Traditional field trips and stuffy bus rides are a thing of the past thanks to Ag in Motion, an agricultural science laboratory classroom from the National Ag Science Center that turns students into scientists and agriculturalists without having to leave their school site.
“We try to tie every lesson to an issue or something important to the ag industry,” said National Ag Science Center Director Emily Lawrence. “A lot of this science has natural connections to agriculture, so to just encourage kids who might have never thought about ag careers or issues is a huge step.
“It’s such a novel experience for them and it’s so unique that nobody wants to miss it,” continued Lawrence.
Ag in Motion is a 53-foot-long tractor trailer with 20 lab stations capable of holding up to 40 students for a “hands-on, standards-based science lab without leaving their school site.” Throughout the course of a 45-minute lab, students get the opportunity to engage in exciting experiments, such as extracting DNA from a strawberry or trying to find the source of contaminated water.
“They love it,” said Lawrence. “They’re excited, they’re engaged, they’re attentive when they’re receiving instruction. They begin to think about science in a different way. It’s amazing.”
Lawrence said that each lab culminates with a career connection video that educates students on the different careers available in the agricultural field.
“Our underlying goal is to make that connection because everybody assumes kids in the valley know all about ag and they don’t. They don’t know what kinds of jobs in ag are available,” said Lawrence. “We really want to make that connection and the mobile classroom is a great first touch.”
Lawrence said the National Ag Science Center created Ag in Motion in 2010 to present mobile agricultural science education to students after the private nonprofit started to realize that students weren’t going on science-related field trips as often as they used to.
“They weren’t going places and science is something that sometimes needs that hands-on interactive piece to make it engaging and exciting for students,” said Lawrence.
The program started out as pilot for seventh graders, but quickly expanded to encompass eighth grade students as well. To date, the trailer has made a stop at every middle school in Stanislaus County, serving over 50,000 students total.
While Ag in Motion primarily serves seventh and eighth graders, the trailer also made a stop at the Stanislaus County Fair this year, giving fairgoers an opportunity to examine bug mouths through a microscope.
“It’s a great opportunity for other people in the community to come through and we had a good turnout this year,” said Lawrence. “A lot of younger kids were jumping at the opportunity to check out the microscopes. It’s a very engaging thing--and it’s something they don’t have access to anywhere else.”
Lawrence said Ag in Motion is provided at no cost to schools through the generosity of donors, and that schools sign up for the program on their website. For more information, visitagsciencecenter.org/explore-ag-in-motion