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Students turn areas of interest into hands-on experiments

November 25, 2019 | Filed in Archive

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Bradley Jasewicz lugged several rocks up the hill from the creek that runs behind the school and brought them into his teacher’s classroom. One by one, he added them to two tubs of water, each with several goldfish swimming around inside.

“They had nowhere to hide before,” Jasewicz said, submersing the rocks in the water as the fish began diving in between them. “I’m hoping this will make them feel safer, so they’ll eat more.”

Jasewicz, a student from Amsterdam whose interests lie in fisheries and wildlife technology, is one of 17 third-year Agriculture PTECH students who are immersed in long-term research projects of their choosing. Jasewicz is testing the growth of fish based on their diets. He’s feeding one group of his goldfish river shrimp, while the others are getting blood worms.

In addition to the fish tanks, the perimeter of teacher Kelly Long’s room is dotted with things like Petri dishes and small pots of soil with sprouts peeking out.

Students were able to choose a project that fit their interests, which Long said has led to students taking ownership of their research and experiments.

The class only meets once a week, on Fridays, so the juniors taking the course spend their class time gathering data to measure changes over the week.

Brandon Johnson of Canajoharie, who is aiming for a career in forestry, is looking at how green beans grow in different types of soil. To his surprise, the seeds planted in the sand have been growing the most, not the potting soil as he hypothesized.

Long said many of the projects have required students to adapt along the way and adjust their expectations. “They’re learning how science really works,” she said. “You don’t always get the results you expect.”

Aidan David of Johnstown wanted to carry out an experiment that could benefit the environment, so he began testing the growth of green algae to determine the best growing conditions. Green algae is used in bio fuels, he explained. “Knowing the right conditions can be very helpful,” David said.

Abby Sanjurjo of Amsterdam also wanted to examine an environmental issue and has been looking at how road salt affects plant growth. She’s been monitoring when her daisies germinate, their weekly growth rate and how well they tolerate the salt. She figures her research might be helpful for city leaders. “You want your city to look nice,” she said. “But it’s important because a lot of things rely on plants.”

Other students’ experiments also are measuring the effect of outside influences on plants, including the effects of limestone on PH levels in the soil, how trimming spider plants affects their growth, and making the petals of flowers glow by feeding them water in which highlighters have soaked.

Using a black light, Kyla Herrick has been monitoring which brands of highlighters led to the best-glowing carnation petals and which have had the most adverse effects on the plants’ structure. “One day I came in and I thought someone had snapped my flowers’ stems, but I’m thinking something in the chemicals did it,” she said.

For Herrick, a Johnstown student who is majoring in agriculture science at SUNY Cobleskill through the Ag PTECH program, the process of carrying out her experiment has been more enjoyable than she imagined it would be.

“I didn’t think I would like it, but it’s pulled an interest out of me,” Herrick said.