Research Story: The Science of Farming

Middle School High School
Reading Research Story
Dr. Greg Sanford stands next to a plot of switchgrass and describes biofuel crop farming experiments to a group of students. Dr. Sanford is part of a team of agronomists attempting to figure out how to produce the biofuel ethanol from plant material such as corn stalks and cobs, grass, or wood. He studies how to produce the plant material, also known as biomass, in an efficient and sustainable way.

"In the middle of Wisconsin’s lush farmland, there is an experiment going on. Two hundred quarter-acre plots are neatly laid out, separated by grassy lanes. Poplar saplings grow in one plot. Corn in another. A patch of miscanthus grass, taller than a person, stands between a plot of switchgrass and a patch of 'weeds.' What is going on here?" In this story, students follow the investigations of GLBRC agronomists, who design large-scale biofuel crop experiments on farms. Students learn about the unique challenges and interesting discoveries that come from conducting experiments in the field.

Research stories give students a window into the work of professional scientists and engineers. This allows students to see how the processes of school science are reflected in the real world while building literacy skills with science-specific content. Extend the learning by combining this activity with the Growing Energy data dive, Biomass Yield and Root Growth in Crops field investigations, Root Depth ModelBioenergy Farm Game, and Fields of Fuel computer game.

For more information, read this short introduction to research stories and how to use them in science classes.

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Environmental Science


Plants & Photosynthesis

Nature of science, literacy, agronomy, biomass, biofuels agriculture

Familiarity with scientific method and basic experimental design helpful.

20-50 minutes depending on time spent in class discussion.

None. Download materials in activity package.