This summer Lower Brule interns are not only working on community centered science projects, but they are also each being supported by a college mentor from South Dakota State University. Because many of these SDSU mentors are non-native and may not be familiar with the history or culture of Lower Brule, we have been working with Lower Brule community members and others to build a cultural competency curriculum within our new mentoring program. This means part of the mentors' time is spent learning about historical and current topics of culture and race. They then use this knowledge to better connect and support their mentees. This is the first program in the nation that we are aware of to implement this type of curriculum, and we will be closely reviewing how well it works through our independent evaluator, Technology and Innovation in Education. We hope in the future that this program can be a model for others, showing how education can simultaneously help people learn the skills they need to be successful after high school, while also helping them learn how to build positive relationships with others across cultures.
Plants need more than just water and sunlight to grow. They need nutrients, and one of the best types of fertilizers known to man is vermicompost, aka. worm poop. In 2017 we looked at what type of pallet bin would work best for making vermicompost. Through this study we also found that organizations across Lower Brule were happy to take part in a food waste recycling program. We were able to take food waste, which otherwise would have gone to a landfill, and put it in the vermicompost bins we designed and built from scratch. We will see in the coming years exactly how well these bins work and if we can truly turn garbage into an important resource for the Lower Brule Community Garden.
These three researchers explored one of science's hottest topics, behaviorally informed messaging. Behaviorally informed messaging capitalizes on insights from social and behavioral science in order to encourage a certain behavior. It's being utilized today by governments and institutions to nudge people toward healthier long-term decision making.
Our researchers employed these tactics in their research project to see if they could encourage more people to get involved with the community garden. However, their results didn't show a significant difference in people's behavior based on whether the messaging was of a traditional nature or behaviorally informed.
This is a topic we will continue to study as we probe deeper into how to persuade others around us, in order to build a healthier future for all.
Growing your own food can be a great way to not only save money and eat healthy, but it can also reduce stress and help to build community. Tilling, planting, weeding, watering, and thinning can be a bit much for our busy lives and so in 2017 we began to research if hydroponics could be an alternative and simpler way for people to grow their own food at home. In this study we learned that there is a desire among people to grow their own hydroponic plants. We also developed novel methods to keep fragile hydroponic seedlings alive. We believe hydroponics has the potential to give more people in Lower Brule the opportunity to grow their own plants and food at home, and we will be looking to expand on this project in 2018.
Aquaponics allows both fish and plants to grow together through a symbiotic relationship. We set out in the summer of 2017 to construct the first ever solar powered aquaponics system in Lower Brule, SD. We used this system to study which species of fish is best for small scale outdoor aquaponics in this region. We found that solar powered aquaponics is a promising method for growing fish and vegetables in Lower Brule. We also discovered that goldfish are a better type of fish to use in outdoor aquaponics compared to minnows.
This summer 12 student interns from four different local schools are using science to find solutions to real world problems. They work in groups trying to answer one of these questions: What is the best type of pallet bin to use for large scale vermicomposting in Lower Brule? Can minnows survive a Lower Brule summer in a small aquaponics system? Will behaviorally informed messaging increase people's participation in community gardening? Can people use hydroponics to grow their own cheap, healthy food at home?
Through experimentation students work together to systematically test hypotheses to these questions. They will write up their findings into scientific journal style reports and create short videos on their projects to share with the Lower Brule community. The scientific process is not an easy one. It requires dedication and a focus on the details. We are at the frontiers of scientific knowledge. No one knows the answers to these questions and it can be difficult when your hypothesis fails.
Dry weather can lead to increased grasshopper numbers. Our group studying home hydroponics had several houses in which grasshoppers destroyed the plants. When your hypothesis fails, that is also a form of success. Knowledge is power and a new hypothesis can be tested. That's exactly what our student interns are doing. It's not easy but this is what progress looks like - each day, getting a bit closer to understanding the world a little better. Ultimately that is how we find solutions.
Over the school year, LBR works to give middle and high school students in the Lower Brule area the supplies they need to perform their own science research projects, and then present those projects at science fairs. This year, we helped over 40 kids complete science fair projects and are extremely proud of all of these students. We are happy to announce that three of those projects were recognized at the High Plains Regional Science fair in Rapid City, SD. One of those students was awarded one of the fair's top prizes, an all expense paid trip to observe the Intel International Science Fair in Los Angeles in May! The competition at the High Plains Regional Science Fair included over 700 students from western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming, and the fact that students from a rural tribal school can have so much success is a testament to the work ethic, courage, and potential of the youth we support every day.
