Farm Talk

October 29, 2013

Bringing ag to the classroom

Danielle Beard

Parsons, Kansas — For decades, agriculture and education have been closely linked. However, as the farm population began to shrink, and families became a couple of generations separated from farming, the emphasis on agriculture in textbooks also declined.

In 1981, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) joined agricultural groups and educators to discuss agriculture literacy. This task force formed Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC), and determined USDA would be the national coordinator of the program, but each state would address their agriculture education as they saw fit.

Since AITC’s beginning, the program has grown from farmer related coloring books and fact sheets, to projects that provide quality classroom resources that tie into daily curriculum. Today’s AITC focuses on ‘knowing the farmer,’ promoting healthy eating and a better understanding of environmental stewardship and global sustainability.

According to the national agriculture in the classroom Website, “The strength of Agriculture in the Classroom comes from its grassroots organization and the fact that educators are very much a part of the movement.”

Two of these educators include, first grade teacher at Ray E. Heller Elementary School in Neodesha, Kansas, Tiffany Piatt and Commerce, Oklahoma, K-5  special education teacher, Pamela Catt.

Piatt said while ag in the classroom applies to a variety of first grade curriculum, she integrates it into teaching science and social studies.

One project Piatt credits as her personal favorite is Flat Aggie. Much like Flat Stanley, the idea for the project was introduced to her by a mother of one of her students.

Flat Aggie travels to farms all over the U.S. and sends reports back of what she learned during her visit.

“Flat Aggie worked well in the classroom because it touched on a lot of the standards we have for science and social studies and helped the kids get a real world connection to see how things worked,” she said.

Piatt explained projects like Flat Aggie allow kids to develop important life skills such as critical thinking.

“They were in love with the drip irrigation system from the chicken farm Aggie visited, they had learned about it, but seeing it they were able to connect how it all worked.”

“To the social studies aspect, they get to see the geography of the United States and connect, “Oh wow, the U.S. is a big place. I’ve never been to California before, where is that at?” Which then leads to us talking about mileage and how we would get there. They feed off of everything she does which leads broadening what they’re learning,” she added.

Teaching in a rural district, many of Piatt’s students come from farming families. Even though her students are not separated from agriculture like many other teachers who use ag in the classroom curriculum, she says they still benefit from the program.

“Of course it broadens their knowledge on agriculture, but also I think it gives them a talking point with their parents. If it’s a little piece of information that sparks their interest like, “Mom do we have a drip irrigation system for our chickens?” Which leads into a conversation with mom and dad that the parents will be interested in as well,” Piatt explained.

Teaching ag in the classroom is important to Piatt on a personal level.

“I am from a farm family. I like continuing to learn about agriculture and it is kind of a tribute to where I’m from and what I’m about.

Much like Piatt, Catt also draws her love for ag in the classroom curriculum from her roots.

“All my family are farmers or ranchers, so I wanted to give back,” she said.

However, unlike Piatt, Catt focuses her ag in the classroom curriculum on Oklahoma agriculture instead of national.

“During an ag in the classroom tour for teachers, the leaders explained how many kids didn’t understand the importance of agriculture or even Oklahoma’s role in agriculture” she said. “There were so many Oklahoma ag in the classroom activities to do with the kids and it just went from there.”

She explained in Oklahoma, 32 million acres are used for agriculture.

“32 million is a big number for a little kid, it spikes their interest,” Catt said.

Commerce, Okla., where Catt teaches does not have FFA, so incorporating ag into the curriculum is especially important to Catt.

“Commerce is not a rural school, so it’s important to teach the kids as much as possible the importance of farming,” she added.

Working with special education, Catt explains the hands-on aspect of ag in the classroom is what makes her kids enjoy it so much.

“All kids learn differently, whether it be auditorially or visually, working with ag in the classroom incorporates so many of the different senses, I think they retain more of the information because of the way the program is set up,” she added.

According to Catt, the more senses children can use to learn something, the more they are to put it in practical use.

“I do a lot of cooking in my classroom which works well for the type of children I work with as well as incorporates different aspects of ag in the classroom. That’s what is so great about the program, it teaches life skills,” Catt explained.

What Catt loves about ag in the classroom is that it applies to every child as is.

“That’s the beauty of ag in the classroom. Regular classroom curriculum has to be modified for special needs children. Activities for ag in the classroom any child can do with a little assistance,” she said.

“It is pretty amazing what farmers accomplish. That’s why I think it’s crucial to teach others the importance of agriculture,” she concluded. £