By Julia Recko
As a parent I recently stared at a screen with a survey. The survey had two little check box options:
1. Virtual classroom instruction
2. In-person classroom instruction
Whatever I chose was for the entire school year and I was not alone in this tough choice. Across the country, parents and educators are trying to figure out the best path for the coming school year and then how to safely and effectively navigate forward whether the classroom is in-person, virtual, hybrid or at home. The choice is agonizing, very personal and sometimes painful.
I’m not here to advocate for any one model as I believe there is no right or wrong solution to this issue. We all have to make the best choices for our families and communities. I do hope we, at the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, can make parents’ and educators’ lives a bit easier during this time by providing resources to help inspire and excite students about learning, wherever their classroom may be. Ag Foundation resources can be adapted to different learning situations to help spark curiosity in students of all ages about where their food comes from.
In the Classroom
- A classic combination for easy classroom learning is books and accompanying activities. Our favorites include: “Right This Very Minute: A table-to-farm book about food and farming” and “Tales of the Dairy Godmother: Chuck’s Ice Cream Wish.”
- Purple Plow offers free ideas for STEM activities grounded in agriculture for students where their ideas lead to the solutions.
- Our Ag Mags provide easy nonfiction text for grades 3-5, and are perfect for both independent and group work. Check out the latest issues fresh off the press on entomology and forestry.
- Ag in the Classroom offers a ton of free lesson plans and resources on a variety of subjects. For educators looking to meet state-specific standards, check out your state’s Ag in the Classroom page; otherwise look to the matrix which offers a search by National Common Core Standards.
Virtual and Distance Learning
- Feeding Minds Press provides free printable books for grades 3-5. Students can easily read the books online without printing and learn more about the variety of agricultural careers that play key roles in getting food to our tables.
- Journey 2050 is a free agriculture education program that challenges participants to answer the question “How will we sustainably feed 9 billion people by the year 2050?” They offer some tips for using the game during school closures.
- Once again, Ag in the Classroom is a go-to resource for both classroom and at-home learning, and better yet, it’s free! The e-learning site provides educational activity ideas by grade level.
- Earlier this year, the Ag Foundation published ten blog posts specifically focused on virtual learning, each titled “Free At Home Educational Activities.” Weeks 1-10 offer a lot of ideas for virtual learning. You can view all the blogs here.
Sometimes screen time cannot be avoided, especially on hot summer days, so why not make the most of it? We just redesigned My American Farm to be more kid-friendly. Check out the games, videos and activities, all of which are aligned to learning standards and have an agricultural theme. You can even download a free My American Farm Game App – my favorite is “Ag Across America” which features real farmers asking trivia questions about where food grows.
Virtual Farmer Visits
A special note to farmer classroom volunteers: Don’t give up, but look for creative ways to engage this fall. While there is a special kind of magic created when you go into a classroom and meet students who have never thought about where their food comes from, we don’t need to throw away the year if those in-person opportunities are limited or not available. Here are a few ideas to start:
- Call your state Farm Bureau Foundation or Ag in the Classroom coordinator to see if they have any plans, or if they need help with any virtual events.
- Offer to virtually visit a classroom. You can read any Feeding Minds Press books out loud online: We have granted permission for this and provided easy-to-follow instructions. Then do a video chat Q&A with students.
- Help keep the love of learning about agriculture alive, and share these resources and ideas with educators, parents and librarians.
Connecting Beyond the Classroom Walls
And finally, while we are fortunate to be able to offer so many free, accurate and standards-based resources, you still need internet access for most of these. We are looking for ideas on how to reach communities who don’t have ready access to broadband to download resources and connect to educational services. If you have thoughts on how we can better serve these communities, please email Foundation@fb.org.
Together, online or in person, we can help create awareness and understanding of agriculture through education. No matter the classroom setting, Ag Foundation resources are always in season.
Julia Recko is Director, Education Outreach, at the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture.