Prairieview first through fourth graders were able to experience a field trip because of a grant provided by the North Central Region SARE Program – Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education. The mission of SARE is to advance – to the whole of American agriculture – innovations that improve profitability, stewardship and quality of life by investing in groundbreaking research and education.
We took a field trip to visit Michigan State University’s W.K. Kellogg Biological Station (KBS). At KBS students learned about agriculture and ecology through hands-on stations along the student activity trail, a feature located at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary. The hands-on stations took place along agricultural fields and introduced students to sustainable farming practices, including cover crops, soil health, beneficial insects, importance of clean water, difference between weather and climate. A group of professional educators from KBS guided the students in observing and learning along each station.
We used the information learned during the field trip to build on our curriculum goals in each grade. By pre- and post-testing students, we were able to address misconceptions about agriculture and ecology. We asked students to identify the source of a typical breakfast: Cereal with milk and blueberries. One first grader wrote that the food comes from “Walmart,” while another wrote, “A farm, a factory and weeds.” After their experience at KBS, student writing became much richer, more accurate, with specific vocabulary. It starts with “A farmer, cereal [made from] corn; milk in a milk carton [comes from] a cow. Blueberries on a blueberry bush.”
Third and fourth grade students also had misconceptions about agriculture and ecology. More specifically, they did not fully understand how humans create packaged food from plants grown in the Earth. In addition, they struggled to explain how healthy soil and water directly affects the food that they eat.
The hands-on learning stations along the agricultural field directly informed their misconceptions. By digging into the earth and observing the soil, the students were able to discover how healthy soil gives important nutrients to plants. They also learned about the the connection between plants and the water cycle.
Although the students were learning specifically about soil and water, they were challenged to think about how the absence of each would affect plant life. After their experiences along agricultural trail, students recognized that not having access to healthy soil and water directly affects how much food is available for people to eat.
More importantly, the students’ pre-test showed that the majority of students believed that there was a clear separation between a scientist and a farmer. While the students were learning about growing plants they discovered that farming, as it relates to growing plants, is in fact, a science. When prompted after the field trip to respond to, “Do scientist help grow food?” students wrote the following:
“Yes, because scientists have to spray bug spray to keep the bugs away.”
“Yes, because they predict the weather so farmers can grow plants.”
“Yes, they help with water, soil, and farming.”
Before the field trip, the students saw farming and growing food as a singular event. After the field trip, the students recognized the complex science and systems that are involved in growing food. Overall, student knowledge about growing food expanded beyond simple thought into a broader, yet more sophisticated and intricate understanding of agriculture.