Science Education & Agriculture: A Natural Fit

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Last August, Iowa adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as the new standards that guide science instruction in schools across the state. Like all standards in the Iowa Core, the new science standards establish statewide expectations for what students learn in a given grade.

The new science standards focus on how students learn, not what they learn.  Local districts, schools and teachers determine their own curriculum, including what is taught throughout the year and how it is taught.   This enables them to choose topics and teaching methods that resonate with their students.  We’ve focused substantial effort during the last year learning about NGSS and developing lessons and professional development opportunities that will help teachers meet the new standards by observing and exploring examples of science phenomena around them.

The need for high-quality science education is essential today.  When current students graduate from high school, more jobs will require skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) than ever before.  Students need the kind of preparation that gives them the tools and skills necessary to succeed in a continuously changing world.  The new science standards ensure students do not learn about science, but learn how to do science and develop the ability to think critically, analyze information and solve complex problems.  These skills will help today’s students solve tomorrow’s problems relating to healthcare, energy, agriculture, and more.

The agriculture connections in the standards are vast and found in all grade levels.  Kindergartners can explore plant needs by observing vegetable plants in a school garden or growing soybeans on their windowsill.  High school students may design an experiment and analyze data comparing the impact of conservation practices on soil and water quality.

To illustrate the science and engineering applications in agriculture that can be explored in a science classroom, let’s take a look at a few of the 5th grade Next Generation Science Standards.

In the examples below, I’ve highlighted the Performance Expectations (aka standards), as well as the Disciplinary Core Ideas that connect to agriculture.  The Disciplinary Core Ideas provide more detail about the scientific principals students will need to understand in order to “do” what is outlined in the Performance Expectations.    Disciplinary ideas are grouped in four areas: physical science, life science, earth and space science, and engineering, technology and applications of science.

Physical Science

Motion & Stability

There are many examples of gravitational force in agriculture.  A class could identify evidence of gravity on farms and investigate how gravity is utilized when designing equipment and storage facilities (truck trailers, grain bins, hay bailers, etc.).   Or a class could explore gravity’s role in plant growth (Geotropism).  In a simple activity like Topsy Turvy Soybeans, students can observe that roots always grow down and shoots grow up, no matter what way the seed is oriented.

Energy

The study of energy conversion lends itself perfect to an investigation into livestock feed its components.   Students can develop models (drawings, diagrams, physical replicas, etc.) represent how the suns’ energy was converted by plants (corn, soybeans, oats, etc.) through photosynthesis into food for a particular animal.

Life Science

Molecules to Organisms

By growing plants and designing investigations where air or water is restricted, students will be able to better understand and describe what happens when and air and water are restricted.   Students can take this beyond the classroom by exploring the importance of water on crops while talking to farmers or researching the effect of drought to particular fruit, vegetable and grain crops.

Earth & Space Science

Earth & Human Activity

This standard is a great opportunity to learn about conservation practices in agriculture and explore how science and technology are to reduce farming’s impact on land and water.

If you can’t tell, we are excited about the new science standards and opportunity they provide for students to learn scientific principles and skills by exploring real-world situations around them – especially those relating to agriculture!   During nine Agriculture in the Classroom Workshops across Iowa this summer, teachers will have the opportunity to learn more about agriculture connections to NGSS by and see the connections first-hand while visiting farms, ethanol plants, equipment dealerships and more.

-Cindy

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