On November 23, 2016, Marty Adkins, Assistant State Conservationist – Partnerships, rolled out a new Soil Health Kit, developed by Iowa Earth Team volunteers. The project idea was sparked by an Iowa Conservation Education Coalition (ICEC) workshop he attended in 2015. ICEC encouraged attendees to develop conservation and environmental education materials that would meet the new Iowa teaching standards. Students in Iowa are moving away from learning isolated subjects to learning through the integration of multiple concepts using the scientific method and a hands-on discovery process.
A month later, Marty was forwarded an email inquiring about volunteer opportunities for Joe Uhlemann and his wife, Bridgette. As it turned out – NRCS was the only organization that responded to Joe’s volunteer inquiries! Marty suggested developing soil health materials that incorporated the new Iowa standards. Their target audience: lower elementary school children. Both Uhlemanns loved the idea!
Joe and Bridgette were supported in this project by a team that included Craig Edmondson, a science education consultant for Heartland Area Education Agency (AEA). Craig introduced the concept of “Foss kits”, individual kits that provide all the materials and equipment needed to teach a unit on a particular subject. In addition to Marty, Rick Bednarek, Iowa State Soil Scientist, and Judy Martinson, a Resource Conservationist on the Partnership team were brought in as advisory members of the project team. Under their guidance, Bridgette and Joe developed lesson plans and supporting information, including an original story, Barry and his Buddies Munch Better Soil.
Barry introduces children to major soil organisms that impact the quality of soil health. Judy added additional science to the storyline and new features, including vocabulary and links to children’s soils activities and projects. Renae Nicholson, a former Iowa NRCS employee with a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing, provided early editing and formatting assistance. Angie Hynek, a talented illustrator, contributed her artwork as an Earth Team volunteer for the project. Angie’s characterizations really brought the story characters to life! Jason Johnson, Public Affairs Specialist, provided some final editing of the storyline and several teachers also vetted the story throughout the development process.
Cindy Slagle, Administrative Assistant, along with Sophia Douglas and Megan Hosford, Elyon contract employees, volunteered to assemble the kits. Craig secured the AEA services to professionally publish the original story and find homes for the kits. Heartland, Great Prairie, Keystone, Mississippi Bend and AEA 267 each agreed to take ownership of two of the Foss kits. Each kit contains a microscope, 4 children’s books, lesson plans and supplies, and the original story, Barry and his Buddies Much Better Soil. Today, as a result of the hard work and dedication of Earth Team volunteers, teachers and other conservation professionals may check out the kits and thus promote Iowa conservation while meeting the goals of the new Iowa teaching standards.
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