By Carla Wardin
ST. JOHNS — On Feb. 13 the FARM Science Lab went to Eureka Elementary School in St. Johns, where instructor Cathie Wood led K-5 students in agricultural lessons and experiments.
In the Food, Agriculture and Resources in Motion (FARM) Science Lab, the lessons are tailored to each grade level and science standards. The upper elementary students identified the parts of a cell and extracted DNA from wheat germ, while the younger students engaged in a photo matching activity that taught them where food and products originated on farms. They also built necklaces with items representing each element on a farm. Kindergarten students used their five senses to compare three varieties of apples, identify their parts, and discover the role the farmer plays in growing apples.
“I thought it was convenient, fun, and educational. It was great because it was tailored for each age group at the school, and the kids were excited because they got to be real scientists,” parent volunteer Erika Hendy said. “You could tell they were making the connection between everyday lives and the community we live in, as well as the world around us.”
She continued, “I feel that these are valuable lessons, because they show children the importance of farms and the many ways we use them. It may also pique children’s interest in a future career path as farmers or scientists themselves.”
Parent volunteer Tiffany Schepler worked with the younger classes during the lab visit.
“It was so neat to see it all click with the students as they noted differences in one apple to the next,” Schepler said. “My son was so excited about it, because he didn’t really think about experimenting with the five senses before. It was so fun!”
The FARM Science Lab is a 40-foot mobile classroom developed by Michigan Agriculture in the Classroom and equipped with the latest teaching technologies and STEM-based lessons. It’s pulled by a 2017 F 350 Crew Cab 4x4 King Ranch Ford truck, which was donated by Ford Motor Company. The lab is funded by numerous donations to the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture, which has the mission of positively contributing to the future of Michigan agriculture through leadership and educational programming.
The goal of the FARM Science Lab is to help students understand the connection between agriculture, science, and their lives. It travels to both rural and urban populations.
“I appreciate opportunities for our students to participate in science investigations and experiments,” Eureka Elementary principal Anne Marie Potter said. “Connecting their thoughts to the value of our local farming community is an added benefit, and having parent volunteers involved is icing on the cake.”
Variety of lessons
The lab offers a menu of lessons so teachers can choose the subject which best fits with their plans. The ‘Resourceful Bean’ lesson explores renewable and non-renewable products made from soy-based material, while ‘Spying on Soil’ leads students in identifying soil components including mineral particles, organic matter, air, and water. There are also lessons on water flow, plant-based products, pasteurization, and the parts of a plant.
The lab contracts with educators across the state so they can teach when the lab is in their area. Mid-Michigan instructor Cathie Wood is a former elementary teacher who began teaching in the lab this fall.
“Students are more engaged in what they're learning in the lab with the hands-on activities,” Wood said. “They're wondering, learning, and making discoveries. Students could read about the topics in the classroom, but when they study the same topic through hands-on learning they develop a stronger understanding that sticks. Plus, learning in the lab is just plain fun!”
Carla Schultz, a FARM Science Lab educator in Eastern Michigan, agrees. Mainly, she wants the students to understand how agriculture and science are woven into all of our lives.
“A person doesn't have to be a full-time farmer to be connected to agriculture, because there are so many careers in this amazing field,” Schultz said. “Just think about the food that is eaten at least three times a day, the clothes we wear, and the products we use day after day… All of those thoughts tie each and every one of us to the world around us in agriculture.”
Focus on students
The teachers see the benefit as well. Not only can they have an affordable field trip, they can have an educational one right outside the school.
"My fourth graders loved it," teacher Vicki Foreback said. Her students told her they liked learning about plants, exploring farming, and performing the science experiment. She said, "They were interested and engaged. They returned to the classroom talking about what they learned without my prompting.”
"This is so cool. I love science. Just look at these kids!” Fifth grade teacher Eryn McDonald said. “I’m so glad they had this today.”
The 165 students are just the latest of many to have a day at the lab. From September to December 2017, the FARM Science Lab taught 5,187 students at 15 different schools and is fully booked through the remainder of the 2017-18 school year. Click here to make a reservation for 2018-19 school year.
The FARM Science Lab’s main focus, and the goal of the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture, is that it helps children learn about agriculture.
“It was fun,” fourth grader Madi Hendy said. “I liked mixing everything together for the science experiment, and I liked learning about how farmers grow wheat and other crops. I’m excited for it to come back.”
Due to demand, the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture announced they are building a second FARM Science Lab.
Click here if you’re interested in bringing the FARM Science Lab to your school.
Click here if you’d like to help build the second FARM Science Lab.
Thank you to our FARM Science Lab sponsors: