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More than a game: Olathe 4th-graders gets hands-on STEM lessons at golf course

Heritage Golf Course STEM Field Trip Tomahawk
Posted at 9:01 PM, May 01, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Golfers may not give much consideration to the science behind maintaining the course, but it’s more than just a game for groundskeepers — as a group of Olathe fourth-graders found out Wednesday at Heritage Golf Course.

Through the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s First Green program, nearly 50 Tomahawk Elementary School students enjoyed a series of hands-on lessons at the golf course as part of a unique STEM field trip.

“Basically, we bring kids out to the golf course and teach them about what we do and incorporate STEM into the learning process,” Heritage Golf Course Superintendent Ethan Shamet said. “... The goal is to show them what we do — that we’re not just out here growing grass, but we’re doing other stuff with science and technology and math.”

The loudest lesson involved the role bugs and worms play in keeping the grass healthy. Students got a chance to examine pill bugs, also known as roly polys, and centipedes under a magnifying glass.

But when the worms came out, a bucket full of meaty nightcrawlers, the shrieks ensue.

“The worm did not feel the best,” fellow fourth-grader Quinn Ulsh said. “It was kind of gross, but otherwise I thought it was pretty cool seeing all the bugs just wriggle around. It was pretty cool to learn about them.”

Students learned about a worm’s diet and how its excrement enriches the soil, making worms a golf course — or your lawn’s — best friend.

“The poop was disgusting, but then when he got it out of his hands there were 20 people like, ‘Ahh,’” fellow fourth-grader Millie Chapman said. “It was hilarious.”

It was also educational.

“It was really cool to learn they actually use sand for the green fields instead of normal soil and dirt,” Quinn said. “I thought that was really cool, because I didn’t know sand was smoother than dirt and soil. I was like, ‘OK, that’s a new thing I learned today.’”

There also were lessons in water quality, the equipment groundskeepers use, how to measure the area of irregular shapes, how to determine the speed of the greens, and how to putt.

Students also used soil-moisture meters and competed to see which team could saturate the grass the most.

“I was expecting the hula hoop would keep it (the water) in the circle, but actually it didn’t that well,” Millie said.

Now, Quinn, Millie and their classmates learned something new, which ultimately was the goal.

“Being out here and learning something new and having an idea pop in their head, they ask a lot of good questions,” Shamet said. “But just seeing them smile and knowing you’re helping the kids, that’s the best part. ... Hopefully, maybe somewhere down the road, we find somebody who wants to get into a career as a golf-course superintendent.”

As for Wednesday’s field trip, Heritage Golf Course aced it.

“It was probably the best field trip I’ve had in a while, because I love golfing,” Millie said. “It’s probably my favorite thing to do.”