When people think of science fair they often think of kids building exploding volcanoes or 3D models of the solar system. However, at its core, science is much more than dropping Mentos into a bottle of Diet Coke and watching it explode. Science is about using a specific process to ask and then answer questions. This process is one of the most powerful tools we have to find the answers to the problems facing our communities.
When students start out learning about science it should be in a fun and playful way. Our middle school science fair students are encouraged to build exploding volcanoes and bursting Diet Coke fountains. Science is FUN! These younger students are then asked to push their experiments to the next level.
How does temperature affect the height of Diet Coke - Mentos explosion? Is it better to add baking soda to vinegar or vinegar to baking soda. They then set up experiments with a single independent and dependent variable in order to answer their question. This process gives our students an understanding of how scientists tackle more complex questions and how they present their answers to the world.
This summer we are not only testing the best ways to grow food but also working to engage with the community to understand what might be the best types of foods to grow. We are working with SDSU Extension and their AmeriCorps members to evaluate the different varieties of food our student researchers are growing.
This garden space next to the Lower Brule High School has not been used in many years, but that's about to change. Over the next couple months LBR and partners will be working to transform this into a space for growing fresh food and building community.
The 8th grade earth science class started doing their part for the garden months ago, by building worm bins. These containers use worms to turn food waste into the most nutritious fertilizer anywhere. Each week the 8th graders collected food waste from students at lunch. Instead of putting their leftovers in the garbage, students put their leftover food in a container and fed that food to the worms. Turning what would normally end up in a landfill into rich organic fertilizer.
You can do the same with your extra food scraps at home. Watch the video these 8th graders put together (above) on how to build a worm bin and look at the many guides online. Help your landfill, your garden, and your community for years to come.
For the first time Lower Brule students took part in the ISEF Regional Science fair in Rapid City, South Dakota, and amazingly took home some top awards. Five groups of students competed in three different categories in the senior division: engineering, physical sciences, and biological sciences.
This was a unique experience for the Lower Brule students. The competition was not only a three hour bus ride away, but also involved doing things students on an isolated tribal reservation are rarely asked to do, like present science research both visually and verbally to judges. Despite their inexperience, the students did well.
One group took home the ASU Walton Sustainability Solutions Award in recognition of the creation, design and development of innovative solutions that directly address our planet’s sustainability challenges. As a result of winning, these students are nominated for the Grand Prize, a trip to Arizona for the 2016 Sustainability Solutions Festival.
Another group from Lower Brule won the Mu Alpha Theta Award, which is given to the most challenging, thorough, and creative investigation of a problem involving mathematics accessible to high school students. This comes with the opportunity to apply for a $2000 Summer Research/Math Study grant.
It's true, we need plants not only for food, but also to create the air we breathe. We couldn't survive without the oxygen plants give off, but what most people don't know is that plants need oxygen too. Without oxygen plants die and getting enough oxygen isn't always easy for a plant's roots. The chemistry class at Lower Brule is examining exactly how much oxygen lettuce roots need.
By using an oxygen sensor and two different hydroponic setups, the Lower Brule chemistry class examines how the amount of dissolved oxygen in nutrient solution affects plant growth. Setups that include aquarium bubblers to give plant roots more oxygen also create bigger and healthier looking heads of lettuce. Knowing how much oxygen to use is key to not wasting energy on larger scale projects.
Molly slowly makes adjustments to her nutrient solution pH. She and her classmates are working to understand the role pH plays in hydroponic plant growth and the potential it could have to bring fresh vegetables to rural South Dakota.
Lower Brule Research's inaugural 2016 studies are centered around optimizing local food growth. Students are examining both traditional means of food production and the potential for more contemporary soilless systems, specifically hydroponics. During the school year, students first build the understanding and general skills needed to conduct scientific research. They set up tests, execute basic experiments, and analyze their results.
Top students are selected through an application process to continue their research over the summer months with a paid position working for LBR. During the 2016 summer, students will be studying and optimizing ultra-low-cost hydroponic setups for growing leafy green vegetables. Their ultimate goal will be to not only publish their results, but also to help rural communities like Lower Brule understand the best and most affordable ways to bring fresh vegetables to the dinner table.