NAITC Convention focuses on Ag literacy, honors Nebraska teachers | TheFencePost.com

NAITC Convention focuses on Ag literacy, honors Nebraska teachers

Story & Photos by Robyn Scherer, M.AgR.

Teaching students about agriculture takes dedication, passion and a desire to continue to learn. Hundreds of educators recently gathered in Loveland, Colo., from across the country June 19-22 to learn about issues in agriculture, connect with other educators, and visit area farms to continue their knowledge of agriculture. 

The first day of the convention, attendees attended pre-conference tours and networked with other attendees. The second day the opening session was held, and Don Shawcroft, Colorado Farm Bureau president, talked to the attendees about the importance of teaching young people. 

“The desire for knowledge is something we need to instill in our students. Less than 2 percent of people in the U.S. are engaged in production agriculture. This is the conference to improve student attention to agriculture, to how food is produced, and to how family farms, incorporated or not, produce the majority of our food,” he said. 

Cat Urbigkit, author, photographer and rancher from Wyoming was the keynote speaker for the opening session. She talked with the attendees about her story, and why education is important.

“If we don’t tell our stories, who will?” she said. “You need to tell your students your story.”

After the opening session, the attendees broke into the morning session workshops. They included harvest of the month, American history with Ag in the Classroom, From Farm To Plate: A Look at Modern Livestock Farming, The Literacy Cafe The Ag Way, Bringing Web 2.0 Tools Out of The Cloud and Down To Earth, The Gifted Garden: The Gift That Keeps Us Living, Some More Scrambled States, Invasive Species In Your Classroom: A New Twist On The Old Standards, and Being A Friendly Farmer. 

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After the first set of sessions, attendees could pick between a set of mini-workshops. The sessions included animal care awareness, what’s going down on the farm, conservation classroom, utilization of agriculture in the classroom for a school-wide focus, a cornucopia of activities from corn to caterpillars, these healthy farms, soil to spoon, barnyard banter and agriculture in the west.

The session of utilization of agriculture in the classroom for a school wide focus was a workshop on different ways to bring agriculture into schools without agricultural programs. 

“Most of our children will not grow up to be farmers, but they may grow up to be community leaders or influential citizens who can make a difference to farmers,” said Jan Hill, a school teacher from Alabama who taught the workshop.

The National Teacher Awards Luncheon was then held, and Beth Marlatt of Hulett, Wyo., received an award for being one of five 2012 National Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture winners.

Marlatt holds a Master’s of Science in curriculum, with an emphasis in gifted education and technology from Black Hills State University. She is a mentor teacher and an Instructional Facilitator for Hulett Elementary School.

She has spent her entire career in Cook County, Wyo., where she has taught kindergarten through eighth grade throughout her career. She has integrated agriculture and natural resources into the class since she started.

She has brought agriculture into other classrooms through grant projects such as Journey Thru Wyoming, student-made movies, field trips, classroom collaborations, online games, WEN presentations and finally a series of books that celebrate Wyoming’s natural resources and agriculture. This year’s hardcover book is called “Rough and Tough: An Alphabet Book of Wyoming Cowboys and the Ranch Cattle Industry.” Other books in the series are titled “Bison on the Horizon” and “America’s First,” according to the Wyoming Ag in the Classroom organization.

Marlatt likes to use her creativity to meet the Wyoming State Standards through integrated projects. The projects are usually long term, and are intriguing to the students. “The projects are created with the help, input and guidance from the community members. The final projects are then shared and they celebrate with everyone in a big way, often there is a red carpet involved. Beth wants to weave all the skills together in practical way that stretches the students’ knowledge and application to their challenge their creative limits,” according to the Wyoming AITC.

In the afternoon, participants decided between an additional nine mini-sessions, and then nine workshops. One of the afternoon sessions, titled Agvocacy and Agricultural Literacy: Tools You Can Use, focused on different ways to teach students about agriculture, such as using online learning games, such as My American Farm.

That evening, the Welcome to the West dinner was held. The dinner featured a country western band, Native American dancers, line dancing and a live auction.

The third day of the conference attendees attended Workshops-on-Wheels, which visited a wide variety of agricultural operations from horticulture to horses, and hens to dairy cattle. 

The final day of the conference, a water festival, which featured a variety of water related workshops, was held. This workshops covered rainwater, composting, riparian areas, water movement and seed starting. 

While at the convention, teachers from each state were also honored as the State Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award winners. The winners from Nebraska were Greg Tebo from Maxey Elementary in Lincoln, and Carma Weisbrook from Mary Lynch Elementary in Kimball.

Tebo has had the opportunity to be part of a project funded by the Nebraska Soybean Association and the U.S. Soybean Association. The project, Summer Soybean Science Institute, involves teaching teachers how to use the soybean as a model to enhance existing curriculum, build lessons based on district and state standards, and enhance student learning by enabling students to use an inquiry approach to their learning.

“The purpose of the project is to develop a better understanding of the connection between the food supply and demand and its effect on the economics of the world,” Tebo said.

A pilot program was implemented in summer 2010 and funding was approved for summer 2011 for students in kindergarten, first grade and fourth grade to participate in the program.

Teachers invested approximately 90 hours from June to August. They

 developed a better understanding of the soybean plant system and found ways to incorporate that information into their existing science curriculum;

 learned how to formulate real scientific experiments that would further develop students’ understanding of how a scientific hypothesis is developed;

 worked on soybean research under the supervision and guidance of scientists;

 learned that scientific investigation is not just following a step-by-step method of investigating, but that science is “messy” and the process is not always straight-forward, clear and concise.

Kindergarten students planted soybeans, learned about the parts of a soybean, wrote facts about soybeans, sang songs about soybeans and participated in a soybean contest. First grade students used soil samples to plant soybeans and used graphs and charts to show the varieties and time allotted for growth.

Fourth grade students learned about six commodities and the role farmers have in the world’s economy. They created posters with facts and photos about their commodity in their computer class. They used these posters and food samples to show their expertise at a fourth grade Ag Fair Day where parents and friends were invited to learn about agriculture in Nebraska.

Weisbrook believes that agriculture is the heartbeat of Nebraska. Every year at Mary Lynch Elementary School, her class celebrates Agriculture Week with three phases: preplanning, celebrating agriculture week and wrap-up.

During phase one, posters are hung in the hallway to pique the students’ curiosity. Weisbrook contacts agriculture organizations for free materials to distribute. The FFA advisor and Weisbrook meet to organize presentations for Agriculture Week.

Phase two is the celebration of Agriculture Week. Each day of the week highlights a top five agriculture product in the state of Nebraska. These include beef/dairy, corn, soybeans, pork and wheat. Weisbrook reads books to her class that she purchased through the AITC Teacher Mini-Grant Program. FFA students visit the class to share their knowledge of agriculture with the students. They also teach the students about off-the-farm agriculture-related jobs. The FFA students also prepare an activity for the class to participate in, such as planting corn seeds and racing wheat to the “bins” on the playground.

The third phase is time for the students to reflect on what they have learned about Nebraska agriculture. The students write thank you letters to those who provided materials to use throughout the week. They also write thank you letters to the FFA students who presented information to the class.

“Agriculture is the heartbeat of Nebraska. As a Nebraska fifth grade teacher, it is important to present vital information to the students so that they can be informed citizens about agriculture,” Weisbrook said.