Back to School – Ag Ed Style

1st day of class.jpgWhoa – where did the summer go?  Oh yeah – summer SAE, county fair, and State FFA Convention.  Yikes! Now it’s time to prepare for heading back to the classroom.

If you teach advanced Ag Ed classes, chances are you have returning students who already know the flow of your classroom and what to expect from your teaching style.  They took an Ag Ed class because they WANT to be there and they LOVE it.

But what about the kids who DIDN’T WANT to take an Ag Ed class?  Do you teach an exploratory class that is part of a required rotation, or an Intro to Ag course that is part of their science requirement?  Sometimes these classes can be tough to teach because you have a tough audience, and it takes some real convincing and selling them on Agriculture’s effect on their life.

Why not get your students on-board on the very first day (or week) of school?  Help students see their connection to agriculture right off-the-bat.  Eliminate hearing “why am I in this class,” or “I don’t have any connection to Ag because I’m not a farm kid,” or “my counselor made me take this class.”  (cringe, cringe, cringe)

The “My Link to Agriculture” activity makes for a great bellwork or beginning activity on the first day or some time the first week of class.  Not only does it get students thinking about how they are connected or “linked” to Agriculture (other than the obvious, “well, I eat food, so I’m connected to Agriculture” response) BUT it also gives you some pretty sweet and instant classroom decor that you can reference throughout the year as your students study different agricultural commodities.

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Check it out at my TpT store!

 

Best Wishes, and Have a Great School Year!

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5 Tips for Beginning Ag Teachers

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Congratulations! You have aced every test, diligently completed every homework assignment, and have spent hours observing and student teaching in classrooms.  You’ve conquered the interview, completed the employment paperwork, and now you’re setting up your very own classroom to share with  your very own students.  If you’re like most ag teachers, you’re probably already hosting students in your room – whether for Summer SAE or they’re just stopping by (Do they EVER go home??? – You’ll be wondering this soon enough, which is one of the wonderful things about being an Ag teacher!).

It is hard to believe it has already been five years ago that I was living this scenario.  Being a brand-new teacher is challenging, but being a brand-new AG teacher is just plain overwhelming.  I’m not going to sugar-coat it.  You have so many more responsibilities on your plate than teaching in the classroom.  Although classroom teaching is the most important piece (in my opinion), there are dozens of other responsibilities you must sift through.  Scheduling the mini bus for judging contests, organizing CDE practices, meeting with your advisory committee, working with your FFA officer team to set up your POA for the year, getting the shop set up, managing a greenhouse, taking care of livestock, coordinating projects within your community, connecting with parents, and the list goes on and on.  I hope you have someone to coach you through all of this to make your transition easier.  But if you’re like I was and have to figure it all out on your own, don’t despair – you will survive! It only gets easier!

Some tips I would like to share that helped me survive as a beginning teacher of Agriculture Education:

  1. Get help! – Tap into your resources.  Find out who was on the previous Advisory Board, who the Farm Bureau and FFA Alumni leaders are, meet the Extension Agents, and find out which parents are big supporters.  These people will be your life-savers.  Not only do they make for great guest speakers in your classes, but they can also help you with organizing events.  And, if your school allows it, recruit a student helper (or two!).
  2. Put the students to work – Does your chapter have a huge fundraiser they do each year?  What better project for your Ag Business class than to plan, promote, organize, and execute the sale as a part of their Ag Sales unit?  Don’t have an Ag Business class?  What about your Horticulture class – Citrus and apples are horticultural crops.  Have your students research these crops to decide which products will be best for your annual fruit sale.  If your state standards include FFA standards of leadership, teamwork, and preparing for success in careers, I would say organizing a sale and learning to communicate within a group would fall in this category.  Don’t do all the work yourself!
  3. Don’t try to do it all – This one is tough.  You’ve dreamed of this job for so long and you are likely in this job for one of two reasons:  either you had an Ag teacher that you admire that you want to be just like them because they gave you the WORLD, or you had an Ag teacher that didn’t offer many opportunities when you were a student and you want to offer the WORLD to your students.  Don’t burn yourself out.  Don’t try to take it all on at once.  Agriculture Education is a 3-circle model.  You don’t have to be perfect at all 3 circles at once.  My recommendation – build your classroom first – your Agriculture Education instruction builds a solid foundation for your program and impresses your administrators.  Once you have the approval and support of your students, parents, and administrators, branch out to grow your FFA program and SAE program.  Take things one step at a time.
  4. Take care of YOU – We often forget about our own well-being.  We’re so busy trying to take care of our students and our families that we neglect ourselves.  Take time for a walk.  Eat lunch with your fellow teachers.  Take time to laugh with your students.  You’ll be more energized and have a better outlook on teaching….and life!
  5. Get organized! – Being organized is a must for me.  If I am not organized I feel like I cannot control any of the above-mentioned items on this list of tips.  Being organized helps you delegate tasks without having to answer 5,000 questions (and thinking to yourself that it would have been easier and faster to just do the task yourself in the first place), and being organized helps you make the first impression on key people (such as community ag leaders and administrators) that you have it together.  A scatter-brained Ag Teacher has an extremely difficult time making an impression on their community that they have it together.  A disorganized Ag Teacher does not have control over their classroom or program.  Students take comfort in knowing that their Ag Teacher has it all “under control.”  (This may not actually be the case 100%, but at least if they THINK it’s all under control, that what matters!)

