Mobile lab takes farming to kids

TYRONE – You don’t need cows, chickens, tomatoes or corn to have a farm.

That’s the lesson Tyrone Elementary School second-graders learned during a visit by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s Mobile Agriculture Education Science Lab in January.

“We have a cute lesson [Forest to Me] where they learn how trees can be a farm. It can be the whole farm. A farm can grow Christmas trees,” said Pam Augustine, one of 25 volunteer teachers who work under Tonya Wible, program director.

During the 35-minute lesson, the students placed leaves on a cardboard tree representing the many things that can be found on or inside a tree and the many things for which a tree can be used.

“Trees are things of beauty. They are air purifiers, food producers, apartment houses for squirrels, birds and chipmunks. They can be a playground and a furniture factory,” Augustine said.

The students also made a “forest bracelet” by placing different colored beads representing things like soil, sunlight, rain and oxygen on a green pipe cleaner.

The second-graders were excited to participate.

“I learned you can use trees for a lot of things, such as furniture and food,” Summer Shaw said.

“I learned that trees make oxygen and that insects live inside trees,” Ryan Light said.

The ag science lab is basically a portable classroom, 8 feet wide and 50 feet long. There are six units, and they stay at schools one week at a time.

“A lot of schools use us as an on-site field trip. We have programs for K-8th grade students and over 30 different lessons. We customize them to every school we go to. The teachers get to select the lessons most appropriate for the students,” Wible said. “The majority are hands-on science experiments. We follow the scientific method with them. It is an exciting way for them to learn something about agriculture.”

About 90 percent of the visits are to elementary schools with about 160 visits planned for this school year, Wible said.

About 500 Tyrone Elementary second-, third-, fourth- and sixth-grade students participated in the visit.

In addition to the second-graders “Forest to Me” lesson, third- and fourth-graders participated in “How Well Do U Wash” where they apply “germs” to their hands and then perform several hand-washing tests to determine which method of washing most effectively removes germs.

Sixth-graders participated in “Corn to Plastic,” where they examine the environmental impact of two packing foams: Styrofoam, made from petroleum, and Eco foam, made from corn, and they also make plastic from corn and compare it to plastic made from petroleum.

Tyrone agriscience teacher Tiffany Hoy said she wanted to bring the ag science lab in for two reasons.

“First, we could truly impact a large number of students with proven curriculum that is standards-based, and second, I wanted my [FFA] students to see how Ag in the Classroom programs can be done and have them learn how to educate elementary and middle school students with interactive programs,” Hoy said.

The program exceeded her expectations and was beneficial to her Future Farmers of America students who assisted with the program.

“I must say that this lab surpassed my expectations and has really left a positive impact on my students and those elementary and middle school students who attended. It is amazing to listen to the FFA members who assisted with the labs come back and be so enthusiastic about teaching others about agriculture,” Hoy said.

Augustine was impressed with Hoy’s dedication to her students.

“The ag teacher is wonderful. She lives and breathes agriculture,” Augustine said.

The weeklong visit cost $2,500 and was financed by local organizations.

“We received aid from the farm bureau, but the Tyrone Area FFA Chapter also contributed funds to the mobile lab. FFA members also received some funds from Tyrone Renaissance Education Foundation and the local Tyrone VFW,” Hoy said.

Hoy hopes the ag science lab can return next year.

“We would love to bring the unit back next year, but financial costs are something we need to figure out. A committee of students will meet, and we will discuss business sponsorship and fundraising. It would be great to find a couple of companies to sponsor the unit for two weeks,” Hoy said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.