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  1. To define the terms buffer strip, terraces and contour farming.
  2. To apply the skills of observation to interpret visual materials as sources of information.
  3. To explore the causes and effects of soil erosion and water pollution.

Activity Summary

Students will examine an aerial photograph of a terraced farm field. The clue questions will introduce students to the terms terrace, buffer strip and contour farming. In Iowa, terraces and buffer strips are used to prevent the run-off that destroys topsoil and pollutes streams and rivers.

During the follow-up activity students will be introduced to terracing as a farming practice throughout the world. In many locations and climates for thousands of years, people have farmed the slopes of mountains and hills by creating terraces.

As an application of these concepts, students will make observations of Stone City, an important and famous painting by Grant Wood. Students should apply sound principles of contour farming when observing the painting. Then they will draw their own version of the painting by adding contour farming with terraces and buffer strips.

Extension Activity

  1. Introduce the terms cause and effect. Discuss the fact that for every event or decision, there are multiple effects. Provide examples such as the following:
Heavy rains Flooding along rivers and streams
Choosing to smoke cigarettes Increased risk of lung cancer
Working hard on school assignments Higher grades

  1. In addition to initial effects, there are also ripple effects. For example, heavy rains result in flooding along rivers and streams that in turn, results in evacuation of people living along the streams, etc.

  2. Distribute to teams of students a blank copy of the Decision Wheel. Have students write the words "Soil Erosion and Pollution" in the center of the wheel.

  3. Using online resources students will identify the consequences and ripple effects of soil erosion.

  4. When students have completed their charts, provide time for groups to share their work. A sample completed Decision Wheel has been provided as a guide for discussion.

Teacher Resource

The Quality of Our Nation's Water
The EPA provides extensive information on the sources of pollution affecting our nation's rivers and streams.

Online Resources

Water Quality

Water Quality and Farming Practices in an Agricultural Watershed

Do Farming Practices Affect Water Quality?

National Water Quality Assessment Resources

Studies by the U.S. Geological Survey on Sources, Transport, and Fate of Agricultural Chemicals

Soil Erosion

Iowa: 30 Years of Simulated Soil Erosion

Soil erosion: An Agricultural Production Challenge


  For Teachers:
Teacher's Overview Quick Facts A Day in the Life
Farm Tech Trek Scavenger Hunt Newsroom
Mystery Photo Ag Resource Library
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