Kids of all ages like to get their hands dirty.
And the mobile agricultural education science lab, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, gave them the opportunity to do just that at Hereford Elementary School this week.
Students in grades kindergarten through fifth stepped onto the trailer to learn about a number of agricultural processes and issues like the ability to make butter out of creams with varying fat content, enzymes like lactase and the power of and multiple uses for the soybean, including a demonstration how the bean is used to make lip balm.
Ag lab teacher Mrs. Anne McCausland gives a lesson on agriculture to kindergarten students at Hereford Elementary School seated on the floor of the mobile agricultural education science lab.
Mrs. Ellen Long’s fourth-graders also got hands-on with corn products. On Monday morning, the class was asked two questions. Ag lab teacher Mrs. Anne McCausland posed the quandary of what happens to packing foam in a landfill to the class of “agricultural scientists” who conducted an experiment with both Styrofoam and Ecofoam.
The Styrofoam, which is petroleum-based, didn’t dissolve in water, but the corn-based Ecofoam did. Students learned about renewable versus non-renewable resources and biodegradability.
“This is one of the first times they get to be in a lab setting,” said Long of what the students get out of the mobile ag lab versus strictly a classroom education. “It’s a great experience. You get to see them starting to make those connections.”
Students also used the scientific method in their next experiment where they found out if plastic could be made from corn. They mixed cornstarch, corn oil, water and food coloring. After being heated, the substance turned into a hardened plastic. McCausland explained the deficiencies of corn-based plastic, like the fact that it can’t be heated for an extended period of time, or at high temperatures, because it will melt.
“I’m hoping your generation is the generation that’s going to solve this,” McCausland said to the students of the current problems with corn-based plastic.
“This adds a hand-on science component to agriculture that students might not have exposure to normally,” McCausland said after the 50-minute lab. “There are so many different opportunities in agriculture…It gets boys and girls alike excited about science.”
And the students couldn’t agree more.
“I learned that packing foam could be biodegradable,” said fourth-grader Maddie Harkins after the lab.
“And I learned that you can make plastic out of corn,” noted Mason Powers.
The mobile ag lab, with its mission to increase student awareness about the importance of agriculture in their daily lives, is available year-round for students across Pennsylvania in grades K-8. The curriculum, which is aligned with state academic standards, can be hand-picked by each school to compliment teaching in the classroom. The program is supported by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
Other projects include grain identification, soybean versus petroleum-based crayons, making glue from milk, germ experiments, fat, phytochemical and sugar trials in food, water analysis and harmful and beneficial bug experiments.
For more information on the ag lab, visit www.aglab.pfb.com or call program director Tonya Wible at (717)439-0863.