If you are looking for some resources to help you with organization, preparation, and easy-to-use resources, here are some that I created myself during my first 5 years of teaching that helped me survive!  By being organized and prepared I am able to focus on other areas of the program, and also take a little bit of time for myself each day (by rewarding myself with a 15 minute walk at the end of the school day before CDE practices – good for the mind, body, and soul!).

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Best of luck to you!  You will be a wonderful Agriculture Education Teacher!  Your students are so lucky to have a dedicated and caring individual such as yourself to help them reach their potential!

When you have a tough day, look at your students.  They are likely the very reason you teach!

3rd Time’s a Charm: Our Journey to a Greenhouse and What I Learned

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When I first began my journey as an Agriculture Education teacher at my school, I set 3 goals for myself and our program to accomplish in the first 5 years.  One of those goals was to build a greenhouse.  (More on the other goals will come in later posts.) I dreamed of the day when I would take my students out to the greenhouse in the middle of winter and hold a class session with plants and soils and warm air swirling around us as we discovered the plant processes of photosynthesis, transpiration, etc.

The main hurdle – funding.

Greenhouses (and the utilities you need to extend for water hook-up and heat) are expensive.  Our Assistant Superintendent knew of my dream and sent me information about the Monsanto Grow Rural Education Grant.  Monsanto awards several grants each year in the amounts of $10,000 and $25,000 to benefit education in the sciences and math.  I immediately began working on the grant application.

The first year of our application we were finalists, but did not receive a grant.  The second year of our application we were finalists, but again, did not receive a grant.  I was beginning to lose hope and then it dawned on me – I need to get my students more involved in this process.  The first two years I was working on the grant at 5 AM each morning because that was when I had time to sit down and work quietly and think.  I needed to change my strategy.

My Horticulture course studies greenhouses and their features.  It finally dawned on me – Why not utilize that existing project to create content to include in our grant application?  I simply tweaked the project I’d been having students do for the past few years to suit the needs of our grant application requirements.

What happened?  Well, several things happened:

  1.  The students gained ownership of the process.  They were SO determined that we were going to get that grant so we could build a greenhouse.  They were so protective of a greenhouse that didn’t even exist yet (which ended up being a fantastic thing later…).
  2. Students got the community involved.  We live in a small community, so when the students started spreading the word about their project, local stakeholders got much more involved than ever before to help us with the process.
  3. Students gained experience with the grant-writing process.  Of course I needed to go back through and piece together the content and revise the mechanics of the writing (and then send it to an English teacher to really revise the writing), but the students were at the heart of the application.  They realized all of the WORK that goes into a grant application and that getting a grant isn’t just someone “giving” you money.  This mindset and skill set is very valuable for when they apply for their own scholarships!
  4. WE GOT THE $25,000 GRANT!  I believe my students’ involvement was the missing ingredient all along.  The joy and elation of my students, their parents, and our community was immeasurable because of their involvement and hard work.
  5. The students were the actual builders of the greenhouse!  We spent time in our Ag Power class getting the frame together in pieces, and then I arranged for a group of 5 kids to be out of class for an entire day for a “field trip” to get structure erected outside.  What an amazing way for students to see their accomplishment!
  6. Reference number 1 – the students are so protective of their greenhouse.  They make sure it is taken care of, maintained, organized, and utilized to it’s fullest potential. I’ve been away on maternity leave for a semester, and while I was out I knew the students would take care of everything, and they did.  If they hadn’t been involved in the process, they wouldn’t have near the level of respect for the structure as they do.  It is amazing seeing the students so proud of their hard work!

