Education is not passive.
Students learn most effectively by being involved, and that involvement often takes its best shape in hands-on activities.
For students in the Wabasso Public School District, their science education is going to be taken to the next level through a recent donation of some state-of-the-art, high-tech equipment.
This past Tuesday morning, representatives from the U of M’s Southwest Research and Outreach Center (SWROC) were in the Wabasso school library presenting science equipment to one of the school’s educators. That equipment, totaling approximately $3,000, included a balance, a pH meter and other items they can use to further enhance education.
The donation was made possible by funds from a grant SWROC received from the USDA North Central Region of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program in conjunction with support from the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.
According to Pauline Nickel, SWROC head, the equipment donation came at the end of a project educators were involved in that provided ways for them to better teach science in their classrooms.
That project, which is called the Sustainable Inquiry Research and Education Network (SIREN) brought teachers from the region to learn a variety of advance science lessons and how to implement those lessons into curriculum and still meet state education standards.
SIREN helps to integrate inquiry teaching strategies into sustainable agricultural projects designed by established producers and experienced scientist, and over a three-year period educators who took part in the SIREN project were provided training they could use to help students better understand the importance science plays in their lives – especially as it is related to agriculture. Sandy Scheff-Belaen, a Wabasso public school teacher was one of those who took part in SIREN.
Over the three years of the SIREN project, K-12 educators who are involved attend workshops and take in field trips where they gain firsthand knowledge they are able to use in their classes.
Since starting SIREN, Scheff-Belaen said she has conducted different experiments in her classroom related to nutrient deficiencies and soil make-up. With the new equipment she received, Scheff-Belaen said she is going to be able to enhance a planned hydroponics project.
She is planning to grow corn and cucumbers using hydroponics techniques, and the equipment is going to help measure the pro-gress of those plants.
Nickel said the equipment was purchased through funds left over after the SIREN project had been concluded, which allowed for the acquisition of the items for those teachers who have been involved.
“We really want to support teachers and help students understand how everything fits together,” said Nickel, adding she realizes there are times when curriculum and lesson plans developed for the classroom are often put on the shelf because the necessary equipment to do those projects is not accessible. “This way we can be sure what these teachers have learned is being used.”
Page 2 of 2 - A big part of science is the hands-on element, said Scheff-Belaen, and knowing they have the tools to do it is just great.
Nickel said the soybean growers association provided funds through its checkoff for the project.
“A project like this is providing real-life experience for our students,” said Wade McKittrick, Wabasso superintendent. “We appreciate the fact that this equipment has been given to the school. The students are going to be learning new things they would not have been able to gain otherwise.”
McKittrick said the Wabasso school district recognizes the importance agriculture plays in their programming, as he knows a significant number of the students are going to be involved in ag in some way after they have graduated.
Nickel said the hope is to continue to grow this and other education related programs to help ensure all students in the region have the same education opportunities.
For more information about SIREN, visit swroc.cfans.umn.edu.