A primary lesson for grain apprentices
A wheat growing project, part of an ‘outdoor classroom’ program at a Western Australian primary school, has provided an alternative forum for learning that introduces students to grains cropping and the science of plant breeding.
The grains-focused learning experiences at Oberthur Primary School in the Perth suburb of Bull Creek have also demonstrated a new way to connect the grains industry with an urban population, and inspired a new generation to consider careers in agriculture.
Crop plants grown in the outdoor classroom included wheat, barley, canola and sunflowers, with students from grades 2 to 6 taking part. The project created opportunities for students to learn about the development of society, from hunting and gathering to agriculture, plus crop improvement processes, pesticide use, beneficial crop insects, and plant morphology and reproduction.
Grade 6 students also used a wheat-growing experiment to study basic plant development, growth and physiology, which was linked with a writing exercise about the experiment; one of these articles appears below.
A parent who has been instrumental in the program, Dr Sue Knights, says while many initiatives to promote agriculture and science target secondary school students, it is time to consider engaging with primary students. “If they are actively engaged in authentic learning exercises at a young age, it may be much easier to maintain or rekindle that interest in later stages of education,” she says.
Growing crops means problem-solving
By Kaylee Wong
Grade 6, Oberthur Primary School, Perth, WA
To begin our topic on wheat, Dr Sue Knights, who is a plant expert, gave us a presentation on wheat. After her excellent presentation, she gave us three types of wheat: Federation (released in 1901), Olympic (released in 1956) and Emu Rock (released in 2011).
Our class decided to plant the wheat varieties in our school vegetable garden, then harvest and count the ears from each type of wheat. After a few weeks, we checked on our wheat and realised it was not growing as well as it should have been.
As a class, we came up with several ways the growth of our wheat crop could have been stunted. These were: not enough sunlight, poor immune system, plant damaged from disease, soil too acidic or alkaline, too much shade, not a good environment or not enough nutrients in the soil.
Dr Knights met a grain grower and relative to a student at our school, during a school event who had a look at our wheat crop and suggested the problem might be too much shade.
Dr Chris Moore, a wheat breeder who works for Intergrain Pty Ltd based in Perth, came and gave us a presentation and taught us about the growth and development of different grains.
The three main types of wheat Intergrain breed are Emu Rock, Wyalkatchem and King Rock. Dr Moore also had a look at our wheat crop and predicted that the plants lacked nutrients. He tested his prediction and amazingly he was correct. The soil lacked nutrients, specifically nitrogen.
Dr Knights tried to put more nitrogen in the soil but sadly it did not work. The plant had already matured and the nitrogen did not help. If the nitrogen had been added when the plant was germinating, it might have worked.
After four months of caring for the wheat, we harvested the three types of wheat. Emu Rock looked like it had grown the best.
Our class weighed each variety of wheat and the heads to see which one weighed the most.
From the results, we worked out that the most recent variety Emu Rock produced the most ears and greatest weight of grain.
I think this is because Emu Rock was only recently released and scientists have been trying to create a type of wheat that can produce more grains in one harvest. Federation and Olympic produce fewer ears because they were released a long while back.
The more recent the variety, the more grain it can produce.
The class was very proud of its results and what it had achieved and learnt from the great hands-on experiment.
Student Megan DeCosta said it was a wonderful experience.
“Although the experiment did not go according to plan the group of students had a lot of fun and learnt even more than they were planning to,” she said.
Dr Sue Knights
0429 411 971