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Wheatland Science Class

Story submitted by the Wheatland Field Office

Students working around a deskAgriculture is a fairly well known term, pertaining to the harvesting of plants and animals. However, the majority of the U.S. population doesn’t know the basis behind where their food comes from.  According to the National Ag Statistics Service, less than one percent of the U.S. population lives on a farm or ranch and only about 21% of the population lives in rural areas. With these numbers growing smaller each year, it is apparent that the future success of the agricultural industry lies within the knowledge of our youth. Therefore we are turning to the basics, soil and water.

The Wheatland Field Office along with the Platte County Resource District teamed up to assist the local sixth grade science classes with understanding how soil and water properties can affect the environment we live in. Kim Karlberg, Sydney Burek, Brady Irvine, and Mary Evans, met with 64 students on two visits to conduct hands-on lab experiments. Ms. Freitas, a science teacher at Wheatland Middle School, said she could have never conducted such a lesson without the help of this conservation team and added that she was just as excited as the kids.

Water testing and quality was the focus during the first visit to the Middle School. Four stations were set up in order for the sixth graders to test water pH, temperature, nitrate concentration, and dissolved oxygen. After gathering results from different water samples, the students learned how these attributes affected the quality of water. For example, water with a high pH will also have a high amount of dissolved oxygen and therefore be less corrosive. In depth scientific discussion followed as students learned about the origins of nitrates and their transport into water.

Marya Reese, a student, said, "I was surprised to find out that if there were nitrates in the water, boiling the water would only elevate the levels and not get rid of the nitrates."

Guest speakers in front of studentsSoils were the emphasis during the second visit to the school. Students made made observations of the different soil samples before using the ribboning method to texture the soils. They not only learned how to get muddy, but also discovered how different soil textures affect the properties of the soil as well. Separation was also tested on the different soil samples. The kids learned how clay particles differ in size from sand particles and how this relates to the physical properties of soils. The final soil station looked at pH and the effects it has on growing ability of plants. When asked why the ideal soil pH is between 6 and 7, the class accurately responded that plants are able to receive more nutrients at these levels.

Throughout the experimenting process, the students were fascinated to see that water isn’t just water and soil isn’t simply dirt. The class has since conducted additional experiments on their own, based on these fundamental principles taught by the adult conservationists. The agricultural gears have begun to turn for these sixth graders; they now have a basic understanding of how water and soil properties can affect plants and how to prevent unhealthy water and soil. All in all, visiting the Wheatland Middle School was a huge success. Student Jacob Stafford said, "I want to be a Soil Conservationist when I grow up!"

The Wheatland Field Office along with the Platte County Resource District also teamed up to assist the local seventh and eighth grade science class with an understanding of range management.  Bailey Rapp, Brady Irvine, and Mary Evans, will be helping 20 students throughout out the semester with their research on range management. There are five groups and their topics range from how weeds spread to how to improve habitat. Each group will give a presentation of their research and a demonstration of the topics. The goal is to show the students some of the issues that range professionals and agricultural producers face every day. This project will continue in the spring semester with new students and new topics.    

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