Students dig into science this summer

By Jeff Smith

Katrina Hutchison, a soil scientist, shows a group of students a jar of silt on June 19. Her presentation told students all about soil. The All About Science program gave students an idea of what people do in a variety of scientific fields.

Students were able to learn that soil is a dynamic, living, natural resource in the summer program at Hill City Elementary.

Katrina Hutchison, soil scientist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Rapid City, talked to a group of third to fifth graders about soil and what it does for the planet. One of the things she finds in talking with groups of children is how they call soil dirt, which is the wrong word to use.

“One spoonful of dirt has more living organisms in it than there are people on the planet,” Hutchison told the group on June 19.

She said there are things in the soil such as protozoa that are single cell micro-organisms that can’t be seen by the naked eye, as well as bugs or other creatures that can be seen. Soil is a habitat for bugs and protozoa but also benefits people. There wouldn’t be food, fiber, or fuel without soil.

Hutchison said it’s important for everybody to know about soil, and in the younger grades she feels it is important to learn because they will they start to learn a lot of fundamentals.

“I love to talk to this group because a lot of people think you should wait until high school to talk to kiddos about college and what career they should do, but I think it’s important at this age because once they get into high school they can start thinking about classes they should take,” Hutchison said.

Hutchison said even if they don’t end up going into a field of science they might be curious and learn more.

The science program is for kindergarten to fifth-grade students and is called All About Science. The program started June 5 and goes to June 30.

“Our teachers are fantastic. they have put together such a neat program,” said Mike Hanson, superintendent of schools for Hill City.

Hanson said the school district is vested in year-round programming, or as close as they can get to it.

Three teachers as well as three other classified employees in the school district are helping out for the summer program.

Chip Franke, principal of Hill City Elementary, said they are averaging about 55 students a day at the camp right now.

The students have had visits from people at the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery, Sanford Underground Research Facility and South Dakota School of Mines.

“It’s all hands-on. We’ve got volcanoes and rockets coming up this week,” Franke said.

Franke said   it is open source curriculum rather than using textbooks.

“It’s something that they wouldn’t normally get during the school year,” Franke said.

Colleen Clapper, fifth grade teacher at Hill City Elementary, said the students have dissected owl pellets, dissected a trout, made some volcanoes and did some fishing.

Clapper said the benefit of the guest speakers is they learned a variety of things as it pertains to science.

“This adds to what they already know or they might learn something new,” Clapper said.

Clapper said she is also learning, as she never dissected a fish and is seeing things that are different from what is done in the school.

The students do math and reading as well with the science instruction. Research takes place as students do Powerpoint presentations or Prezis.

A lot of different small activities are done in the program when there aren’t guest speakers.

Representatives with the Sanford Lab left kits to complete and Clapper’s group was given one dealing with magnets. Students learn interesting facts as well as sciences applicable in the real world. 

Hutchison gives presentations from the pre-school age to adults in her job. It is actually pretty rare for her to visit a school as she goes to about four different schools in a year. 

Hutchison said it would be nice to get more people involved in soil sciences as it is kind of a dying career.

“It’s not as glamorous as a lot of the other sciences so people aren’t really interested in it,” Hutchison said.

She encourages people to get into any career field that protects the earth and its natural resources. She thinks that people are going to start thinking more and more about protecting the earth.