To explore the role of technology in farming.
This is an open-ended lesson about agriculture and farming technology. You and your students will have an opportunity to explore five different kinds of farms on a website with interesting visual and audio enhancements. Because this site covers many different aspects of farming, you and your students can really explore the areas of farming that interest you. There are many opportunities for your class to examine how modern technology has increased farming efficiency and has made it possible for farmers to work their farms with fewer people.
It is likely that many students will have had some agricultural learning experience in the K-2 level. The benchmarks for this earlier level cover ideas regarding where food comes from; what crops need in order to survive; factors that contribute to crop spoilage; and that machinery helps harvest crops, keep them fresh, and transport them.
Before beginning this lesson, it will be helpful to explore with students their level of understanding about these concepts. You will also need to discuss with students, “What is technology?” You will then be able to build upon these ideas by looking at different kinds of farms and the roles technology plays on each of these farms.
The Benchmarks for Science Literacy addresses the idea that there are drawbacks as well as benefits to technology. As Benchmarks states, “Most of the complexities of the social consequences of the use of technology can wait, but students should begin to consider alternative ways of doing something and compare the advantages and disadvantages.” (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p.45.) Through working on this lesson, students will gain experience with the idea that there are positive and negative consequences of technology and will be challenged to think through these consequences in relationship to farming.
You will need to create a safe environment for students who may not have a positive view of technology that requires less people power on a farm. You will also need to be sensitive to the personal way this lesson addresses the lives of students whose families farm.
It is important to note that this lesson is mainly written for students who do not have day to day living experience with farming. If your students are from farming families, you will need to alter some of the questions to more appropriately match the students’ current knowledge base.
To facilitate a discussion about farming, ask students these questions:
- Where do you get your food?
- Where does your food grow?
- How does your food get from the farm to the store?
- What does a farmer do to help the food grow?
- What kinds of things can cause problems on a farm?
To facilitate a discussion about the use of technology in farming, you might ask:
- What forms of technology are used in farming? (If students are having difficulty identifying technologies, you could ask them to consider farm machinery such as tractors and milking machines as well as things like crop sprays, genetic engineering, telephones, computers, and weather maps.)
- What are the advantages of these technologies?
- What are the disadvantages of these technologies?
After this discussion, have students visit 4-H Virtual Farm.
Five different types of farms are listed on the left side of the page. Before clicking on these, have students work in small groups to talk about what they know about each of these kinds of farms. They can also discuss other kinds of farms that they may know about.
After sharing information with each other, have students explore this site freely, either independently or in the same groups. This is a time for them to look at this site in a rather casual way, according to their interest.
Now that students have had an opportunity to freely explore parts of this site, they are ready for a more in-depth examination of farming and farming technology. Divide students into five groups, and have each group study one of the farms listed on this site (fish, dairy, beef, poultry, and wheat).
Give each student a copy of the Modern Technology and Farming student sheet.
As students are responding to the questions on their student worksheets, you might find that this is their first experience with considering drawback and benefits of technology. It might also be their first experience with farming. Because these concepts may be new, their attempts at considering advantages and disadvantages may be basic. Their understanding of these issues may also be based on concrete, familiar things in the beginning and grow to more abstract ideas as they progress through the lesson. For example, students might easily identify a tractor as a form of technology, but may struggle with understanding the significance of crop sprays. If a technology is new to them, such as the use of pesticides and herbicides, it will likely be difficult for them to compare advantages and disadvantages. It will be easier for them to understand how a loss of human jobs on a farm may be viewed as a drawback of technology than to see how sprays or genetic engineering (biotechnology) may have disadvantages.
Again, the goal of this lesson is for students to think about farming technology. This is a beginning for them, to become aware that each new technology has drawbacks and benefits and that people have different ideas about these consequences.
Each group can now give a report or presentation to the class. They can use their worksheets for the focus of their reports, but encourage each group to be creative with visual displays or other fun props to communicate their findings.
Students will be challenged to synthesize their learning when putting together a presentation, and students will learn more about farming from each other. While listening to each of the presentations, students may discover that even though there are different kinds of farms, there are similarities about farming technology.
You can help students think about these similarities by asking:
- What do each of these farms have in common?
- Why do farmers use technology for farming?
- Does one of these farms seem to use more technology than others?
- Do you think farmers are dependent on technology? (Would they be able to farm without it?)
- What jobs do you think people had on farms before that machines do now?
- What does technology offer that people do not?
- What do people offer that technology does not?
If it is possible, a field trip to an actual farm is a wonderful, hands-on opportunity to learn more about farming and farming technologies. If you teach in a rural setting and have a large group of students who are already quite familiar with farming, perhaps you can challenge students to compare the product and machinery on each other’s farms.
The Science NetLinks lesson Global Breakfast allows students to further explore the origin of the food they eat, in the context of global interdependence.
For a Science NetLinks lesson that addresses the impacts of modern technology on waste disposal, check out Engineering Solutions.
Students may enjoy “inventing” their own agricultural technology! This time, have students divide into different groups. It may be helpful to still work in five groups, though, so that each group can invent a machine for a corresponding farm from the site. You will assign this project to students depending on your time availability and your particular group of students.
Some questions that may be helpful in deciding how to present this to students are: 1) Do you want students to choose how they create their invention? For example, they could write about it; use recycled materials to build it; paint or draw it; sculpt it with clay; put their invention to music; or role-play how their invention will work. 2) Do you want to invite parents to a “Our Farming Technology Invention Night” during which students present their inventions to a larger audience? 3) Do you want to use videotape to record their inventions?
While students are working on their inventions, you can help them stay focused on the idea that their invention should be a machine or some form of modern technology that makes farming easier. At the same time, encourage them to consider possible disadvantages to a farmer using their invention.
Go to the Inventor's Toolbox on the Boston Museum of Science website to learn about the elements of simple machines.