Sue Anderson – Outreach Chair
June is here, which means it’s the end of the school year and the end of the SWE year! Every year it truly amazes me that my parents were right when they said: the older you get, the faster the years speed by. Let me share with you another truism from my father: you never stop learning. And I haven’t. Which is good, because I like to learn about all kinds of things.
Two years out of college, I went back to school (Bryant) for my master’s degree in Management: 5 long years at night while working full time. Then I went back to school (RISD) for a Certificate in Interior Design: another 4 long years at night while working full time.
Now that I’m not working full-time anymore, I’m continually going to RISD for a course here and there on whatever tickles my fancy: historic preservation, polymer clay beads, landscape design, grantwriting, html website design, historic interiors, artisan breadmaking, and writing picture books and chapter books for children are just a few I’ve taken over the past two decades. I have also recently purchased DVDs for courses on mathematics, teaching, science, and writing that someday in my . . . ahem . . . ‘spare time’ . . . I will sit down and take.
And then there is the non-formal education route. I go to SWE Conferences and learn about Outreach events and programs, professional development issues, and more — just by networking with the thousands of people there.
Last month I went to our section’s Membership Meeting at All Saints Academy in Middletown because they are the RI State Champions for FIRST LEGO® League. I thought I was going to learn about the software and the robots they use for the competitions (I haven’t been able to see them in action yet), but I was wrong. Instead, I learned about potatoes.
I have grown potatoes, probably like a lot of you who have a small garden plot. You have a few potatoes which are a wee bit ‘over-ripe’ with long stringy vines growing out of the ‘eyes’ all around each one, so you dig up a spot of ground and throw them in and cover them back up. If nothing happens, you’ve got good compost for next year. If it does (like it did in my herb garden), you have small baby potatoes – just right for that nice Sunday roast! And if you don’t grow potatoes, but like to eat them, then you know of lots of ways to cook them: mashed, boiled, baked, pan-roasted, fried, etc. So what more do you need to know about potatoes?
The All Saints Academy Robotics Team would like you to know that potatoes contain arsenic. I did not know that. Nor did I know that the arsenic levels in the ground where Rhode Island potatoes are grown are lower than any other state that grows potatoes. Nor did I know that the arsenic comes from chemicals put on golf courses and state and local highway weeds. “But,” the students said cheerfully, “…eating one potato won’t kill you.” Well, after five decades of my eating them, that’s nice to know.
The kids (ranging in grade from four through eight) did a tremendous amount of research on this year’s FLL Challenge: Food Factor: Keeping Food Safe. They chose to concentrate on the potato for their project due to potato farms on Aquidneck Island where they live — not to mention that RI is home to Hasbro, maker of Mr. Potato Head! They interviewed potato farmers and scientists at URI. They researched other methods of growing potatoes that wouldn’t have arsenic leaching into the roots through the water table, such as hydroponics. But they settled on aquaponics as the method of growing their potatoes.
So here’s another thing I learned about: how aquaponics works. The students showed us pictures of a fish tank (with fish) and a filter from the tank leading up to water the potatoes growing in a webbing-type of material over it. The plants got their nutrients from the fish tank water and grew large vines above it. They said it takes eight weeks to grow a potato. One question I should have asked the students was how they harvested the potatoes, since we all know potatoes grow in the ground and these were growing on top of a fish tank. Did they grow through the webbing into the water? Did they grow outward over the webbing? I was disappointed we couldn’t see the actual setup in person, but perhaps a better photo of it will be on their website some day.
I learned a lot that night about potatoes that I had never known before. I learned about a whole new gardening technique that I had never heard of before. I also learned how to make LEGO® cakes, which I made as part of the refreshments that evening!
The school year and SWE year may have come to a close this month, but remember to always keep your mind open to new ideas and learning. You’re never too old to learn!