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Soil Science Society of America Journal Abstract - SOIL SCIENCE ISSUES

“Dig It!”: How an Exhibit Breathed Life into Soils Education


This article in SSSAJ

  1. Vol. 74 No. 3, p. 706-716
    Received: Oct 31, 2009

    * Corresponding author(s): megonigalp@si.edu
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  1. J. Patrick Megonigal *a,
  2. Barbara Staufferb,
  3. Siobhan Starrsb,
  4. Andrew Pekarikb,
  5. Patrick Drohand and
  6. John Havline
  1. a Smithsonian Environ. Research Center, PO Box 28, Edgewater, MD 21037
    b National Museum of Natural History, MRC 101, PO Box 37012, Washington, DC 20013
    d Dep. of Crop and Soil Sciences, Pennsylvania State Univ., University Park, PA 16802
    e Dep. of Soil Science, North Carolina State Univ., Raleigh, NC 27695


We propose that the primary goal of public soils education should not be to teach, but to inspire The goal to inspire guided the design of “Dig It! The Secrets of Soil,” a large exhibit in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC, for 18 mo beginning in June 2008. The “Dig It!” exhibit was designed from an ecosystem perspective, in which agriculture—the traditional context for soils education—is considered to be just one of many ecosystem types. For visitors inspired primarily by art and culture, there were objects chosen to surprise and expand the imagination about soils. The exhibit was designed to communicate to wide range of ages, centered on 12–14 yr olds. As such, it was rich in audiovisual media that included a cartoon, a movie, two looping videos, a kiosk for exploring the state soils, a quiz game, and a role-playing game. It also included scale models and actual soil monoliths. The exhibit addressed the full spectrum of issues that concern contemporary soil scientists—climate change, aquatic eutrophication, soil degradation, sustainable farming, and others—by organizing the content according to scale (global, regional. and local). Interviews with visitors indicated that the exhibit had the potential to effectively alter the preconceived notions of more than 2 million visitors about soils. We fully expect the exhibit to continue inspiring the public about soils through the richness of the exhibit website (www.forces.si.edu/soils; verified 6 Mar. 2010), which includes videos, games, and interactive content.

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