April 7, 2010, The Dome School, Takilma, Oregon
By Daniel Dalegowski

Planting Seeds with Kelpie

The Dome School students worked with Kelpie in the greenhouse to plant the seeds for the biochar experiment. They planted six-packs containers, three collard seeds per hole, that were filled with three kinds of biochar made from urine, fish-emulsion, and kelp. They also planted some six-packs with regular potting soil as the control in the experiment. It was necessary to first clean out the greenhouse and then label the six-packs with tape and sharpies. Kelpie mixed the biochar and filled the six-packs. It was mixed in a ratio of one part biochar to two parts potting-soil. The first group of students had all contributed some urine to the project. The students objected to the smell, but once it was mixed with potting soil, they had to admit it was not so bad.


Germinating Seeds with Joe

Another group of students set up seeds to germinate with Joe. Each student was able to choose three or four types of seeds to germinate. A plastic, disposable cup-lid was placed on the floor, then a piece of paper-towel was placed on top. The seeds were placed on the paper towel, a small amount of water was poured on top, then the towel was folded over, creating a secure container for the seeds to germinate within. The students will have to make sure the towel stays nice and wet.

Joe also showed the students some bokashi under the microscope.


The Scientific Method and Research Reports with Katherine and Lori

Katherine lectured the various groups on the scientific method prior to working on research reports. (Lori also taught this component of today's lesson earlier, but the group I observed was small and led exclusively by Katherine.) Together, the students reviewed the various components of the scientific method.
  • Purpose: Why conduct science? In this case, to answer the question “do plants grow better in biochar?”
  • Research: Find out information about the topic in question. The students did research via the Internet and books. For instance they have studied traditional biochar use and mythology of the Amazon region.
  • Hypothesis: Predict the answer to the problem. In this case, it's predicted that the plants that grow in biochar will do better.
  • Experiment: Design a test to confirm or disprove the hypothesis. The students planted seeds in pots filled with the three flavors of biochar and control pots with potting soil.
  • Analysis: Record the outcome. Students will observe the growth of the plants.
  • Conclusion: Was our guess correct? Did the plants prefer the biochar of urine, fish-emulsion, or kelp, or the control of potting soil?

Katherine then had the students name and date a research report and a copy of the raw data from the worm avoidance test. The data showed several worms seeming to favor the fish-emulsion and seaweed while those worms in the exposed to the urine flat actually avoided it. Kelpie thought that the urine had been too strong and the mixture was diluted.

Katherine masterfully led the students as they took turns reading parts of the research report and underlined the hypothesis.


Kicking Off the Experiment: Student-Powered Random

Outside, Kelpie had the students randomize the six-packs of different types of biochar and control potting-soil. They did this by shuffling the pots around randomly on the table. The reason for doing this is to minimize the effects of placement inside the greenhouse (more or less sun, hotter or colder temperature) on the experiment. They pots were then placed in flats and watered. The experiment was underway.