Thursday, August 3, 2017

High school teachers study natural resources at O'Neill

Nineteen high school teachers from across the U.S. are at UAF this week, attending a training to help them use applied science with an agricultural theme in their classrooms.

Iowa teachers Susan Krummen and Alan Spencer
 examine soil to determine its texture in the O'Neill Building lab.
Most are agriculture or natural resources teachers. The School of Natural Resources and Extension provided lab and classroom space in the O'Neill Building for the CASE institute, which focuses on hands-on activities.

The Alaska FFA Association and the Alaska Association of Agriculture and Natural Resource Educators hosted the training, which runs from July 24-Aug. 3 and provides certification from CASE, which stands for the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education. CASE is sponsored by the National Association of Agricultural Educators.

The focus for this training is natural resources and ecology. The idea is to show and provide teachers a year's worth of curriculum and activities that they can use when they go home.

Dan Jansen, the national project director for CASE and its founder, was in Fairbanks for the first few days of the workshop.

“If you’re a new teacher, this gives you labs to take back to your classroom,” he said.

Jansen is a former Oregon high school agriculture teacher who also trained agriculture teachers at Oregon State University. He said the approach for the CASE institutes came out of his experience teaching. He saw how kids responded to learning practical applications of science that involve critical thinking.

Agriculture classes and FFA activities also serve as a natural pipeline to natural resources and agriculture university programs, such as SNRE, he said.

This is the first CASE institute offered in Fairbanks, but State FFA Advisor Kevin Fochs and Sue McCullough of the Alaska Association of Agriculture and Natural Resource Educators would like there to be more.

McCullough, who serves as a FFA advisor at Effie Kokrine Charter School, said only one Alaska teacher, in Palmer, is currently certified to teach agriculture and teaches the subject full-time.

“He’s the only one,” she said.

Iowa teacher Eddie Wadsworth helps measure
the slope of the ground.
Fochs said one of their goals is to increase the number of teachers who teach agriculture in Alaska high schools. The Alaska Department of Education recently added agriculture as a certification for teaching.

Although they reserved space for Alaska teachers in the training, only one signed up, from Fairbanks. The other teachers are from Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Washington State and New York. All are staying in Wickersham Hall at UAF.

Alan Spencer, an agriculture teacher from Red Oak, Iowa is attending his sixth CASE institute. The subjects he teaches in high school are all based on CASE institute curriculum, including basic agriculture, plant science, natural resources, animal science, food science and ag power technology.

There are definite connections between natural resources and agriculture, he said. “Part of agriculture is taking care of the land.”

Spencer grew up on a farm that raised cattle, hogs, corn and soybeans, and his father also taught agriculture at the high school level. He has been teaching agriculture for 20 years, and said he wished he had the curriculum as a beginning teacher.

He noted that the additional expenses needed to stage the labs often have been covered by grants he has applied for and other sources of funding he has pursued, but he considers the effort worthwhile.

The sees the value of the curriculum as opposed to lectures and students’ standard note taking. “They actually get to do these things that they are learning about,” he said.

Cheryl Sanders, who teaches earth science and natural resources at Hutchinson High School, is the only Alaska teacher attending the institute. She is taking the institute to develop a natural resources class that emphasizes physical science in addition to her class with a life science focus. The agricultural examples would fit in well with that curriculum, she said.

Sanders, who is the FFA advisor at Hutchison, said students there developed a raised-bed garden this past year and are already interested in agriculture.

She notes that natural resources education is particularly important in Alaska, which depends on natural resources such as timber, fisheries, mining, oil and coal.  At the same time, natural resources are interconnected with soils and agriculture.

“In order to have sustainable agriculture, you have to take into account natural resources.”

During their time in Fairbanks, the teachers have studied soils, water, air quality and agriculture. They toured operations at Chena Hot Springs one day and enjoyed a swim. Two teachers who are former participants in the institutes, lead the training.

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