Teaching little ones the mysteries & potential of biochar

Teaching kids

I am excited to be providing a little biochar education to lower school kids at Allendale Columbia within the context of their revamped STEM program next month.  Teaching little ones about the benefits of biochar makes me think hard about boiling down the key information to the most basic level.  Since few adults, let alone kids, have ever heard the word biochar, I am going down the ‘what is charcoal’ path just so they will at least have a point of reference (I may have to grill them on the differences though!).  In the past, the whole charcoal-biochar confusion often made me fume, but I’ve been warming to the idea (over some slow burning embers of course) over the past year or so!

As I research how charcoal has been used through the ages, one cannot help wondering how the idea of eating charcoal to neutralize poisons ever popped into someone’s head or the notion of brushing your teeth, cleaning your skin, purifying your water or many of the other seemingly endless uses for biochar that ancient civilizations conceived.  Derring-do or desperation?  Curiosity or Happenstance?

The rationale for putting charcoal in the soil though, seems a bit easier to unearth.  Early humans may have seen that forests or fields burned after lightning strikes resulted in more vigorous growth. Or perhaps before abandoning campfires women covered them with dirt to prevent larger fires and subsequently noticed that plants grew better atop the charred remains of ‘expyred’ campfires.  Whatever the reason, whomever the ingenious souls, millions have benefited from the various uses of charcoal across the millennia.

Ideally education, in my humble opinion, should seek to re-ignite these seemingly ancient powers of observation, of drawing conclusions from real world actions, as well as inspiring the curiosity to try new and different things. How to weave all of that into a narrative that kids will get excited about is the challenge. The picture above is my attempt at creating that story (wish me luck!).  The 2nd graders will be experimenting with water filtration projects using biochar and the 3rd graders will be performing experiments with growing plants in biochar. Should be fun!

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