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North Trail Elementary students test pollinators

North Trail Elementary science specialist Katie Bellmont teaches first-graders from Erin Johnson’s class about pollination in a hands-on lesson. She is shown with Lila Pemrick (left), Gauge Stewart (right) and McKenzie O’Neal. Kara Hildreth / Contributor

Students at North Trail Elementary are busy testing out pollination methods in science class.

Last week first-graders learned how to pollinate flowers if no bees were present.

Katie Bellmont, science specialist at North Trail Elementary, led the science pollination lesson with a classroom full of first-graders sitting in small groups.

"We are building hand pollinators and students were pretending their gardens were not producing the fruit they want to see," Bellmont said. "Students needed to conduct an experiment to see how to get flowers pollinated if they do not have any inspects."

North Trail Elementary Principal Steven Geis said the experiment serves as a lesson to inspire students to learn about agriculture and science and to become curious about how bees are pollinators.

"They are picking up a powdered sugar substance with different materials to see if it transfers over, and then they will create their own devices that will help with pollinating," Geis said. "It is really that whole of the scientific experiment when they are trying to create a hypothesis, trying the experiment and making it better."

Geis serves on the board of directors for the group called Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom and he hosted the group's quarterly meeting last week at the school.

Geis, who farms corn, beans and raises a small herd of bison, said he values using conservation practices when farming. He wants to engage students to be interested in seeing how the real world of agriculture connects to nature and their lives.

"I am working on a plan where I put in CRE (Conservation Reserve Enhancement) land that will never be farmed again, and that land will be conserved to create land for habitat life and enhancing nature and water quality," Geis said.

But when it comes to students being inspired by science, Geis said "I truly believe when kids touch it, taste it and experience it, and then they are going to remember it."

To engage students in hands-on learning about nature and science, North Trail Elementary students can get their hands dirty and grow vegetables on school grounds.

Students learn how to become their own farmers or gardeners and grow squash that is eaten in the cafeteria. They also grow seasonal fall pumpkins and pick apples from the school orchard with 24 dwarf trees blooming on the backside of the school.

"Last summer I picked a whole pickup truck of sweet corn that was being used as part of the summer school program and students were able to learn about self-pollinating plants like the corn with the tassels and how the pollen falls," Geis said. "They learned how each silk from the corn pollinates only one kernel of corn."

"Prior to this science lesson, students performed another experiment where they were the bees and they placed their hands into a bowl of Cheetos to get the nectar or candy underneath, and they got to see how they transfer nectar with their little bee feet," Bellmont added.

In the next science lesson, Bellmont will teach first-graders how to build their own pollinating devices.

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