Water quality and algal blooms are a hot topic lately, and Findlay High School teacher Joyce Pippert’s Life in the Sea class recently took a look at the nitrogen cycle and how fertilizer can end up in water. These lessons came from the Exploring Tech in Ag workshop in Columbus, sponsored by the Ohio State University and a USDA-NIFA grant. Pippert attended and learned about the way technology informs farming decisions and helps farmers produce more abundant crops.
Pippert’s class talked about cycles in general and then specifically the nitrogen cycle. After doing a general activity covering different areas of the nitrogen cycle, Pippert introduced the nitrogen cycle game, showing how nitrogen changes forms within earth’s atmosphere and how it interacts with the lithosphere, biosphere, and hydrosphere. Students role-played forms of nitrogen and interacted with bacteria to see how nitrogen compounds change, to show how differently nitrogen reacts in soils compared to the other common nutrients, phosphorus and potassium.
Pippert tied this activity into the unregulated use of fertilizers on lawns and how it is regulated on farms. She said, “The students were interested and surprised to learn that a lot of the fertilizers we use on our lawns ends up in the water.” Pippert said the workshop helped her as a teacher to apply chemistry to the cause of algae blooms and help students see the impact they can have on our environment by controlling how much fertilizer they use on their own lawns. “It is very relevant to our current algae blooms in Lake Erie.”