Mobile Agriculture Lab comes to Elk Ridge Elementary

First graders track down others in their class that hold vials of similar smelling pheromones (aromas) the way insects to.
First graders track down others in their class that hold vials of similar smelling pheromones (aromas) the way insects to. Chris Barber — Digital First Media

OXFORD >> Like the robins of spring, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Science Lab showed up a Elk Ridge Elementary School to help the kids learn more about agriculture.

The 40-foot trailer, which is stuffed with science supplies and experiments, was parked in the rear yard of the school all last week and was visited by the school’s first and second grade classes.

The trailer is also staffed by a teacher who is assisted class-by-class with an adult volunteer. The classes file in for instruction periods of about 50 minutes each two or three times in the course of the week.

It’s all hands-on, and the kids have fun.

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The program is operated by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, which contracts with about 20 teachers and has several trailers that around the state, contracting with various schools. This is its eighth year with Oxford

Alexa Manning, who is a former K-12 and Special Ed teacher, staffed the trailer at Elk Ridge last week. She is also a teacher in the summer with the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance in Pocopson.

“I enjoy the flexibility (of the job) and I like working with the schools,” Manning said.

The science curriculum taught meets Pennsylvania Department of Education Science & Technology and Environment & Ecology Standards and is endorsed by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Each science experiment is designed to emphasize a different aspect of agriculture, including Pennsylvania’s primary commodities, the environment, biotechnology, food and fiber, etc. Children work cooperatively to solve a problem as they form a hypothesis, collect data and draw conclusions.

The Elk Ridge first graders this year studied insects — what they look like, how they live and what they do.

At one point Manning had a child dress up as a fly as she put wings, exoskeleton and proboscis on him. Some of the kids got to try on goggles that simulated the view from insect compound eyes.

Later in that lesson, they were given vials of various pheromones (aromas) and conducted searches for others in the class who held similar aromas. With this they learned how insects communicate and find their nourishment. The class that day concluded with each child putting together a model insect with beads and pipe cleaners.

The second graders were read a story about “tops, middles and bottoms” of vegetable plants. With it, they understood that the produce they eat can come from roots like carrots, tops like lettuce and middles like corn. Later they conducted a project in which they planted seeds in plastic bags on a growing medium activated by water.

Variety is the defining characteristic of these science lab experiments, with a choice of 25 subjects — all agriculture based.

One that is particularly interesting has the children making and experimenting with glue made out of milk.

For the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, these labs give the students hands-on experiments, an understanding of the scientific process, an awareness of agriculture in their lives and an atmosphere of interest and excitement about scientific discovery.

Manning says she especially believes in the program because students, especially those in urban areas, tend not to make a connection between agriculture and the food on the table.

About the Author

Chris Barber

Chris Barber is the editor of the Avon Grove Sun. She was previously southern bureau chief of the Daily Local News and editor of the Kennett Paper, earning honors in writing and photography. Reach the author at agsun@kennettpaper.com .