Traveling science lab helps students learn about agriculture

First Posted: 10/7/2014

Second-graders from Ross Elementary School in Sweet Valley, did some serious experimenting – on a Snickers bar. The project was part of Pennsylvania’s Farm Bureau Mobile Ag Ed Science Lab project, which “brings field trips to students.”

The program which began in 2003, supplies mobile labs to schools throughout the state, educating young people about agriculture and the scientific process. It provides a chance for students to work cooperatively, form a hypothesis and collect data with the walls of the 40 foot lab.

Sarah Booth, agricultural education teacher, said many children don’t make the connection between the food they eat and the farms where it is grown. The program emphasizes the importance of agriculture.

When Booth asked students what would happen if farming didn’t exist, they shouted, “We couldn’t live!” Exactly.

Emphasizing the scientific process, Booth supervised the students as they placed pieces of candy in a bowl of water to see if they floated or sank. The children worked in teams of “doers and watchers,” with one student placing the candy in the liquid and the other observing it.

Aaron Stroud and Cole Daniels thoroughly enjoyed working together on the experiment, both because it helped them understand science and because they love candy. Their chocolate kiss sank, but their pretzel M&M floated.

The students learned it wasn’t about size, but air content, when it came to the best floaters.

“The kids were really interested and quite engaged in the various activities provided,” said second-grade teacher Rebecca Keefe. “There were very well behaved.”

The children also had the chance to do a second, and especially interesting, experiment which identified the favorite types of chocolate among their classmates.

Popping three different kinds of chocolate: milk, semi-sweet and white, into their mouths brought a smile to their faces. When the votes were tallied, white chocolate won by a landslide.

Parent Sarah Mokwa said daughters Anna, a first-grader, and Ella, a kindergarten student, looked forward to the two-day event which allowed them to complete two experiments carefully chosen especially for their class.

Keefe said the experiments offered by the program coincided perfectly with classroom curriculum.

“Recently, we have been studying plant life,” said Keefe. “The students were surprised to discover that the ingredients in candy bars came from plants.”

The children also had the opportunity to create a necklace as a souvenir of their “snicker bar experiment.” The necklace represented each ingredient contained in the candy bar, with Booth emphasizing those which came from Pennsylvania farms.

“Look at my necklace,” said Hayden Evans. “I really had fun.”

The program sponsors six labs that travel across the state, educating students from kindergarten to eighth grade about agriculture. Employing 27 certified teachers, the curriculum aligns with the Pennsylvania Department of Education Science and Technology standards, and teachers consistently report that it supports what the children are learning in the classroom.

The mobile labs, sporting themed agricultural artwork, provide an exciting setting for learning, with children enthusiastically making their way into its classroom, with smiles and laughter.

The Pennsylvania Friend of Agriculture Foundation was formed in 1986 by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau in an effort to educate the public on issues of “food, fiber and critical issues impacting agriculture.”

The state’s largest farm organization, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is comprised of volunteer membership of more than 53,000 farm and rural families, representing a variety of different types of farms throughout the state. The organization also trains teachers to introduce farm-related topics into their classroom.

Ross Elementary School, part of the Lake-Lehman School District, hopes to continue to sponsor the science lab in the future, providing opportunities for its students to gain an appreciation for both agriculture and science.

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