To familiarize students with how machines help people grow food.
This lesson is the first of a two-part series on how machines help people grow, package, transport, and store food.
Farming 1: Farm Machines, focuses on how “machines improve what people get from crops by helping in planting and harvesting. . . .” Students are introduced to the workings and importance of farm machines and how they help today’s farmers plant, grow, and harvest more and healthier crops for more and more people. Students learn about special types of farm machines and the important tasks they perform on a farm during growing season.
In Farming 2: Packaging and Transport, students focus on the second part of the benchmark, which explores the importance of “keeping food fresh by packaging and cooling, and in moving it long distances from where it is grown to where people live.” The class reads a story about the transformation that harvested wheat takes before it becomes the bread we consume. They learn about the kinds of materials and machines that are involved in transporting, processing, packaging, and distributing wheat and wheat flour in their long journey from the farm to our dining room tables. They learn that machines and other technologies are involved in almost every phase of this journey, making crop and food production faster and easier and within reach of more people worldwide. This basic orientation will help students when they are challenged to construct simple packages or containers to keep eggs safe and cushioned (just like egg cartons do during transport and storage).
Even at this early age, students may benefit from knowing that, only a century ago, most people in the U.S. worked in farming. Now, because technology has so greatly increased the efficiency of agriculture, only about two percent of the population works as farmers. (However, many people are involved in producing farm equipment and in the processing, storage, transportation, and distribution of food and fiber.) Students also benefit from learning that farm machines have made it possible for one person to cultivate and harvest more land and to cultivate more different kinds of land. In addition, the development of rapid and cheap transportation helps to reduce the spoilage of food, as do refrigeration, processing, and packaging, which enable food to be transported, stored, and consumed thousands of miles from where it is originally produced. (Science for All Americans, pp. 108–110.)
It also is helpful to keep in mind that a majority of people never see food or fiber before those products get to retail stores. Primary-school children may have only vague ideas about where their foods and fabrics come from. These lessons are designed to help teach children about some of the basics of agriculture, such as: what grows where, what is required to grow and harvest it, how it gets to the stores, and how modern-day U.S. agriculture compares with agriculture in other times. This series relies mostly on stories, which are useful in telling small children about life on the farm and what happens to food between the farm and the store. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, pp. 183–84.)
Two books are required for this lesson series:
- Farm Machinery: Heavy Equipment by David and Patricia Armentrout
- What Was It Before It Was Bread? by Jane Belk Moncure
Note: In case these two books are unavailable, the following books can serve as replacements, respectively: Farm Machinery by Ann Larkin Hansen and From Grain to Bread by Ali Mitgutsch. Discussion questions may need to be adjusted if one or both of these replacements are used.
The Motivation section calls for students to go outside to an open field on the school grounds where they can attempt to dig a hole. If this is not possible, students should use their imaginations to do the same thing or perhaps a pot with some soil can be provided in class for illustration.
Separate photocopies of a tractor, plow, combine, cultivator, and baler will be needed for the Assessment part of the lesson.
If possible, begin the lesson by taking the class outside to an open field at the school. Find a flat, dirt area of the field (without grass). In pairs or groups, have students try to dig a hole using only their hands. When they start to tire, ask this question:
- Can you think of a better way to dig a hole than using only your hands?
Encourage them to brainstorm different ways of accomplishing this task and accept all reasonable answers. Students should come up with tools like shovels and perhaps with machines that would allow them to more easily dig the hole. Introduce the term tool, list the types of tools or machines that could dig a hole, and then ask:
- Why do you think people invented these kinds of tools or machines?
- What kinds of people use tools to dig holes?
- What about farmers? Why do they dig holes?
- What kinds of tools or machines do you think they use to do this?
- Have you ever been to a farm? If so, what kind of experience did you have on the farm?
Students should be left with the impression that farmers need not just shovels, but big farm machines to do things like dig holes and grow crops over massive areas of land. Tell them that they will learn about some of these machines in this lesson.
In this part of the lesson, students will be introduced to a number of important farm machines and will learn how they help farmers plow fields and plant, weed, and harvest crops.
Read aloud Farm Machinery: Heavy Equipment by David and Patricia Armentrout, a simple, brief, and colorful picture book that tells the story of how farm machines such as tractors, plows, and combines came to replace the simple tools like sticks and deer antlers that people used to cultivate and plant crops centuries ago. Take time to show the pictures and emphasize how each machine helps to make farming faster and easier than it was with the simple hole-diggers used ages ago. Ask discussion questions such as these:
- What does it mean to cultivate?
- What do plows do?
- Which farm machine is the most important? Why?
- What does it mean to harvest crops?
- Which farm machine is used to harvest crops?
- How do these machines help farmers today?
- How do you think farms today compare to farms ages ago?
- Do farmers have to take care of their farm machines? Why or why not?
- Why is it important to have big machines like these?
Next, have students use their Farm Machines student esheet for the online portion of this lesson. For greater reinforcement and interest, begin reading with students the Farm Machine slide show on the esheet. Once finished, ask these comprehension questions:
- What farm machine can be used to do many different jobs? Why?
- Which machine is used to turn up the soil?
- Which machine helps to plant seeds? How big can it get?
- Which machine helps gather crops?
- What if farmers didn’t have all of these machines to use? How would they farm?
- (The tractor can do many different jobs because different machines can be attached to it.)
- (The plow loosens and turns the soil.)
- (The planter helps to plant seeds. It can get as big as 48 rows!)
- (The harvester helps gather up the crops by cutting them and blowing them into a wagon.)
- (Answers may vary. Encourage your students to explain their answers.)
Note: While reading, it might be helpful to write the name of the machine (tractor, plow, planter, and harvester) on the board and how it helps to either plant, grow, or harvest crops. (Use the same farm machine function descriptions highlighted in the What Do Farm Machines Do? student sheet, which students will do after this portion of the lesson.)
Once students understand what the basic machines are and what they do, erase the board and have them begin the What Do Farm Machines Do? student sheet. (A What Do Farm Machines Do? teacher answer sheet also has been provided.)
As noted on the esheet, students will see machine images and text. They must draw a line from a machine to a description of what it does. This will be a fun and interesting way to test their recollection of the machines and their specific functions in the production, cultivation, and harvesting of food crops on farms.
Either individually or in pairs, have students imagine that they have been hired by Farm Machines USA, Inc., to create colorful posters that advertise their new line of farm machines—the Big Tractor, the Powerful Plow, the Helpful Planter, and the Cutting Harvester.
All posters should display a machine in a big and bright way, along with a title of the machine and a brief explanation of how the machine can help farmers grow crops more efficiently. Have students present their posters when finished, compare them with others, and address questions like these:
- Which farm machine do you think is the most important to farmers?
- What would farmers do if they did not have a _______ (machine)?
- How do farm machines help farmers and people like you and me?
Follow this lesson with the second one in the farming series: Farming 2: Packaging and Transport.
Students can broaden and reinforce their understanding of different farm machines at the Kids Farm: Equipment page, which provides facts and photographs of the different kinds of machines involved in cutting grass and baling and loading hay. Some machines are pulled by tractor, while others are pulled by horse. Special types of tractors and hauling trucks also are highlighted. Review the “Table of Contents” to explore other areas of farm life.
Inventors Toolbox, at the Boston Museum of Science, teaches students about different “elements of machines.”