What’s all the buzz about in the UNH STEM Lab?

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Buzzy bees at UNH STEM lab. Courtesy Photo

The STEM Discovery Lab was buzzing earlier this month — literally. Educators sporting bee antenna headbands buzzed their way around the room as part of a lesson in apple tree cross-pollination during a Food, Land and People curriculum training.

The training, conducted by New Hampshire Agriculture in the Classroom (NHAIC) and Merrimack County Conservation District (MCCD), attracted a range of educators from public and private schools, UNH Cooperative Extension and 4-H.

Stacy Luke, district manager for MCCD, attributes educators’ enthusiasm to the importance of the topic.

Hands-on learning station. Courtesy Photo

“There’s such an interest in agriculture, local foods and school gardens,” Luke says. “This was in the state 50 years ago and it’s time to bring it back.”

Debbi Cox, state coordinator for NHAIC, agrees.

“It’s important for students to have a sense of where their food comes from. We’ve had fourth-graders on field trips who say milk comes from Walmart and chocolate milk comes from brown cows.”

Plant investigations. Courtesy Photo

The danger of this disconnect, Cox says, is that students may not have the knowledge and skills necessary to address future challenges, such as food shortages.

“On the bright side, the agriculture career field is diverse and fascinating. It’s not just about being on a farm. It’s biotech, it’s engineering, it’s conservation and science, says Cox.

Creating irrigation systems. Courtesy Photo

It was obvious throughout the training just how diverse and fascinating the lessons are. The curriculum features opportunities to include different disciplines, extend learning with project-based experiences and connect lessons — and students — with current events. The best part is the high level of hands-on engagement. Educators weren’t just buzzing; they were also drawing, cutting, building, graphing, designing, observing and questioning.

Teamwork in creating an irrigation system. Courtesy Photo

One of the lessons had teams of educators building models of irrigation systems in an effort to move water from a source to an area of need. In another, they identified and compared fruits and other edible plant parts through a fast-paced game. Yet another had them rotating through learning stations to discover the importance of roots, plants, soil and people through various activities.

As the training concluded, participating educators were excited to take the collection of “Food, Land and People” lessons back to their students not only to teach how agriculture, the environment and people connect, but to also help grow tomorrow’s agricultural and scientific leaders in the Granite State. That’s something definitely worth buzzing about!