Learning Module

Potato Farming in Maine's Changing Climate

Potatoes are an important part of Maine’s economy and as the climate changes, so do growing conditions throughout the state.  Increased drought, pests, storm intensity and changes in temperatures have created new challenges for farmers in Maine, but also new opportunities.  In this module, students investigate some of the challenges facing Maine farmers, with a particular look at potato farmers, and explore some of the changes and solutions being tried as farmers and scientists work together to build a more climate resilient future for our community.

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Learning Outcomes

Climate and Changing Ecosystems (Climate change is driving changes here!)

  • Changes in Gulf of Maine ecosystems are local instances of global patterns of change.
  • Changes in ecosystems have impacts on the species within those ecosystems -- some populations thrive, some move, some decline.

Nature of Science (Science is collaborative!)

  • There are many different ways to participate in science and being a scientist can involve a broad range of activities, skills and people.
  • Investigating changes in ecosystems often is a collaborative effort between professional scientists and members of local communities.

Data and Scientific Inquiry (This is the work that scientists do!)

  • Data helps us understand a problem or phenomenon
  • Data can be used as evidence to support scientific claims.
  • We represent data in a combination of graphs and maps to show ecosystem change in both time and space, and we use models to think into the future.
  • Data can be represented and organized in different ways in order to answer different questions or reveal new information.
  • Using data to understand a phenomenon involves being able to read and make sense of data representations (tables, graphs, maps, etc.) and models.


Learning Space

Review the Potatoes in Maine Background Reading for a deeper understanding of the big ideas prior to starting the lessons with students. What is Climate Change? from NASA ClimateKids is also a helpful to cover the basics of climate change with students.

Scaffolding Considerations: Materials assume that students have some familiarity with the following vocabulary and/or concepts. If not, we suggest teachers consider scaffolds for these terms throughout the lessons:

  • Precipitation
  • Drought
  • Stress
  • Climate
  • Climate Change
  • Irrigation
  • Pests
  • Impact
  • Crops
  • Growing Season
  • Frost/Thaw
  • Adaptation
  • Trait

Lesson 1: Growing Plants in Maine's Changing Climate

In this lesson, students will consider what they already know about what plants need to grow. They will then research the challenges Maine farmers are facing as growing conditions change in order to build background knowledge about how climate change is affecting farming in Maine.

Lesson 1 Slides | T-Chart Template | Student Note Catcher | Climate and Farming Data Stations |Teachers Guide

Lesson 2: Adapting Crops to a Changing Climate

In this lesson, students will reflect on what they know about the specific challenges farmers are facing due to changing growing conditions. Students will then make a super-potato of their own design as they consider desirable traits, both practical and fantastical, to respond to changing growing conditions and consider the effectiveness of these designs in a real world setting.

Lesson 2 Slides | Template Potato Advertisement | Teachers Guide

Lesson 3: Hot Potato! Modeling Potato Farming in Maine

In this lesson, students will learn about potato farming in Maine specifically and how farmers are being impacted by changing growing conditions. They will also learn about how scientists and farmers are working together on strategies to make crops more resilient to changes in the climate. Students begin with a background building reading and then play an embodied modeling game focused on the experience of potato farmers experimenting with different varieties amidst a range of environmental pressures presently being experienced by Maine farmers.

Lesson 3 Slides | Background Reading | Modeling Game | Hot Potato Farming! Modeling Game Directions | Hot Potato Modeling Game Student Reflection |Teachers Guide

Lesson 4: Building Climate Resilient Potatoes

Building off their learning from the last three lessons, students will create new potato varieties. Students will determine the most important traits that future potato varieties will need to survive in the changing climate. Using the information in the Seed Catalog, students will choose two varieties of potatoes to crossbreed and then present their new potatoes in an advertisement.

Lesson 4 Slides | Designing a Climate Resilient Potato Sheet | Seed Catalog | Teachers Guide