When it comes to teaching concepts about real life, a flat glossy picture in a textbook can only do so much. Teaching agronomy is no exception. That’s something that professors at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College realized. And they decided to do something about it.
Pulling Plants out of a Picture
The standard procedure for many college classes is for professors to teach from pictures, words (both written and spoken), and videos. Science classes often have a definite advantage in the simple fact that they involve experiments. That’s when learning gets hands on, and students can actually look inside an animal, observe a chemical reaction, or measure a physical object. Although it presents similar opportunities to get hands-on, the science of agronomy has a few limitations. One of them is that crops aren’t doing much when school is in session. As a result, there’s little for agronomy students to observe as they’re learning.
That’s why Southwest Wisconsin Technical College asked us to help them bring crops into their classrooms. Rather than simply showing students pictures of nutrient deficient soybeans, they wanted to offer a three-dimensional view of crops. Not only that, but they wanted crops that showed particular nutrient deficiencies. To avoid the hassle of growing indoor plants that would only last temporarily, they chose to go with plastic and fabric plants. And we just so happen to specialize in that.
After some extensive research and collaboration with Southwest Tech professors, we started building. Our job was to create two alfalfa plants, two corn plants, and two soybean plants. Each would show a handful of micronutrient and macronutrient deficiencies in the leaves of the plant. Referring to photographs of the actual nutrient deficiencies in each of the three plants, our craftsmen replicated the plants and deficiencies with their tools and materials. Trimming, gluing, painting—they did it all by hand. They also made a few leaves to represent a healthy version of the plant.
Using the Plant Models
The final product was a nice collection of six plant models. We mounted each of them in their own foam clumps disguised to look like soil. These soil-like clumps sticks up from their own circular wooden bases that also hold a small pedestal sign that identifies the plant and its deficiencies. Stiff plastic cylindrical cases with wooden lids attach to the bases with thumb screws. And, using the handles in the lids, someone can carry one of the units with one hand. The portability of the plant displays makes them easy to carry from classroom to classroom. But, when it’s time to get a closer look at the particular deficiencies, the professor can easily remove the lids from all of the units and give students an up-close look at the realistic models.
These plants are also primed for testing purposes. Each branch of leaves showing a particular deficiency holds a small metal tag with a number corresponding to that deficiency. Although a slip of paper in the pedestal sign identifies each deficiency for learners, the professor can easily remove it to test the accuracy of the students as they attempt to identify the deficiencies of each branch.