BYRON — Students at Byron Elementary School spent some time this past week in the FARM science lab, a 40-foot mobile classroom equipped with the latest technologies and filled with STEM-based lessons to increase agricultural awareness.
FARM, or Food, Agriculture and Resources in Motion, operated by the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture and Michigan Farm Bureau, reinforces grade-level standards with hands-on science opportunities while increasing students’ knowledge of how agriculture impacts their daily lives, officials explained.
Instructor Cathie Wood said the visit to Byron was the first the lab would make in mid-Michigan. After Byron the lab visited Durand, then it’s on to Corunna and New Lothrop.
“The goal is agricultural education, just to make kids aware of the different opportunities as far as career choices as they grow and start thinking about careers,” Wood said. “There’s not just being a farmer but other careers associated with agriculture.”
Bringing a field trip-style experience to the schools means students are able to get out of the classroom without requiring transportation or permission slips.
FARM science lab manager Michelle Blodgett said the lab travels to schools throughout the state, but they want to focus on teaching students about possible agricultural careers in conjunction with traditional classroom learning.
“We want students to understand where food comes from through doing hands-on experiments that are tied into what they learn naturally,” Blodgett said. “We want to save schools the transportation costs for field trips as well, so we come to the schools.”
The lab includes 10 work stations that can handle three students per station. For upper elementary students, FARM labs include topics such as exploring renewable and non-renewable resources through investigating soy-based materials and seeing how plant-based products are used in daily life, among others. Lower elementary students can learn how to use their five senses to compare different varieties of apples and make connections between items raised on a farm and products used in their daily lives.
A fourth-grade class at Byron participated in the soybean experiment. After learning about soybean products, students tried to figure out whether two different crayons labeled “crayon A” and crayon B” were soybean-based or wax. Using iPads, students voted with a program called Nearpod and could see their classmates’ votes in real time.
“Students love the soybean experiment,” Wood said. “I don’t see them after the lessons, but sometimes I wish I could.”
To handle the lab, schools must have an electrical hookup within 75 feet of the trailer, or a generator can be provided for an additional fee. Schools must have level and paved parking, one adult volunteer to help all day for each of the visits, and teachers and administrators are required to review online orientation materials prior to the visit.
The main benefit of the lab, Wood says, is a different learning environment for students.
“Getting out of the classroom and having a new type of learning environment just makes the learning stick,” Wood said. “They remember it and they can go home and tell their parents and friends. It’s not the same old classroom work. I think the novelty of it just helps with the learning.”
As a retired teacher, Wood enjoys interacting with the students.
“After I retired I said, ‘Maybe I did that too early,’ so I get the benefit or interacting with students, teaching them and watching their excitement without all of the testing,” Wood said. “It’s just fun to hear their ideas.
This is the second year the FARM science lab has traveled the state, and because of the demand, Blodgett said FARM is in the process of creating a second lab.
For more information on the FARM Science Lab, visit miagclassroom.org/lab/index.cfm.