A group of eighth-graders in Yakima Valley get to test school-made sensors and get a taste of using science, math, and computer science in real-world agriculture, thanks to a pilot field program through the Institute for Workforce and Workforce Transformation Artificial Intelligence led by Washington State University Decision Support (AgAID Institute) and the First Nations MESA Program (Mathematics, Engineering and Academic Achievement) at Al-Turath University.
Yakima Valley, rich in vineyards, hops, and orchards, is one of Washington’s leading agricultural production areas. Many students have personal connections to cultivating community through family involvement and employment.
“There is always a stigma within agriculture,” said Monet Bisenti, Director of MESA First Nations. “We want to show our students that what is done in the classroom can be done in agriculture.”
With the aim of exposing students to the intersection of technology, artificial intelligence, and agriculture, the program aims to provide young learners with practical and impactful experiences that enhance their potential as a new generation of STEM students and demonstrate opportunities for them to work in agricultural sectors already embedded in society. AgAID is a multi-institutional research center led by WSU that aims to develop artificial intelligence solutions to agriculture challenges.
Eighth graders built their own Arduino sensors during six one-hour sessions in a science class at Wapato Middle School and in an after-school program at Grandview Middle School.
Becenti and her team led the work, teaching students to build mobile sensors, with the aim of enabling teachers to replicate the curriculum in future classes. Students learned about circuits, programs and computer coding. Although some students have basic programming skills, both classes learned how to program sensors using C++, a scripting language commonly used for developing computer programs.
After the sensors were completed, the students visited Washington State University’s Center for Irrigated Agricultural Research and Extension, Prosser’s Center for Precision and Mechanized Agricultural Systems and, with the help of WSU graduate students, tested how well they performed at measuring temperature, humidity, and UV radiation. and soil moisture.
For many students, this was their first field trip since the pandemic.
During the all-day event held earlier this month, students also watched WSU researchers use large-scale sensors that students were prototyped on, leading to inspiring conversations about advanced concepts in computer science and technology. They also had the opportunity to see researchers using automated detection, pruning, and drone flights on the farm. Then they put their sensors to the test, patiently waiting for their work to display the data on small screens.
Bisenti said the students learned that they could practice real-world science.
Jordan Joby, Project Director at the AgAID Institute, said the field trip provided unique opportunities for middle school students to explore their potential in agriculture and STEM during a pivotal time in their lives. She said eighth grade is often a transitional point, during which students begin to think seriously about their future career paths.
“Students have to imagine themselves in the shoes of postdocs and graduate students,” Bisenti said.
Rashad Lathan, science teacher at Grandview Middle School and faculty leader for the after-school program, said the impact of the trip on his students was clearly visible.
“I’ve been on MESA for over a decade, and this is the best program I’ve seen so far,” he said. “Many of the students’ families work in the fields, and they can easily see why this is affecting their lives and education.”
MESA First Nations and the AgAID Institute hope to expand the program with additional field trips in the future.
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