So, are you thinking about a greenhouse for your program?  It is an amazing learning tool that brings education “alive” (literally) for  your students!  If you’re interested in the resources we used for our grant application project and grant application, here are the links:

Monsanto Grow Rural Education Grant Application

Greenhouse Design Project

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Happy Grant Writing!

 

Planning Ahead over Summer “Break”

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Let’s face it, as teachers we can’t help but plan ahead.  Even though the school year may have just ended, our brains are automatically set to plan ahead and start getting ready for August.  Getting ready little-by-little over the summer months will help ease the stress of the “week before school starts” frenzy to get ready for students entering our classroom once again! Here are a few tools I like to have ready for the beginning of the year:

Back-to-School Student Survey

Getting to know your new crop of students is a very important first step of the year.  Even if you have mostly the same batch of Ag Ed or Science students from last year, their interests, plans, or employment adventures may have changed since then.  Get the scoop on what they need from you to be successful in your classroom with this handy form.

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Scientific Method Review Lab

Most of the classes I teach are lab-based.  Students need a reminder at the beginning of the year of how the scientific method works and how to measure correctly.  Also, they need a break from the mundane “these are the rules” lecture they will get in every single class period on the first day of school.  Although setting the tone of expectations is extremely important on the first day, so is engaging your students.  This is a great way to get them thinking scientifically the first few days back to class and having FUN!

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So if you get a chance to sit by the pool this summer, do try to take a break and clear your mind from thinking about what you’ll be doing in the classroom in just a couple of months (or weeks….yikes!).  Students deserve a teacher with a fresh outlook at the beginning of the school year, and the only way you’ll feel refreshed is if you take just a little bit of time for YOU!  Ag Teachers, I know this is challenging with all of the summer responsibilities you have in FFA and SAE, but please try to make some YOU time happen!

Happy Summer “Break!”

It’s Soil…not Dirt!

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SOIL supports plant life, DIRT is what you sweep up off the kitchen floor.  My students know that if they want to get me fired up, they’ll use the “D-word.”  It’s actually kind of an inside joke that other teachers in the school raise their eyebrow at when they hear that I would much rather have my students use the “S-word” in class than the “D-word.” My students (and myself, really) find this hilarious!

Soils is one of my favorite topics to teach about.  I think this is mostly because it is one of the most under-appreciated resources we have on Earth.  It doesn’t get any fame or glory, but it is oh so important to our existence!  I just love it when students start out the soils unit thinking, “Oh really, we’re going to learn about (d-word)  ahem…soil…. WHY??” and end up thinking that soil really ROCKS (pun intended) by the end of the unit.

These are some of my favorite activities and labs that I do with my students to help them appreciate the wonderful world of soil.  Check them out and add them to your own curriculum!  (Click on the images below.)

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And don’t forget to remind your students of the difference between SOIL and DIRT! 🙂

 

Summer is Almost Here!

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Summer is almost here, and for many Ag Ed teachers this means gearing up for Summer SAE (Supervised Ag Experience)!  We all know the month of May is crazy with events, wrapping up the school year,  fieldwork, sports, etc., so why spend any more time than you have to trying to prepare Summer SAE materials?

Check out this EDITABLE Summer SAE Workbook.  Simply edit to fit your needs, print, hole punch, place in a binder, and you’ll be ready for the summer ahead!

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Check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store to get your copy!  While you’re there, check out the FREE materials that I offer!

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May is Here!

May is here, and spring has FINALLY arrived!

With the beautiful weather, I have been itching to get out in my garden to get things cleaned up and planted! Why not encourage your own students to get outside and plant their own garden?

Keep students engaged at the end of the school year with this Agriculture Outreach activity.  It is perfect for elementary teachers who want to keep their students’ attention during the last few weeks of school, and also makes an excellent activity for FFA chapters who visit elementary schools in the spring for educational outreach programs.

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This project includes students learning the process of growing a garden while making a book with pockets.  In the back pocket you can include a packet of seeds so that students can take what they’ve learned home and put it into ACTION by starting their own garden!

HURRY!  This product is 40% off for the first 48 hours posted in my Teachers Pay Teachers store!  Get your copy today!

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