Notably, the investigation of erosion problems might not be possible on some school grounds, so teachers could instead take students on short field trip to a site in the community affected by erosion (natural or human caused). Or, teachers could take pictures of a local site affected by erosion and students could use them for the design activity, with students only coming up with design solutions, not working with community members to implement them.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-ETS1-2 Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
In lesson four, the class discusses the key points of each design proposal, and then each student writes a paragraph on which solution they think is best and why (with evidence/details that support their choice). To better connect to this PE, the class should determine criteria (e.g., it ends the erosion problem) and constraints (e.g., costs, aesthetics, safety, etc.) up front. Currently, when they detail their plan, they’re asked about materials needed, estimated cost, and a timeline. Those features of their plan could readily be framed as criteria/constraints (e.g., needing to be done in a certain timeframe under a particular budget). They would then need a more systematic process for determining whether the solution meets these criteria and constraints - a Pugh chart (http://ngss.nsta.org/Resource.aspx?ResourceID=218) would be one such method.

MS-ESS2-2 Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth's surface at varying time and spatial scales.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on how processes change Earth’s surface at time and spatial scales that can be large (such as slow plate motions or the uplift of large mountain ranges) or small (such as rapid landslides or microscopic geochemical reactions), and how many geoscience processes (such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and meteor impacts) usually behave gradually but are punctuated by catastrophic events. Examples of geoscience processes include surface weathering and deposition by the movements of water, ice, and wind. Emphasis is on geoscience processes that shape local geographic features, where appropriate.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource was not designed to build towards this performance expectation, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Teachers are encouraged to help students understand that many natural erosion processes take place on a grand timescale to create geographic features of the world around them; this timescale is much greater than the one giving rise to features they would likely investigate on their school grounds. Students are investigating evidence of geoscience processes particularly in the context of surface weathering and human-caused erosion. They aren’t specifically asked to construct explanations about varying time and spatial scales. This could be accomplished by asking them to use their learning through the investigations to construct an explanation related to timescale and would be an easy and important addition to this series of lessons, likely fitting well in lesson 3.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students investigate types of erosion and forces involved in them during this series of lessons, but they are not specifically asked to apply that learning (scientific ideas or principles) to their design solutions. That would be an important change to this lesson. Teachers could also note that their solution could be an “object” to prevent erosion (such as a barrier) or a “system” to prevent erosion (such as altering how students travel through school grounds to reduce human-caused erosion).

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
As detailed with the ETS performance expectation, students need to go through a more systematic process of reviewing solutions in relation to criteria and constraints. When the class shares and discusses the design solutions, the teacher could readily facilitate a discussion about combining elements of different solutions to create an even better solution. Alternatively, students could have that discussion in their groups before writing their paragraph advocating for a particular solution.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Again, teacher materials emphasize time scale, though student performance does not necessarily require connections to that concept. The lesson three “Becoming an Erosion Expert” packet should include an opportunity for students to explain and explore timescales of erosion, particularly in relation to large-scale planetary systems (noting differences from the water table in the classroom). When students create their design solutions to an erosion problem on their school grounds, understanding the timescale of the problem will (and should) help them in formulating their solutions. For example, the solution will look different if the erosion is caused by people walking where there is not path, than if the erosion is caused by a stream flowing nearby.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
As noted with this DCI, the teacher materials emphasize the timescale of geologic events, noting that erosion often happens on a timescale beyond what could be observed by students. In order to fully address this crosscutting concept, students need to be asked to specifically reflect on the timescale of the various types of erosion they research (lesson 3), and the timescale of the school/community erosion they observe. Either through class discussion or in student notebooking, they can then reflect on how some erosion phenomena may be observed at one timescale but not another.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students need to be asked to be more explicit about the cause of the problem they’re trying to solve. In order to design a solution, they need to make sure they know (or can predict) what’s causing the problem, so they can provide rationale for how their solution with solve the problem. In this case, they might be trying to create a solution that they predict will stop the phenomenon of erosion in either a natural or designed system (such as a creek or a school entranceway).

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: With a few modifications, as noted above, this lesson can align well to the three dimensions of the NGSS. In particular, criteria and constraints of the design problem need to be discussed along with cause and effect of the erosion. The foundational task, making sense of a phenomenon (erosion on school grounds) and designing a solution to it, aligns well to principles of the NGSS.

  • Instructional Supports: Several useful instructional supports are provided. There are sample worksheets for notetaking and organizing research. There are images of sample erosion work done by students at one school: http://www.cas.miamioh.edu/scienceforohio/Erosion/BeforeAfter.html. It’s clear that this lesson is one that was actually done by the teacher who wrote it. The lesson materials also include a page of related resources (books and websites). The resources can be found here and linked throughout the lesson: http://www.cas.miamioh.edu/scienceforohio/Erosion/Rtp.html In the third lesson students are asked to computer-based research. If your school does not have access to sufficient technology, this resource section provides an extensive book list which would provide alternatives to computers. Note, in the resources the link for the Science Clips has changed. It should be: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0078mkh

  • Monitoring Student Progress: There is a proficiency assessment included, http://www.cas.miamioh.edu/scienceforohio/Erosion/images/PaA.pdf, which includes some thoughtful questions asking students to explain their thinking. The test does not fully get at three dimensional learning, with no significant crosscutting concept connections and incomplete use of the practices related to this lesson. There isn’t an assessment tool, such as a rubric, provided for the student presentations.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The resource has no technological component, although it does use online resources.