Mobile Ag Lab teaches pupils very corny lessons


April 17, 2001|By Debra Taylor Young | Debra Taylor Young,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FIFTH-GRADE pupils at Carrolltowne Elementary School were given a new perspective on corn Thursday, thanks to a mobile science laboratory, or Ag Lab, sponsored by the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation.

Ag Lab is a traveling classroom teaching the importance of agriculture through hands-on laboratory experiments.

Although all pupils at Carrolltowne were given the opportunity to tour Ag Lab during its seven-day visit and make a farm charm necklace, fifth-grade classes were given the chance to spend the most time and conducted experiments.

Sharon Fox, Ag Lab teacher, started the class with corn trivia, such as: a corn kernel is a seed; the number of rows of kernels on an ear of corn can be as few as eight, and as many as 36; an ear of corn always has an even number of rows of kernels; and an acre of corn can yield 100 bushels of corn, or more than 7 million kernels.

Fox then divided the class into groups of three pupils for experiments. The experiments showed that scientists and farmers are working together to develop ecologically sound alternatives to petroleum-based plastics. The new plastics are made from corn.

Students Ryan Huber, 10, Curtis Holmes, 11, and Breian Dawan, 10, were surprised to learn that when they soaked packing peanuts, made from plastic foam (a petroleum based product), and Eco-Foam, a corn-based packing peanut, in water, Eco-Foam dissolved, and the plastic foam remained. According to Fox, the plastic foam peanuts would last at least 1,000 years in a landfill.

The next experiment involved making an ecologically friendly recipe for plastic. Experimenters Kevin Burkholder, 11, Eric Federline, 12, and Blake Bolis-Reed, 10, carefully mixed corn starch, water, a few drops of corn oil and red food coloring in a plastic bag.

The sealed bag was placed in a microwave oven by parent volunteer Perry King. After a minute in the microwave, the mixture yielded a bag of red plastic. The corn-based plastic would break down quickly in a landfill, Fox said.

Other labs for the Carrolltowne fifth-graders will involve making glue from milk, and making crayons from soybeans, products normally made from petroleum.

"Tuesday, for our milk laboratory, I'll come dressed as a cow," Fox said, laughing.

Fox has been with Ag Lab for 10 years, and said the foundation funds three other mobile labs: a biotechnology lab, a lab called "Food, Fiber, and You," and an aquatics lab.

Ag Lab is scheduled to stay at Carrolltowne until Thursday. Information: Jeanne Mullar, education director for the MAEF, 410- 489-9033.

Find more eggs

Organizers for Sykesville's Easter egg hunt had to find more eggs to hide for the Friday event on the grounds of Town Hall on Main Street.

Lynn Renayne, the town's parks and recreation leader, said organizers expected about 40 children. Instead, 60 children, with baskets in hand, attended with their parents to collect hidden plastic eggs filled with prizes.

"There were so many children waiting to begin the hunt, that we started it 10 minutes early," Renayne said.

Lili Kaufman, dressed as the Easter Bunny, hugged the children, gave out goodies, and posed for photographs.

Parent John Bryant attended with his children Kyle, 2, and Danielle, 5. Although they all enjoyed the hunt, the kids were limited to two eggs apiece.

"They need more eggs next year," he said.

Renayne noted that the town supplied 500 eggs for the hunt, and would increase that number next year. To make up for the shortage, eggs were taken from the supply for the scheduled 1 p.m. egg hunt, for children age 9 and older.

Safety and crime prevention

A free seminar on personal safety and crime prevention will be presented from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. today at Merritt Athletic Club on Progress Way in Eldersburg. The seminar will be conducted by Detective Bruce Miller of the Maryland Community Crime Prevention Institute, and will cover topics such as personal safety tips, precautions and recommendations for crime prevention.

The seminar is open to members and nonmembers. Information: 410-549-8855.

Debra Taylor Young's Southeast neighborhood column appears each Tuesday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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