Scientists in Schools

Healthy soils, healthy minds

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  • Maxine McLennan, Flinders Park Primary School, Albany, WA
  • Sylvia Leighton, Department of Environment and Conservation

Inspired by the 2012 International Year of the Farmer, Maxine and Sylvia discussed contemporary world issues of food production and good human health through sustainable farming with the Flinders Park Primary students. The year long project highlighted to Year 7 students the issues local farmers juggle when making decisions about soil fertility for good crop production.

With a strong farming background and understanding of scientific methodology herself, Maxine and Sylvia devised a project utilising school and local community resources. Initially, the students designed an experiment about the effect of fertiliser on cereal crops. After stating their hypothesis, students measured crop biomass to test results. The project created connections to their family farms and local community farmers.

Visiting a sustainable farm

As part of the project, students visited an integrated farming system of commercial crop production working alongside wildlife conservation at Balijup Farm near Tenterden. Commercial wheat crops were compared to their own plots at school. Thomas Dimer, Department of Environment and Conservation’s Indigenous Cultural Officer, presented a Noongar Interpretation class giving the students an in-depth bush experience.

Indigenous experience during exursion

Back in the classroom, Sylvia suggested a diversity of local agricultural industry guest speakers for the students. Each student researched one of the industries, culminating in a showcase expo of student presentations. Attending to ask questions left Sylvia “extremely impressed with their research and displays.”

Sylvia reflects on the benefit of being part of Scientists in Schools. “It’s a fun experience and has two way benefits… It’s invaluable to me to keep in touch with young people and learn about the issues important to them. …Students learn about someone working in the field, using scientific methodology to collect data in order to measure the environment. They get to hear stories about what kinds of activities we do as a scientist.”