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Ag science on wheels

February 20, 2009|By DON AINES

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Plastic from corn, lip balm from soybeans and glue from milk were some of the science of agriculture that students at Hooverville Elementary School learned this week while visiting the Mobile Ag Ed Science Center.

Sponsored by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, the center is one of four mobile labs that brings agricultural science to schools, said retired teacher Carol Henicle, who was giving a Friday morning tour to a class of third-graders.

"They want them to learn about farming because it's the number one industry in Pennsylvania," Henicle said before the students began two experiments on "The Mighty Smooth Bean," the soybean, second only to corn in the number of acres planted in Franklin County.

The first experiment was to show how tough the soybean can be by mixing a few with plaster of Paris and checking to see which is more resilient after the concoction set.

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"I picked the plaster because I think it's going to be strong," said Matt Bowders, although he and others is Anita Killcrece's class later would learn the plaster was far more brittle than the beans.

In the second, students mixed soybean oil with beeswax and peppermint extract to make lip balm, demonstrating one of many practical uses. Each student received a small container of the lip balm.

"They always leave with something in their hands," said Jean Rodgers, another volunteer retired teacher.

"They also learn the scientific approach," she said, forming a hypothesis and putting it to the test through experimentation.

Each grade had a different activity in the mobile lab, from kindergarten and first-grade students making necklaces from farm animal and plant charms to sixth-graders mixing together a few corn-based substances to make plastic.

Teaching these lessons in the classroom with all of the students participating would take a lot of preparation and the purchase of materials, but the mobile lab makes it easy, Rodgers said. The road show is popular, with some dates already scheduled for the next school year, she said.

Among the other agricultural facts students learned Friday was one cow produces enough leather to make 20 footballs and scientists believe dinosaurs such as tyrannosaurus rex might be the ancestors of today's chicken.

"Does that make the chicken king of the farm?" student Ben Swauger asked.

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