“How will we produce soybeans on Mars?” “How can we innovate correct ag practices to sustain life on other planets?” A unique workshop presented by the Ohio Soybean Council, GrowNextGen, and The Works, a children’s museum in Newark, focused on these questions so teachers could learn more about the SOLE method of learning. The space theme fit well with The Works’ SciDome, a 30-ft, 4K projection planetarium launched by The Works and The Ohio State University.
This workshop was part of the SciDome Academy, a three year program Intended to inspire innovation. For this year’s event, 3rd – 8th grade teachers were linked with content experts in space-aged agriculture. The project’s goals are:
- Provide educators with the training and resources to successfully implement inquiry-driven
Earth and Space science projects in the classroom.
- Increase student interest in STEM and competency beliefs (self-efficacy) about their learning
as a result of developed programs.
- Connect local agricultural topics with the demands and constraints of agriculture in space.
- Increase student understanding of how research on Mars can inform and improve agriculture
- Increase student interest in agricultural topics key to Earth and Space science.
During the one-day workshop, teachers were introduce to SOLE, a unique new instructional method. In SOLE, or Self-Organized Learning Environments, an educator introduces a Big Question, then student groups begin exploring and researching, and finally they present their findings to the whole group. Teachers created presentations to share with others.
The educators at the “Soybeans in Space” workshop then examined differences between Mars’s and Earth’s atmospheres and soils. They tested soil samples for nutrients and living things, including worms, centipedes, beetles, as well as bacteria, by streaking agar plates with soil samples. Other activities included dissecting a soybean to look at the internal structure, making soybean seed necklaces to show germination progress, and looking at the ways in which farmers are addressing soil issues here on Earth through engineering of different axle assemblies on tractors.
While this may seem futuristic, NASA has already been using the International Space Station as a platform for conducting long-duration plant growth studies in space. In June of 2002 NASA launched Space Shuttle Endeavour to the ISS carrying a DuPont experiment involving soybeans. Soybean seeds were planted, germinated, developed into plants, flowered and produced new seedpods in space. This 97-day growth research initiative was the first ever to complete a major crop growth cycle in space— from planting seeds to growing new seeds — representing a major milestone for future space crop production.