Sediment Filter Activities

Instructor: Josh Corbat

Josh has taught Earth Science and Physical Science at the High School level and holds a Master of Education degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Learning about sediments with your students? This lesson contains several ideas about how to explore sediments using sediment filters. Both prefabricated and do-it-yourself filters will be discussed.

How Sediment Filters can Facilitate Learning

When learning about soil sediments, students often find it difficult to visualize different sizes of sediments leading to different properties of soil. To them, it's all just dirt! Sediment filters allow students to work directly with soil and build an understanding of how different sizes of sediments can lead to dramatically different types of soil. The activities in this lesson describe several approaches to lessons that include sediment filters. Each of these activities is highly flexible and can be modified to fit the needs of your students.

Prefabricated Sediment Filter Activities

Sediment filters can be purchased from several supply companies and come in many varieties. You can even find some rudimentary sediment filters at many local stores (often found near the sand toys). The following activities utilize these manufactured sediment filters and can be modified based on the equipment you have on hand.

Soil Composition

If you have access to sets of sediment filters with different-sized screens, you can easily have students determine the composition of any soil. First, have students measure the mass of a dry soil sample (this is an exercise in mass-taking as well). Then, have them sift the soil through the sediment filter, starting with the largest mesh. As they work their way down, they will be left with sediments of many different sizes. Determining which sediment they likely are (sand, silt, etc.) and taking the mass of each will allow them to determine the composition of the soil.

Biotic & Abiotic Soil Factors

It's helpful for students to look at both the biotic and abiotic factors in soil in order to more fully understand how soil is formed in the first place. Using a large-screen sediment filter, have students collect and filter soil samples. The large sediments that are left behind can be separated into biotic (e.g. shells, twigs) and abiotic (e.g. pebbles, sand) components.

Evidence of Life

Similar to the activity above, a filtering activity can help determine what kind of life lives in the area a soil sample is taken from. Have students first determine the biotic factors in the soil, then make a determination of what kind of life is common in the area based on their data.

Do-It-Yourself Sediment Filter Activities

If you don't have access to prefabricated sediment filters, have no fear! The activities below can be quite meaningful for student learning, and can be modified to fit your students' needs.

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