Teaching about soils important at a rural school

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Marci Cain claims her effort in the classroom to promote soil conservation isn’t all that outstanding, but the Marion County Soil Conservation disagrees. Cain has been named this year’s winner of the “Teacher of the Year Award.”

“It’s something I didn’t expect,” said Cain, now in her 12th year with the Centre School District. “I really don’t think I do that outstanding of a job-but I like what I do.”

What this teacher of fifth- and sixth-grade science does is get her students involved in conservation and the environment through hands-on projects.

“We’re such a rural district,” Cain said about her desire to address conservation. “Probably 90 percent of my kids are from farms. I think it’s really important that they learn about soil conservation so they can carry on the family farm and also protect the environment.”

For the past three years, after she changed her science curriculum, Cain has included a unit on soil about this time of year. As an additional resource, she invites Cary Granzow, the high school agriculture instructor, and his students to participate at times.

As an introduction to the unit, students collect soil samples from home-which, for the Centre unified district, includes a wide area of northern Marion County as well as inroads into Dickinson and Morris counties.

“We study those samples with magnifying glasses, see what’s in them, what the differences are, and then Mr. Granzow wraps it up for us by having one of his high school students give a presentation about the types of soil,” Cain said.

“Besides the types of soil, we talk about the different layers and how soil is created,” she said.

Cain said government Web sites on the Internet have been a good resource for doing that.

“You can take a virtual tour of soil-you can pretend you’re a worm,” she said. “It’s kind of disgusting, but the kids think it’s great.”

Cain said the response of her students to the emphasis on soil has been positive, particularly among her sixth-graders.

“They love it, especially when they have to bring all the different types of soil, even from Marion County,” Cain said. “And they like dealing with Grandzow and his FFA students. They think it’s really fun.”

Cain times her unit on soil as a way to prepare for the annual Earth Day event sponsored by the MCSC office each April.

“I had started taking our kids there when they started the event, and I thought, ‘We really need to be introduced to some of these things so we’ll know what they’re talking about,'” Cain said.

She said it’s gratifying when her sixth-graders begin to see the big picture in regard to soil conservation and environmental awareness.

“By sixth grade, they’re starting to think about what they’re going to do,” she said. “I have some who are probably going to stick with the family farm. They know what terraces and waterways are, they know what kind of crops they grow in Kansas.

“I think they start to think, ‘We can apply some of the things we’ve learned about soil and about conservation, even about pollution.'”

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