Soil Secrets

Soil Secrets

Watch explorer Carter Clinton describe his work in genomic research to draw conclusions about how African Americans lived and died in New York over 400 years ago. Then have students plan an investigation around an extension question grounded in Carter Clinton’s research.


5 - 12+


Biology, Ecology, Geography, Human Geography

Made Possible By
Lockheed Martin

Idea for Use in the Classroom

Have students watch the video about Carter Clinton, a genetic anthropologist studying soil samples from graves to draw conclusions about how African Americans lived and died in New York over 400 years ago.

Using the video, have students identify the purpose for Carter Clinton’s work in the global context (for example, to learn more about the lives and deaths of people in the context of the presence of infectious disease). Then have students work in pairs or groups to identify Carter Clinton’s research question, the variables and controls he used in his experimental tests, what tools he needed to gather the soil samples from different individuals, and how much data he needed to collect to support his claims. Have students also consider where possible sources of error could occur that might affect his data (for example, decomposition of other organisms or change in the community over time).

Have students work in partners or small groups to identify a genuine question of inquiry that extends Carter Clinton’s work. For example, students might compare geographical regions, changes over time, or extend the genomic research to different species. Have students

  • determine the purpose of posing their extension question (i.e., why it matters in a global context).
  • develop a hypothesis with reasoning.
  • identify independent and dependent variables and controls.
  • outline their methods, including what tools are needed to do data gathering, how measurements will be recorded and determining the appropriate number of trials.

Finally, have students prepare and present their proposed research for evaluation by their peers and/or panel, who will decide which project to fund.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Heather J. Johnson, Vanderbilt University
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Educator Reviewer
Alexandra M. Silva, Science Educator, Peter Gruber International Academy, Virgin Islands 9-12 International Baccalaureate MYP Science, DP Biology, and DP Environmental Systems & Societies MEd Instructional Leadership: Science Education; MS Ecology & Evolution
Program Specialist
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

January 24, 2024

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