By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Because of a recent grant received by Holy Trinity School, which was used to purchase new equipment, Lois Danielson’s eighth grade earth science students were able to gain a better understanding of the earth’s soil and the kind of nutrients needed to create healthy plant life.
The new equipment, which is some of the latest in technology to aid in science education, made it possible for students to test for pH, salinity, and the effects of acid rain, something previous classes did not have the ability to do.
“The kids really had fun with this,” Danielson said. “As a teacher, you do what you can to keep things interesting. I guess if you can make science fun, and soil fun, then the results are worth it.”
The $4,153 grant was received in April from the Minnesota Independent School Forum (MISF).
Danielson learned about the grant in February through an e-mail that was sent out to all MISF school members in all course studies, and Danielson took advantage of the opportunity to receive funds for Holy Trinity’s science program.
To apply for the grant was not an easy task. It required a project plan with goals and objectives, and an explanation of who would benefit from the funds. As part of the grant proposal, Danielson had to figure out the kind of equipment she would need to follow through with the project, and the cost.
Even after learning Holy Trinity would receive the grant money, Danielson’s work was not over. She had to plan a curriculum and submit it to MISF before school began in September. Then, she had to take a workshop class on how to use the new technology.
With the grant money finally in hand, Danielson purchased five Vernier LabQuests, which are stand-alone, handheld, data collection devices that can be used with or without a computer.
The device is convenient because it’s easy to carry and is compatible with a number of data collection sensors and probes, which attach to the unit to perform experiments in the classroom or other locations. It is also durable and splash resistant, which allows students to work with liquid substances without fear of damaging the unit.
Danielson started off the soil unit with a field trip to her brother, Jeff Fasching’s farm in Winsted.
There, students were given a presentation by Nathan Winter, a University of Minnesota Extension educator, who spoke to students about several types of soil. He explained to students what makes good agricultural soil and what does not.
Troy Danielson, who is a soil consultant from Buffalo, also spoke to the students about proper nutrients in the soil and what they test for, including nitrogen, pH, and phosphorous.
Students took soil samples from Fasching’s corn, soybean, and alfalfa fields and brought them back to class to test.
Along with the field samples, the class was given different potting soils from Renee Christensen of Holasek, Fred & Son Greenhouse in Lester Prairie.
Students then added liquid to soil samples and tested pH levels in the soil with a sensor, that was part of the new equipment purchased.
“The understanding of how pH affects soil, and how salinity affects soils and the plants that grow in them is new to the curriculum,” Danielson said.
“The pH determines what plants will grow, because it controls which nutrients are available for the plants to use, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium,” Danielson said. “The proper salinity content of soil allows plants to get water and nutrients from the soil. If the salinity is too high, then plants are unable to get water and nutrients efficiently.”
Once the data was collected in the Labquest, students saved it and downloaded it onto the classroom computer to print out graphs and tables to show visual results.
Students discovered that corn, soybeans, and alfalfa grow best with neutral soil pH levels, according to Danielson.
Potting soil from the greenhouse, used for plants like geraniums and poinsettias, tends to be more acidic.
Spending time at the Fasching’s farm also made students aware of how knowledgeable farmers have to be when they use chemicals to improve crop yields without ruining the environment.
Danielson plans to save all of the data collected by this year’s eighth graders for future classes.
Because there was ample rain this year, she would like the students to see how a dry season would affect the soil.
Other subjects that Danielson is considering for study in the future, using the new equipment, are city and agricultural run-off and how it affects lakes and streams.
“Hopefully, if we inform students about the importance of the soil, later, they will be good stewards of the earth,” Danielson said.
She said the new equipment will be used throughout the entire year and in other classes, as well.
Little by little, Danielson said, over the last several years, Holy Trinity science department has been adding equipment.
It already has interchangeable sensors for the Labquest, which can be used by biology classes to test gas exchange during photosynthesis, and by advanced biology classes to test heart rates by plugging in an electrocardiogram monitor. The department also has probes that can take a pulse from the hand, and blood pressure cuffs to read blood pressure.