administration student task rubric student work technical quality
Air in Soil
Administration Procedures
Grade 5-8 Performance Task
Contributed by: New York State Education Department (NYSED)
NYS Alternative Assessment in Science Project (1996)


Students will use water to measure the porosity of topsoil. This will help determine the percent of air space in topsoil. Students will also design a controlled experiment to determine the amount of water in soil samples.

The task assesses students' abilities to make simple observations, collect and organize data, apply mathematical concepts, design an experiment, and generalize inferences from their observations and apply their understanding to a hypothetical situation.

This task is designed to take students approximately 25-30 minutes to complete.

Overall Task Content Area:

Earth and Space Science

Specific Knowledge Areas:

Structure of the Earth System

Performance Expectations:

  • conducting investigations
  • gathering, organizing, and representing data
  • formulating conclusions from investigational data
  • applying scientific principles to develop explanations and solve new problems

National Science Education Standards:

8 A SI 1: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
1.2 Design and conduct a scientific investigation. Students should develop general abilities, such as systematic observation, making accurate measurements, and identifying and controlling variables. They should also develop the ability to clarify their ideas that are influencing and guiding the inquiry, and to understand how those ideas compare with current scientific knowledge. Students can learn to formulate questions, design investigations, execute investigations, interpret data, use evidence to generate explanations, propose alternative explanations, and critique explanations and procedures.

1.3 Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data. The use of tools and techniques, including mathematics, will be guided by the question asked and the investigations students design. The use of computers for the collection, summary, and display of evidence is part of this standard. Students should be able to access, gather, store, retrieve, and organize data, using hardware and software designed for these purposes.

1.5 Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations. Thinking critically about evidence includes deciding what evidence should be used and accounting for anomalous data. Specifically, students should be able to review data from a simple experiment, summarize the data, and form a logical argument about the cause-and-effect relationships in the experiment. Students should begin to state some explanations in terms of the relationship between two or more variables.

1.8 Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry. Mathematics is essential to asking and answering questions about the natural world. Mathematics can be used to ask questions; to gather, organize, and present data; and to structure convincing explanations.

8 D ESS 1: Structure of the Earth System
1.5 Soil consists of weathered rocks and decomposed organic material from dead plants, animals, and bacteria. Soils are often found in layers, with each having a different chemical composition and texture.

(Use the "hot" link on the PALS home page to check the full text of related National Science Education Standards, if desired.)

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics:

Measurement Standards (MEAS2): Apply appropriate techniques, tools, and formulas to determine measurements. 1): Formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect, organize, and display relevant data to answer them.

Number and Operations Standards (NO1): Understand numbers, ways of representing numbers, relationships among numbers, and number systems.

Data Analysis and Probability Standards (DAP3): Develop and evaluate inferences and predictions that are based on data.

Problem Solving (PS1): Build new mathematical knowledge through problem solving.

Connections (CNX3): Recognize and use connections among mathematical ideas.

General Instructions to the Teacher:

This task is designed to take students approximately 25-30 minutes to complete.

Students will be working individually during this exercise.

Materials for "Air in Soil":

At this station students should have:

  • 2 metric cups (at least 250 ml)
  • water
  • spoon
  • dry topsoil sample - 200+ ml
  • washing bottle
  • paper towels
  • waste container

Advance Preparation:

  1. If potting soil is to be used, open the bag and spread out soil for a few days to be certain it is completely dry. (This may be a good idea with most soils.)
  2. Check the dry soil to make sure it will allow water to fill air space and not have particles buoy upward. Sandy soils or rich loam work best. Soils which work good for activity may be spread out and dried for reuse.
  3. Graduated cups should be at least in 10 ml increments. Strips of transparent divisions may be taped on the side of beaker or cup to provide more precise readings.
  4. A large dump bucket will be needed to empty student waste containers if stations are to be used several times.


  • Be careful.
  • Teachers and students should always exercise appropriate safety precautions and utilize appropriate laboratory safety procedures and equipment when working on science performance tasks.


  • Different soils may be used to check variations in porosity.


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