Lengel students explore Ag Lab

Two weeks ago, from February 10 through the 14, you may have noticed the Agricultural Laboratory parked in front of the school, by the canopy. In this mobile laboratory, seventh and eighth grade science and STEM students were able to learn about agricultural processes, the importance of agricultural sciences, and how much agriculture affects our daily life. This laboratory is one of the six mobile labs to travel throughout Pennsylvania, as it makes stops at schools and science conventions to inform people of agricultural sciences. The presentations and lessons in this Agricultural Laboratory were given by Mrs. Brundage, who travels around Pennsylvania, teaching about the significance of production in the agricultural field.

Along with being taught how much people use products that come from farm production, students were given activities and experiments. Seventh grade science students and STEM students completed an activity where they were given a “bug trap,” in which they then decoded the species of certain bugs, discovered if the bugs were either beneficial or harmful to crops, and if needed, how to treat a field for such insect infestations.

Seventh grader Makenzie Reber said, “It was very interesting to see that certain bugs I thought were beneficial were actually harmful to crops.”

Eighth grade science students were able to hypothesize and observe the degradation of two different types of packaging foam. They placed styrofoam packaging in one small container of water, and corn-based packaging in a separate container of water. The students shook both containers with the packaging inside for one full minute at the same speed, where they then discovered that the corn-based packaging decomposed after shaking and that it is biodegradable and safer for the environment, more so than the styrofoam packaging. The eighth graders then made plastic out of corn-based products. The students measured out proportions of cornstarch, corn oil and water, combined the mixture well, colored their soon-to-be plastic with a food dye of their choice, and heated in the microwave. They took their bags of heated plastic mixture to their classrooms to harden, and the next day, biodegradable plastic was fully formed!

Eighth grader Lily Heinbach said, “It was really interesting to learn about how actual plastic could be made so easily out of natural resources.”

Science teachers Mrs. Zimmerman and Mr. Johnson first discovered the lab at a science conference over the summer after Mrs. Zimmerman won an award for introducing agricultural sciences in the classroom, and there, they managed to get the Agricultural Lab to visit our school. They acquired additional funding through the Crimson Tide Foundation.

When asked what the significance of students learning in the lab, Mrs. Zimmerman had this to say, “It is important for students to know that everything around them comes from agriculture. Their desks come from trees and the forestry industry, their clothing, their food, all from plants. It’s also important for them to know that there is a long and difficult process behind the agriculture industry, it isn’t just planting a seed and then getting a product.”

Answering the same question about the importance of agriculture education, Mr. Johnson said, “In Pottsville, we are very close to the farm industry, and farming is a huge industry in the state of Pennsylvania. I believe it is very important to show kids how much agriculture has to offer job opportunities, even in this area.”

Mrs. Zimmerman’s opinion on the lab’s activities was, “I chose the corn to plastic lab to demonstrate how the science behind agriculture is beneficial in trending topics such as pollution and landfills, and that there are alternatives for everyday objects. The bug lab helped reinforce topics we’ve discussed this year, and to help understand that not all insects are pests and that they have beneficial uses.”

Mr. Johnson said, “There were awesome activities for our students. Some activities could have gone better, but overall, it did a great job with tying in what the students are currently learning in the classroom.”

“I am hoping that students were truly able to see what options are available to them in Pennsylvania, and in their backyard, like in eighth grade, they learned to make plastic out of everyday objects, and in seventh grade, they were learning about insects that are harmful and beneficial, and I hope these activities were able to spark their interest in a career in the STEM field,” Mr. Johnson added.

Overall, the visit to the Agricultural Laboratory was an informational experience that helped students truly understand the great importance of agricultural sciences, and the effect agriculture has on our lives.