Michigan has two roving FARM Science Labs that deliver engaging agriculture-accurate STEM lessons to elementary students around the state. FARM stands for Food, Agriculture and Resources in Motion--and they take the motion part seriously. This 40-foot trailer contains everything the trained educators need to lead activities and experiments for students from kindergarten through fifth grade. The materials and tools are securely stashed behind gleaming cabinets and affixed to the walls and counters.
When the students come in, that's when the fun happens.
I got to take part in two recent stops of the Lab at Northpointe School in Grand Rapids and St. Patrick School in Ada, watching two educators in action. Each lesson was geared towards student curiosity and success. The subjects were deeper dives into things the students were already familiar with -- fruits and vegetables, trees, insects, sugar, dairy -- but with plenty of surprises. Part of the tree lesson included students having to group items at their station into from-trees and not-from-trees. The surprise was that every item came from a tree, even the paint, glue, rubber band, and crayon, all of which are derived from tree sap. One student in the sugar lesson was sure that sugar didn't come from sugar beets because he'd seen people in India use sugarcane for that purpose. The educator did a great job of affirming his experience while introducing him to Michigan's huge sugar beets.
Each lesson involved a hands-on activity, either making a craft or conducting an experiment. It was amazing to watch the cabinet doors open to reveal microscopes that students in the older grades got to work with. They particularly loved looking at brown sugar, comparing it to gold, caves, and the inside of geodes. There were a lot of wows in that session. I appreciated that the teaching portion involves an activity in which each student has a correct answer. Every student is given a card that answers one of the questions the educator will ask. As each question is asked, students come forward to hand in the cards that answer it. While there are plenty of opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge and their listening skills, it's good educational design that lets every student have success in the lesson.
The children weren't the only ones learning. One student asked his teacher a question in the middle of the lesson and she responded, "I don't know." He looked shocked that his teacher was learning alongside him. I was learning, too. My favorite facts:
- Toothpaste has ingredients derived from corn.
- Paint, glue, rubber bands, and crayons are derived from trees.
- Dark rings in trees are from growth during the fall and winter.
- It takes 5-7 sugar beets to make a 4-pound bag of sugar.
The FARM Science Lab is like a field trip that comes to the school. Students get to learn ag-accurate lessons and do some hands-on activities, teachers get to participate in a lesson they don't have to plan, and everyone gets to know more about and feel connected to the food, fuel, and fiber in their everyday lives.
If you are a Kent County school that is interested in having the FARM Science Lab come to your school, there is more information here: https://miagclassroom.org/lab/ . The Kent County Farm Bureau has grants available to reduce the cost and enable more schools to take advantage of this amazing resource.