Christian County – A Sense of Place

VisionWay Christian School
Taylorville, IL
Grade Levels: 6-8
Teacher: Lisa Sankowski, Sue Althoff, Shelly Wooters, Debbie Pickett

Project Proposal

A. Primary Learning Objectives

The primary goal of this proposal is to give students a better understanding of the place in which we live, Christian County Illinois and to connect them with that place. This project will allow the students to investigate the natural world that they live in using the scientific method and art. Students involved in this project will go through an intensive scientific study of the soil and some of the organisms that call the soil home. Included in the investigation will be a study of the scientific method, the study of an earthworm, as well as earthworm dissection. Students will also investigate the Dudley Smith Farm by taking botanical samples, soil samples, and collecting insects. Students will study native plant life and be able to identify at least 10 native plant species. Students will take pictures of the plants, measure the plants, and make sketches of the plants at the farm. In the classroom, the students will study the botanical drawings of Carl Linneaus and then create their own drawing of a native plant. Students will also be able to identify at least 10 species of insects from the Dudley Smith Farm. A historical study of our county will help the students to better appreciate the importance of the soil and how our relationship with the soil is the basis for society.

B. Summary of Activities and Timeline

A yearlong study of Christian County will begin with collecting native botanical samples on September 28th at the Dudley Smith Farm. We will meet with NRCS staff members and locate and identify native plant species and collect the samples. A series of at least two field trips in April will allow students to begin soil experiments and investigating life in the soil, as well as learning to use the scientific method of investigation to study the world around them. Before the field trip, the classroom will be visited by the Christian County Ag Literacy Program for a demonstration on “A Slice of Soil” and “What is Soil” from the Soil magic kit. While at Dudley Smith, students will take core soil samples for later testing and dig a hole in the soil to look at the layers of soil beneath their feet. Students will measure the layers of topsoil and subsoil, as well as taking temperature and pH measurements of each layer. NRCS staff members will meet with the students to teach them about Christian county soils. Students will learn about parent materials, soil types, and soil particle size. Students will use the field soil testing kit to conduct an investigation of the levels of N,P, and K levels in the soil. Students will discuss the importance of soil nutrients and crop rotation. Students will look at the soil’s structural changes that occur due to different cropping/pasturing systems and tie in with the work of U of I researcher German Bollero and his group. Students will also explore insect life at Dudley Smith Farm. Students will collect insects using a sheet, and then learn to identify them using U of I Extension, Christian County’s Dudley Smith entomology collection. Students will be assisted by Extension Natural Resources Educator Gary Letterly. After spending most of the day at Dudley Smith, students will visit with the Christian County Historical Society to learn about the history of farming in Christian County(one hour). After the field trip, students will cover a chapter on life in the soil. The class will study and dissect an earthworm. On the last field trip, the students will photograph and study native plant materials, as well as conduct any individual experiments needed for the science fair. Experiments conducted will be related to agriculture, but will not all be soil experiments. Upon returning to the classroom, students will study the photographs, field notes and sketches to produce a botanical drawing of an Illinois native plant.

C. How these activities will accomplish the objectives

The primary goal of this project is to connect students with the place in which they live through the investigation of their world. Christian County is an agricultural county with a rich history of tilling the soil, and the students should understand our connection with the land. Using art, science and history, we will explore what makes our place, Christian County, so special. The Dudley Smith Farm will allow students to see first hand Illinois native plant species, as well as experience Illinois agriculture. By studying the soil and native plant species, students will feel a greater sense of belonging, as well as an appreciation for the importance of Christian county’s greatest wealth, her soil. Teaching the students the scientific method and drawing techniques will give the students the tools they need to continue to explore their world. Studying the history of Christian county will emphasize the importance of farming and an appreciation for the role of the mechanization of farming on our current lifestyle.

D. Number of students and others who will learn from this effort

There are approximately 20 students enrolled at VisionWay Christian School Jr. High this year. Even though this is a small number of students, the activities will be repeated yearly. The sixth grade studies life sciences, so the earthworm dissections, botanical sampling and identification will repeat each year with a new group of students. The soil activities will repeat every other year because the 7th and 8th grade science study earth science one year and physical science the next. When the students study physical science, there is an opportunity to use the farm again by looking at farm machinery. (Simple and complex machines) The art lessons and photography will also be repeated and built upon as a yearly unit. The results of this project can be publicized locally by newspaper, radio, and possibly television. Although there are no official newsletters for the local Christian schools, we do communicate between one another quite frequently about special programs. A flyer could be sent out through the Christian County Agricultural Literacy Program to local private schools advertising the program and the educational opportunities available through the Dudley Smith Initiative.

Method of project evaluation

Teachers will lead students in conducting experiments with the soil, soil organisms, plants, and other agriculture related topics that will build on the lessons learned at Dudley Smith. These experiments may come from the Christian County Ag Literacy Kits as well as be created by the student using the scientific method. The students will then create display boards summarizing their experiments and what they have learned through the project. These display boards will be presented to a general audience at the annual Science Fair. Each student’s display will be presented to a judge and the project must be defended by the student. Students will create displays for the school art show highlighting their photographs and botanical drawings of native plant life. Student photography will also be displayed at the Decatur Area Arts Council’s children’s art fair. Student displays and experiments will be available for the Dudley Smith Farm Day at the Extension office in 2008. Some students will be available to give a summary report of their research at the farm.