Down on the FARM Science Lab: Mobile classroom visits Cherry Creek Elementary

Seth Franti, a fourth grader at Cherry Creek Elementary School, takes part in an activity on Tuesday in the Farm Science Lab, which visited the school. Students learned about how science and agriculture can mix in a beneficial way. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

HARVEY — Not all packing peanuts are made the same.

Students at Cherry Creek Elementary School learned which ones are better for the environment when the FARM Science Lab made a stop to the school on Monday and Tuesday.

The lab is a 40-foot mobile classroom is equipped with the latest teaching technologies and tooled with lessons based on STEM subjects — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The lab provides hands-on science opportunities and increases students’ knowledge about how agriculture affects their daily lives.

Regional educator Marsha Wainio, representing the Michigan Farm Bureau, presented the programs to the grade schoolers.

“We teach science lessons that have an agricultural theme as a part of it,” Wainio said.

On Tuesday afternoon, the students worked with what Wainio called a major crop in Michigan: field corn, and learned about the many products that can be made with corn.

At each work station were products such as Fritos, popcorn and corn oil.

“Corn is a renewable resource,” she said. “It’s biodegradable.”

To demonstrate this fact, the youngsters studied two types of packing peanuts: corn-based versus polystyrene peanuts.

“Put this in a landfill, it’s there forever,” Wainio said of polystyrene peanuts. “Corn-based packing peanuts will break down.”

The students also learned how scientists have learned to make plastic out of corn, such as a cup and utensils — items she had on hand in the lab.

Even an adult might be hard pressed to tell the difference between a regular plastic cup and a corn-based plastic cup.

“It’s getting them to see that agriculture can be part of the solution to save our environment, that we can use more farm products because they’re renewable,” Wainio said. “The farmers can grow them every year.”

Even though they were in a mobile lab, the students were instructed to fill out a lab report, just as they would in a science class.

They then had to write down physical properties, such as shape and texture, of the two types of packing peanuts and made hypotheses over what would happen when water was added.

Wainio asked the students if the two types of peanuts were the same shapes and sizes.

“No!” was the resounding answer from the students, who came up with a few creative ways to describe them, one being a noodle for the corn-based peanut.

The lab, Wainio noted, is part of the Michigan Farm Bureau, specifically Michigan Agriculture in the Classroom. The project started in 2015, piloted in 2016 and came fully on the road in 2017-18. In 2018-19, the lab traveled to the Upper Peninsula in addition to the rest of Michigan.

“We have had over 30,000 students in this lab and over 400 teachers,” Wainio said. “It’s basically a field trip that comes to school. The kids don’t have to go anywhere. They come out here with their teachers. They get a science-based lesson.

“Their teachers get professional development because they get to see their students interact with another adult. They get to see how they could do a science-based lesson. They get resources that they can use.”

For more information visit www.farmsciencelab.org, call 517-679-5969 or email farmsciencelab@michfb.com.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.


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