Soil Genesis, Morphology, & Classification

Syllabus Spring 2014

Course Information

Tarleton State University

College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences

Department of Environmental & Agricultural Management

PSSC312 (formally AGRN 312) Soil Genesis, Morphology, & Classification

Catalog Description

Chemical, biological and physical processes of soil formation leading to soil development. Recognition and description of soils. Factors of soil formation and interaction of soil with ecosystems. Morphology and diagnostic descriptions are practiced and soil classification is introduced. Laboratory work will consist of field study of the morphological features of soil and the use of soil morphology to practice soil classification. Provides practical experience describing soil properties in the field.


PSSC 301 (formally AGRN 301)

Expanded Course Description

Topics covered include the history of soil classification, methods and characterization techniques of soil, morphologic genetic horizons, diagnostic horizons, moisture regimes, temperature regimes, detailed discussion of Soil Taxonomy. Morphologic descriptions, classification, and soil genesis discussions are enhanced by field based activities and prepare students for mapping and map interpretation.

Scheduling & Mechanics


CRN 22613 PSSC 312-010 

MWF 8:00 to 8:50 AM Autry (Agriculture) 209


CRN 22614 PSSC 312-510 T  1:15 to 4:15 PM Autry (Agriculture) 206 


Donald G. McGahan, Ph.D.

Office: Room 203A Joe Autry (Agriculture) Building 

Office Phone: 254-968-9701

Fax: 254-968-9300 


Web page: [Online at]

Open Course Information

Office Hours

By appointment. Please suggest several day (at least three) start and stop time combinations for the most prompt scheduling for an appointment to reduce back and forth emails for scheduling a date and time to meet. Should one of the suggested dates not be acceptable the instructor will suggest a date and time combination.

Please remember to identify yourself especially, with initial contacts, in correspondence.

The preferred contact method is via campus email address. 

Always begin subject line with “PSSC312,” without quotes, to keep the message from the spam/junk folder, and for a more prompt response.

Required Text

Buol, S.W., R.J. Southard, R.C. Graham, and P.A. McDaniel. 2011. Soil Genesis and Classification, 6th edition. Wiley-Blackwell.  ISBN-13: 978-0-8138-0769-0 [Wiley-Blackwell online] This text is available in numerous digital formats.

The text above text may also be purchased from any number of brick and mortar or online booksellers, TSU Bookstore, Hastings, Barns & Noble, Amazon, Alibris, etc.

Soil Survey Staff. 2010. Keys to Soil Taxonomy, Eleventh Edition. USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Washington, DC.  [Online at]

Soil Survey Division Staff. 1993. Soil survey manual. Soil Conservation Service. U.S. Department of Agriculture Handbook 18. [online at]

Supplemental reading from 

Soil Survey Staff. 1999. Soil taxonomy: A basic system of soil classification for making and interpreting soil surveys. 2nd edition. Natural Resources Conservation Service. U.S. Department of Agriculture Handbook 436. [Online at]

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. National soil survey handbook, title 430-VI. [online at]. 

Other sources to be identified during the course. (Online or free via the library)

Suggested Text

Brady, N.C. and R. Weil. 2008. The Nature and Properties of Soils. 14th ed. Prentice Hall. ISBN-13:  9780132279383

Thompson, J.A. and Coyne, M.S. 2006. Math for Soil Scientists. 1st ed. Thompson-Delmar. ISBN-13: 9780766842687 

Ellsworth, B., J.A. Higgins. 2012. English Simplified. 13th ed. Pearson Ed. Inc. ISBN-13: 978-0205110469 

Rosenberg, J.L., L.M. Epstein, P.J. Krieger. 2013. Shaum’s Outline of College Chemistry. 10th ed. McGraw Hill, NY NY. ISBN-13: 978-007181082.


The laboratory portion of grade will be based on participation in all labs and field trips, field recordation/observation sheets, and a laboratory field notebook report. The well-organized laboratory / field observation notebook and report (3-ring binder recommended) is due prior to the end of the course, and will include all field sheets, a map (or maps) showing where soil observations were made, and a summary spreadsheet of important soil properties for all pedons. 

The report section of the notebook (minimum of 10 pages, double spaced (not just 1 ½), 1 inch margin left and right, top, and bottom, but no greater than 33 pages) should include a discussion of all of the soil orders observed and incorporate student generated data and observations of soils on/in the laboratory/field.

The report discussion should expound and expand on (i) the environmental factors that affect soil-forming processes, (ii) on the relationships among the soils of the three soil orders on the landscape, and (iii) on how these relationships are reflected in Soil Taxonomy. The discussions should refer to the soil data collected in the field, and these data should be presented and summarized in figures or tables (placed at end of report and therefore do not contribute to the page count requirement).  

You may refer to and reference other soil data.  All references and citations are to reflect the source.  Place all tables and figures discussed in the report at end of report after the bibliography.  

For writing, table, figure, bibliography/reference and citation styles see

Assignment 1 

Laboratory Safety[1]


common laboratory hazards

controlling laboratory risks

safe laboratory practices

equipment safety

You must complete this laboratory safety course to receive a grade greater than F for the course.

Tarleton State University Laboratory Safety Program is viewed in its entirety at


This is a self directed assignment completed the first week classes are in session. This is an online safety course to be completed prior to coming to your first exercise.

