Once students like Christen Foster and Haley Nelson obtain their teaching licenses and have a classroom of their own, they’ll be well-equipped to incorporate agriculture into their curriculum. That’s because they — and many aspiring teachers in the state — have taken notes from the Iowa Ag Literacy Foundation (IALF).
Cindy Hall, education program manager for IALF, says reaching future teachers before they step foot into their own classrooms is ideal. So in the four years that IALF has been established, the organization has made it a goal to reach those students.
“We’re trying to reach as many teachers as we can before they get into their own classrooms and have to play catch-up,” Hall said.
She’s been traveling around the state to several colleges and universities hat offer teaching degrees. At Luther College recently, Foster and Nelson were a few of her students.
There, Hall showed students how they could incorporate agriculture in science and social studies classes and beyond. A relay event made students think about where their clothing, products and food comes from. Does it come from the farm? The grocery store? The manufacturer?
Nelson thought she could simplify the activity and incorporate it into her early elementary classroom someday.
“It’s something you could use with younger students to teach them where food actually comes from,” Nelson said.
Hall introduced resources like IALF’s website, a free resource for teachers that includes lessons that are standards-aligned and grade-level appropriate for teachers to use as pieces to meet the standards.
Hall recommended various books, like “My Family’s Beef Farm,” which IALF worked with author Katie Olthoff to produce, and students worked to create a lesson that could be shared in their classrooms. They looked at old farm tools, like a corn dryer and a corn sheller, and determined how they could make that into a social studies lesson into their classrooms. They worked with Plaster of Paris and soybean seeds to show how they could teach a science lesson with soybeans instead of the traditional lima bean. It makes perfect sense, Hall said.
“Students (in Iowa) may pass soybean fields on the way to school, so it’s something they can connect with,” she said.
Another group created seed germination necklaces to compare the germination process between corn and soybeans.
The class was a great learning experience for Foster, who said she’d like to teach middle school science someday.
“I liked that it was not only hands-on, but also very informative. While we worked, we were learning not only the curriculum, but also how we might implement this in the classroom,” she said.
It’s the perfect time to bring agriculture into schools, Hall says. IALF has been involved in education workgroups to encourage teachers to use agriculture to teach social studies and science.
Iowa adopted new science standards about three years ago. So IALF has focused heavily in developing ag-based lesson plans for teachers that meet those state standards.
The state adopted new social studies standards in May 2017. Schools in the state have until 2020 to incorporate the standards into their classrooms, but many are well under way, Hall said.
The language in the social studies standards is exciting, Hall said, because agriculture is a part of it twice, in both the first grade and fourth grade standards. First graders will learn about the diverse cultural makeup of Iowa’s past and present, including indigenous and agricultural communities. In the fourth grade standards, students learn how Iowa’s agriculture has changed over time.
“This means that it’s a requirement for all fourth graders in the state to know that and to learn that, which is very exciting,” Hall said. “It’s the first time agriculture has been in the standards.”
Hall is encouraged by the inclusion of agriculture in the standards, but says agriculture is a natural fit in any grade and nearly every lesson, despite what the standards say.
“We’re in Iowa, so it’s all around us,” Hall said. “It’s important for the kids growing up in our state to understand the value that agriculture brings to our state. But more than that, it’s a topic that we believe all kids can connect with.”