Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Teachers learn how to add agriculture to classrooms

Not long after schools were dismissed for the summer in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, over a dozen teachers went right back to class.

As part of the Agriculture in the Classroom workshop, teachers had some classroom instruction, but also visited muskoxen, reindeer, goats, sheep, chicken and cattle, and learned about qiviut, pasture grazing techniques, community and school gardens and practical classroom experiments like making butter.
A teacher is delighted at the feel of qiviut during an Agriculture in the Classroom session.

Taught by Melissa Sikes of the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District and Marilyn Krause, a Ryan Middle School teacher, the workshop was held June 3-6. It emphasized not only educating the teachers about agriculture in Alaska but gave them ways to incorporate their new knowledge into classrooms.

“It’s really important for kids to know agriculture is a big part of their lives; it’s where food comes from,” Sikes said. “There are a lot of misconceptions about Alaska.”

She hopes the project ultimately leads to more children raising animals and even considering the possibilities of becoming farmers. “We want to inspire kids to see farming as a career,” Sikes aid.
As for the teachers, Sikes envisions them taking traditional lessons they would teach anyway and adding an agricultural angle to it, be it math, science or art. “The possibilities are endless,” she said. On the final day of lessons, Sikes said even though she was tired from all the activities, “it was worth it to see the teachers so excited,” she said.

Mari LaBrosse, a teacher at Ryan Middle School and Hunter Elementary School, will now incorporate planting and fibers into her classrooms. “I want to teach healthy eating with from a garden,” she said. She was inspired to teach nutrition and encourage students to do science fair projects on growing plants.

“This is important because kids may not have access. Kids love anything to do with food.”
Some of the demonstrations were as simple as putting a farm fresh egg in a glass of water and an egg from the supermarket in another glass. The teachers had to decide which one would float. Surprisingly, it was the fresher egg that plummeted to the bottom of the water while the older egg floated. Sikes explained the science behind the concept and gave the teachers sample lesson plans based on the parts of an egg.

Finally, she told the teachers to let the children try a taste test. Sometimes when she visits classrooms, she concludes the lesson by making scrambled eggs. “I love taste testing with the kids,” Sikes said.
Passing around sheep fiber, Krause said, “The kids like to see and feel the different textures.” In her classrooms, students get to dye, spin and felt wool. “A lot of kids have never seen sheep hair, especially city kids,” she said. “They learn how long it takes to make a sweater.”

“Teachers are continual learners,” substitute teacher Jenny Tse said. “I’m excited to share my passion with the kids.” She enjoyed the Ag in the Classroom seminar so much she wants to take it again next year.

She pointed out that she learned about the peony industry and how to grow this new crop for Alaska, and she learned to card wool.

“You can integrate agriculture into every subject,” Tse said.

Tanana Middle School science teacher Emily Metzgar said what she learned will help her give students a better understanding of how science has real life applications. “I’ll be able to share what people are doing in Fairbanks agriculturally,” she said. She also got ideas on what subjects she wants to explore on her own and ideas for research projects she intends to pursue.

“It’s good for kids to get better connected to the local area. This involves chemistry, geology, water and soil. It’s going to make it more interesting for kids.”
Bob VanVeldhuizen teaches teachers about soil during an Agriculture in the Classroom session at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

The workshop was sponsored by FSWCD, Alaska Farm Bureau and Natural Resources Conservation Service. It was hosted by the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Several UAF professors and staff members from the School of Natural Resources and Extension gave lectures, presentations and demonstrations.

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