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Learning About Underground Protective Agriculture



Arts & Humanities
--Language Arts
--Applied Math
--Life Sciences
--Physical Science
--Natural History
Social Studies
--Current Events


Grades 2-up

News Content

A huge vault on an Arctic island is the new home for billions of seeds.

Anticipation Guide

Before reading, ask students

  • What do you do to keep perishable foods safe? (Students might suggest that foods such as bread are stored in plastic bags, foods such as milk are kept refrigerated)
  • What do you do to keep money safe? (It is kept in a bank)
  • What do you do to keep old family photos safe? (They are kept in scrapbooks)
    Ask students to identify other things that they might want to keep safe and how they do that. (Students might mention that valuable jewelry is kept in a safe deposit box, pets are kept in cages or fenced-in yards, mortgage papers and financial records are kept in locked boxes, guns are kept in locked cases, and so on.)

    News Words

    Before sharing this weeks news story about a special way of keeping the worlds crops safe from harm, you might introduce the words Norway and Norwegian. In addition, you will want to introduce these words that appear in the News Word Box on the students printable page: vault, government, deposit, refrigeration, ensure, and system. Discuss the meanings of any of those words that might be unfamiliar. Then ask students to use one of those words to complete each of these sentences:

  • In a democracy, people elect the leaders of their _____. (government)
  • We had to get out extra blankets last night, because our homes heating _____ failed. (system)
  • If my Uncle Ben wins the lottery, he plans to _____ his winnings in the bank. (deposit)
  • Our neighbors built a fence around their pool to _____ that no young children would fall into it. (ensure)
  • The bank manager and his assistant are the only two people who have a key for the _____. (vault)
  • A huge _____ unit on the roof helps keep the shopping mall cool during the warm-weather months. (refrigeration)

    Read the News

    Click for a printable version of this weeks news story Underground Vault Protects Worlds Seeds.

    You might use a variety of approaches to reading the news:

    Read aloud the news story to students as they follow along.

    Students might first read the news story to themselves; then you might call on individual students to read sections of the news aloud for the class.

    Photocopy the news story onto a transparency and project it onto a screen. (Or use your classroom computer's projector to project the story.) Read the story aloud as a class, or ask students to take turns reading it.

    Arrange students into small groups. Each student in the group will read a paragraph of the story. As that student reads, others might underline important information or write notes in the margin of the story. After each student finishes reading, others in the group might say something -- a comment, a question, a clarification -- about the text.

    Comprehension Check

    Think About the News. After reading this weeks news story, talk again about the reasons people want to keep things such as food, money, photographs safe from harm. Then, discuss the Think About the News question at the bottom of the students printable news page. (Why, do you think, scientists want to keep seeds safe from harm?) Students will share many reasons. According to scientists, the seed vault is the world's ace in the hole." It is designed to protect the worlds crop diversity from extinction by a variety of possible causes, including

  • global warming (and the accompanying rise in sea levels caused by the loss of the world's ice sheets);
  • earthquakes or other natural disasters;
  • war;
  • nuclear strikes;
  • lack of funding; or
  • poor agricultural management.
    The vault serves as a seed bank of last resort. If crops of a region are permanently destroyed, the seed vault would provide farmers with a way to restore those crops. Experts note that the most likely of those causes to occur are the last two.

    Recalling Detail

  • Where is the new seed vault located? (on an island between Norway and the North Pole)
  • Why did Norway build the new vault? (to protect and preserve samples of the worlds seeds in case anything happened to destroy crops)
  • How many seeds will the vault hold? (more than 2 billion seeds of 4.5 million different varieties)
  • What kinds of seeds are being held there now? (accept any responses, including maize/corn, rice, wheat, eggplant, lettuce, barley, and potato)
  • At what temperature will the seeds be kept? (The refrigeration unit will keep seeds at about 0 degrees Fahrenheit.)
  • How much did it cost Norway to build the vault? ($9.4 million)

    More Facts to Share

    You might show on a world map the location of the seed vault [see map]. It is located in a remote part of the Arctic Ocean between Norway and the North Pole. It is located on the island of Spitsbergen, one of a group of islands known as Svalbard (pronounced svall-bar). The islands, part of Norway, are about 650 miles from the North Pole. In the Norwegian language, the word svalbard means cold edge."

    You might share these additional facts with students after they have read this weeks news story:

  • The island of Spitsbergen is considered an ideal location for the seed vault because there is a limited amount of tectonic (volcanic or earthquake) activity there. The island has its own source of coal for powering the refrigeration units that will cool the seeds. Even if the equipment fails, the islands permafrost conditions will keep the seeds safe for weeks.
  • Dubbed by some as the Doomsday Vault," the seed bank is considered the ultimate safety net or insurance policy" for the world's seed collections. It will help prevent the possible extinction of foods from around the world.
  • The vault, called the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, is constructed deep inside an Arctic sandstone mountain. A tunnel more than 400 feet long leads to three 32-by-88-foot air-locked chambers, each designed to hold 1.5 packages of seeds packaged in special four-ply packets that are heat sealed to prevent moisture from harming them. The sealed packages are placed inside sealed boxes. Giant air-conditioning units chill the vault to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. See an artists rendering of the vault design or visit" the vault via this video.
  • Once stored in the temperature-controlled vault, different seeds will last for different periods of time. For example, seeds of some peas might survive for 20-30 years only, but other crops, such as sunflowers and some of the grains may survive for many decades or even hundreds of years or more. Eventually, all seeds lose the ability to germinate, so seeds samples in the vault will be replaced from time to time.
  • On opening day of the vault (February 26, 2008), 268,000 different seed packets, each containing at least 100 seeds from a different farm or field around the world, were stored away. The seeds -- about 100 million in all -- filled 676 boxes and weighed 10 tons. Eventually, the vault will hold as many as 4.5 million distinct samples of seeds.
  • Many different groups around the world will deposit seeds in the vault. Those depositors will retain all rights to the seeds. No one else will be given access to seeds without consent from the depositors.
  • The Norwegian government says it paid almost $10 million to build the vault. According to Wikipedia, the Global Crop Diversity Trust will provide most of the annual operating costs for the facility. The Norwegian government will finance upkeep of the structure itself. The Gates Foundation has provided approximately $750,000 to assist developing countries and international agricultural research centers to package and ship seeds to the vault.
  • The vault is similar to an existing seed bank in Sussex, England. The Millennium Seed Bank is part of a scientific project that works to preserve the worlds wild plants, as opposed to the seeds of crops. There are many other seed vaults around the world, but many of those are located in countries that are politically unstable or environmentally threatened. No vault has ever been built on this scale. When in full use, the Svalbard vault will hold the worlds largest collection of seeds.