Computer with Internet access

Printer attached to Internet to print certification of course completion

You must have your course, and laboratory section information at the ready. Other courses can be entered at the same time.

If the online safety course is not completed prior to the first laboratory exercise you will fail the course.

Safety is not an option.

Have a list of your courses and the CRN for each course handy to enter the information at the end of the Online Laboratory Safety Quiz.

Go to the Tarleton Risk Management and Safety web site at:

Under the heading TRAINING, expand Online

Choose the "Lab Safety" and complete the training course.

At the end of the course is a quiz. Complete the quiz. Print the certificate at the end of the quiz and retain it throughout the class. If requested by the instructor or safety official you must produce the certificate that you have taken the "Lab Safety" course and quiz.

When you attend the laboratory in person the instructor will do an "on-site" safety review.

You might be asked to sign a roster that you have completed the "on-site" laboratory safety.

Grading strategy

Grading is only slightly competitive.  Everyone may earn an A grade.

Attendance to lecture 5% (one grace absence: each additional absence costs 1%)

Attendance to laboratory 5% (one grace absence: each additional absence costs 1%)

Assessments and Exercises 25% ± 3%

Laboratory Report and data book 25% ± 3%

Midterm and Final Examination 40% ± 3%

Note: The classroom is a fluid environment. It is a special place. Questions and answers are why we meet face to face! This makes a schedule of exact dates at the beginning of the semester impossible to adhere to. You are at college and you are expected to be prepared to take an examination covering material up to any given day during the semester. It is not uncommon for an assessment to be given that includes material from several weeks prior or even from the first week of class in addition to what was covered last lecture. 

Academic Honesty

The university policy on academic honesty is provided in the University Catalog.  Strict adherence to the highest standards of academic integrity will be expected throughout the course. Cheating in any form (plagiarism, copied work, cheat sheets, etc.) will not be tolerated and will be dealt with swiftly and severely.


It is the policy of Tarleton State University to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other applicable laws. If you are a student with a disability seeking accommodations for this course, please contact Trina Geye, Director of Student Disability Services, at 254.968.9400 or Student Disability Services is located in Math 201. More information can be found at or in the University Catalog.

How to be successful 

Reading the text

The textbook assigned is a primary source of knowledge for this course. There is no substitution for not reading the textbook.

Reading textbooks that introduce information that is new to the reader, a student in a college course, is a challenge. The task takes longer than reading popular media and as a consequence students frequently fall behind and become disillusioned.

There are several strategies that can be employed to maximize retaining the concepts presented in the textbook. One strategy is to look over the text book sections for the upcoming lecture without reading it in detail. The next step is to read the relevant portion of the textbook after the information has been presented in a face-to-face lecture setting. The reinforcement that is offered to a student whom employs this tactic is real, with the maximum benefit coming from reading immediately after the face-to-face lecture and diminishing as time (hours, days, and weeks) passes. In most courses, the face-to-face lecture is unlikely to mirror the text. Rather, most instructors choose to employ the fact-to-face lecture to clarify concepts that are difficult for students to grasp from the textbook alone, and instructors often link information presented in the textbook to other sources of text, audio, alternate visuals, or media. The student in these circumstances is challenged to recall the lecture when reading the text. 

Reading the textbook prior to lecture offers the student an introduction, and some knowledge, to better link the lecture to concepts offered in the textbook. However, when reading the textbook prior to a face-to-face presentation the student must decide on the appropriate balance between reading for complete understanding and skimming for content introduction.

For this course visiting the textbook prior to lecture and returning the textbook after the material is presented in a face-to-face setting will yield the most rich experience. Retention is increased 

Additional reading and resources are available online and, most, are listed in the syllabus above. Specifically, the current copy of “The Keys to Soil Taxonomy” is available as a pdf and it is necessary that the student print this document or have a local digital copy saved. If printing the student may take the document to the local office supply store to have it printed and bound. This is an expense and some users have been successful at using the digital copy. Reading the The Keys to Soil Taxonomy (Soil Survey Staff, 2010) and the Soil Survey Manual (Soil Survey Division Staff, 1993), also available as a pdf online, together with the textbook, is a most valuable key to success. It is not mandatory that the Soil Survey Manual be printed out in its entirety, but printing selected passages of the Soil Survey Manual may prove easier to refer to than a digital copy alone. Finally, referring to Soil Taxonomy: A basic system of soil classification for making and interpreting soil surveys (Soil Survey Staff, 1999) is helpful for some modules presented. Again, having a ‘local’ copy is important.

It is NOT and excuse to say that the reading could not be accomplished due to an interruption of internet access to these ‘on-line’ accessible documents. Save them to your digital delivery device (pad, phone, computer, Kindle, Nook, etc) and have them handy.


The agenda will be delivered separately. In the face-to-face lecture suggested readings for up-coming lectures will be posted to help you keep abreast of reading in preparation of lecture.

First day assignment for balance of week. Read Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of Buol et al. (2011) [also I will refer to this  ‘the textbook’]. For Chapter 1 and 2 of the textbook it is suggested that you power skim and then go back a read for content. Read The Soil Color section from Chapter 3 in Soil Survey Manual (Soil Survey Division Staff, 1993). 


[1] Tarleton State University - College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences - Department of Environmental and Agricultural Management - Soil Science revised 8/14/2013

[2] Tarleton State University Risk Management & Safety. 2009. Tarleton Stat University Laboratory Safety Program. Accessed August 14, 2013 Online []