ARDMORE, Okla. — Microscopes, plants, a drone and eighth graders filled the Hardy Murphy Coliseum arena Wednesday and Thursday.
As one group squeezed a spongy strip of wet grass, learning how plants help filter water resources and slow down flooding and drought, another touched a sheep's four-chambered stomach while learning how ruminant animals, like sheep and cattle, convert grass to muscle. Later, they huddled around microscopes to see the microbes that live inside a cow's rumen and make this conversion possible.
"It was interesting to see all the microbes from the cow's stomach," said Jentri Rayburn, an eighth-grader at Plainview Middle School. "I'm around cows a lot, so it was cool to see what's inside them."
The hands-on lessons were part of the annual Science in Ag Day, sponsored by Noble Academy as a way to emphasize the role science plays in agriculture and the importance of both to society.
"It's incredible how much science is in agriculture," said Frank Hardin, Ph.D., Noble Academy's educational outreach manager, "but sometimes it's not obvious. We want to help make these connections for students by emphasizing the science behind agricultural practices, like plant breeding, and teaching them the science behind agricultural processes, like how strawberry plants grow."
Throughout the two-day event, about 270 eighth-graders from Ardmore, Dickson, Oak Hall Episcopal and Plainview schools rotated among eight interactive lessons. The lessons were taught by Noble Research Institute consultants, researchers and educators specializing in each topic.
"Not only are they learning science, it gives the students a lot of ideas about job opportunities they didn't know existed," said Cynthia Hamilton, Plainview Middle School counselor. "And for those who are familiar with the opportunities, it reaffirms to them that yes, this is cool and something they might want to do in the future."
A quadcopter buzzed overhead as part of a lesson on how unmanned aerial vehicles can be used to collect information about crop health and growth. Across the arena, students line up to plant their own strawberry plant to take home after learning the science behind vegetative reproduction in plants. Others played the role of plant breeders and learned how to produce higher-yielding, more disease- and pest-resistant plants. Students also learned about wildlife habitat, the multitude of ways agriculture shows up at a picnic from the food to the plastics, and polymers.
For Oak Hall students, the day even brought their latest science unit, on soil erosion, to life. "It was great for them to get to see how plants help prevent erosion first-hand," said Oak Hall Episcopal School eighth-grade science teacher Melanie Williams. One of her students, Zachary Bramlett, named the soil health station as his favorite.
"What they learn here will aid them in their science classes later on in high school," said Jacque Jones, Plainview Middle School eighth grade science teacher. "It's valuable for them and it's great to see them having fun while they're learning."
Students learned how plants help filter water resources and protect the soil while providing food for animals and humans, at the soil health station, one of eight stations at Science in Ag Day sponsored by Noble Academy on May 4, 2016, at Hardy Murphy Coliseum.