    Follow-Up Activities

    Language arts -- dictionary skills (young students). Present students with a random list of crops to alphabetize. You might select crops from this list: alfalfa, apricot, banana, beet, broccoli, carrot, celery, corn, cucumber, eggplant, fig, ginger, grapefruit, lentil, lettuce, maize, mango, melon, mushroom.

    Language arts -- dictionary skills (grades 4-up). Write this list of crops on a board or chart paper: oats, radish, pecan, pea, macadamia, lentil, plum, millet, nectarine, persimmon, mango, rhubarb, potato, okra, onion, pumpkin, safflower, lettuce, peanut, nutmeg, lime, sesame, papaya, mushrooms. Ask students to identify which crops on the list would appear in an encyclopedia volume (or a page in a Dictionary of Foods Around the World) that included topics from Maize Peach? The correct answers are in bold type.

    Math -- measurement. To help students visualize some of the numbers in the article, you might take them outside to measure an area 425 feet long. (This is the length of the tunnel that leads to the seed vault. This is how deep in the mountain the vault is buried.) While you are outside, measure an area that is 32 feet wide by 88 feet long. This is the size of each of the vaults inside the mountain.

    Math -- large numbers. Often, it is difficult for students to visualize large numbers such as 4.5 million different types of seeds and a vault built to store 2.25 billion seeds. You might share with students the MegaPenny Project, which will visually illustrate how a million or a billion pennies would look. Another resource, What Is a Billion?, puts into words what the word billion means. And What Is a Billion Dollars? provides another powerful visual image of that large amount of cash.

    Science -- plants. Extends students knowledge with some of the activities from Education World found in the article Plant Seeds of Learning: Classroom Lessons Bring Plants to Life. For another fun way to introduce the concept of seeds to students, use Vicki Cobbs Showbiz Science lesson, Out! Out! Damp Sprout!


    Use the Comprehension Check (above) as an assessment. Or have students work on their own (in their journals) or in their small groups to respond to the Think About the News questions on the news story page or in the Comprehension Check section.

    Lesson Plan Source

    Education World

    National Standards

    LANGUAGE ARTS: English
    GRADES K - 12
    NL-ENG.K-12.1 Reading for Perspective
    NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
    NL-ENG.K-12.6 Applying Knowledge
    NL-ENG.K-12.7 Evaluating Data
    NL-ENG.K-12.8 Developing Research Skills
    NL-ENG.K-12.9 Multicultural Understanding
    NL-ENG.K-12.11 Participating in Society
    NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

    MATHEMATICS: Number and Operations
    GRADES Pre-K - 2
    NM-NUM.PK-2.1 Understand Numbers, Ways of Representing Numbers, Relationships Among Numbers, and Number Systems
    GRADES 3 - 5
    NM-NUM.3-5.1 Understand Numbers, Ways of Representing Numbers, Relationships Among Numbers, and Number Systems
    GRADES 6 - 8
    NM-NUM.6-8.1 Understand Numbers, Ways of Representing Numbers, Relationships Among Numbers, and Number Systems
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NM-NUM.9-12.1 Understand Numbers, Ways of Representing Numbers, Relationships Among Numbers, and Number Systems

    MATHEMATICS: Measurement
    GRADES Pre-K - 2
    NM-MEA.PK-2.2 Apply Appropriate Techniques, Tools, and Formulas to Determine Measurements
    GRADES 3 - 5
    NM-MEA.3-5.2 Apply Appropriate Techniques, Tools, and Formulas to Determine Measurements
    GRADES 6 - 8
    NM-MEA.6-8.2 Apply Appropriate Techniques, Tools, and Formulas to Determine Measurements
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NM-MEA.9-12.2 Apply Appropriate Techniques, Tools, and Formulas to Determine Measurements

    MATHEMATICS: Representation
    GRADES Pre-K - 12
    NM-REP.PK-12.1 Create and Use Representations to Organize, Record, and Communicate Mathematical Ideas

    GRADES K - 4
    NS.K-4.3 Life Science
    GRADES 5 - 8
    NS.5-8.3 Life Science
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NS.9-12.3 Life Science

    SOCIAL SCIENCES: Geography
    GRADES K - 12
    NSS-G.K-12.1 The World in Spatial Terms
    NSS-G.K-12.2 Places and Regions
    NSS-G.K-12.4 Human Systems
    NSS-G.K-12.5 Environment and Society

    GRADES K - 12
    NT.K-12.2 Social, Ethical, and Human Issues

    See recent news stories in Education Worlds News Story of the Week Archive.

    Article by Ellen Delisio and Gary Hopkins
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2008 Education World