Have you ever observed something and wondered why does it look that way or why does it do that? This is what scientists do on a continuous basis in their lives. They look at a phenomena and try to figure out the how, why, or what of it.
Our beautiful state of Iowa offers a plethora of agricultural phenomena to be figured out in classrooms. One example of this is in northwest Iowa where I live. Earlier this spring there was a lot of rainfall that kept farmers out of the fields. In fact, some farmers, including my husband, were not able to farm some of the ground because of standing water. In one particular area, a pond flooded so badly that it crossed a state highway and filled the ditches.
Many people drive by this area and wonder, why did that farm ground flood so badly and why is the water still standing in the ditches? In fact, this flooding has attracted many Great Blue Herons and various types of ducks.
- So the question is, what caused this area to flood so badly and still be flooded in the fall?
- What brought the Great Blue Heron to this area when we never see them before?
- What will the farmer have to do to prepare this land for planting next year when it has all this water standing on it?
- Will it affect his crops next year?
This is a local phenomenon that teachers could have their students figure out. For example, the teacher could take the students on a field trip and observe the impact of the flooding on this particular system. Or if a field trip is not possible the teacher could take a picture to show the students. Construct a driving question board on why it happened. Students could question if this was due to some sort of human activity with the land or maybe a drainage problem. This is where students would engage in the science and engineering practices of obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information to explain what is happening and come up with a design solution to the problem.
This type of phenomena can involve different disciplines of science. Through their investigations the students can make connections between the ecosystems of the Great Blue Heron in life science. They can connect earth and human activity in earth and space with the flooding. They can connect weather patterns with the rainfall in physical science.
The new Iowa Science Standards offer a bridge between science and agriculture. Teachers can construct real life experiences by exposing students to local phenomena such as the flooding on this farm ground and having them engage like scientists in figuring out what happened here. Is there something we can design or possibly do to prevent this from happening?
Making the shift in the classroom from learning-about to figuring-out can bring about some authentic agriculture related science experiences. Look around! There are agricultural phenomena everywhere just waiting to be figured out!
-Jody Still Herbold, Education Consultant and farmer, Northwest AEA