FARM Science Lab teacher Julie Ruggles talks about soybeans being a renewable source with third graders from Capac Elementary School. The mobile lab spent three days in the Capac district, providing STEM-based lessons for kindergarten through sixth grades.

CAPAC — A unique classroom on wheels paid a visit to Capac Elementary School earlier this month. Inside its four walls, every student kindergarten through sixth grade got hands-on lessons in the science of agriculture thanks to Michigan Farm Bureau and the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture.
The FARM (Food, Agriculture and Resources in Motion) Science Lab is a 40 foot long trailer that visits schools across the state. Teachers and students can delve into an array of STEM-based lessons designed to increase agricultural awareness. It’s visit to Capac Elementary School was supported financially in part by St. Clair County Farm Bureau and local farmers Stacey and Mike Lauwers.
“This has been a great opportunity for our students,” said teacher Janet Buzzell, who helped coordinate the lab’s visit to the school.
The youngest students learned about the life cycle of plants and got to plant their own green bean seed to take home. Third through sixth grades delved into soybeans and the legume’s many uses as both food and a petroleum-based substitute.
“It’s your job to be plant scientists today,” instructor Julie Ruggles told third graders from Buzzell’s class during their visit to the Lab.
Ruggles, a recently retired teacher from the Kingston school district and longtime farmer herself, led the students through a discussion about what farming and science have in common before delving into soybeans.
Students were tasked with properly ordering a series of index cards that showed the various stages of growing, harvesting and processing soybeans into something usable.
“Michigan’s own Henry Ford used soy-based material in his cars,” Ruggles said.
Soybeans continue to be used today in various paint products, car parts and fuel, in addition to livestock feed and for human consumption in things like tofu.
Soybeans can also be used to make something most third graders are very familiar with–crayons. As part of their lesson, Ruggles introduced some new terminology that speak to the benefits of soy-based products including “renewable” and “biodegradable” when compared to petroleum-based products.
Their hands-on exercise consisted of doing a side-by-side comparison between traditional and soy-based crayons. Students determined that crayons made from beans had brighter colors and a smoother appearance than the petroleum-based ones.
Students then tackled a short quiz on tablets provided at each station and talked about the different states of matter soy can comprise, like oil and wax, before watching soy oil getting turned into lip balm for them to take home.
“Agriculture affects all our lives every day, but many students don’t understand these connections: how healthy, nutritious food arrives on their tables; how fiber is produced to clothe them or how agriculture products provide shelter,” said Michelle Blodgett, FARM Science Lab manager.
“Michigan’s food and farm sector produces more than 300 commodities and generates more than $100 billion in economic activity annually. Not only is agriculture important to students personally, it is vital to our state’s and nation’s economy.”