By Amber Downer
On a mission to help agriculture come alive in the classroom and get the next generation excited about ag-based careers, organizations and federal agencies have created STEM-based curricula to educate students on the important relationship between agriculture and science.
On The Farm STEM, a program of the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, with funding from the Beef Checkoff, aims to “bring STEM learning into real life” through beef-focused lessons for middle- and high-school students and various programs for educators.
Using a series of lesson plans called Storylines, educators let students take the lead in the classroom, combining science, education and agriculture, while implementing a three-dimensional approach that helps build an understanding of science over time. This approach is the foundation of the Next Generation Science Standards.
Middle-school students study ecosystem dynamics and symbiosis, with a focus on the important role cattle play in the survival of prairie chickens. High-school students study genetics and heredity in the context of how cattle can best serve human needs. For most urban and suburban students, these classroom lessons and activities provide the first opportunity for them to experience agriculture and better understand how it relates to their lives and communities.
The On the Farm STEM initiative also offers real-world educational resources for educators such as farm tours, professional development webinars and an All About Beef App. Two exciting programs offered in 2021 are the On the Farm STEM Immersive Experience which will be held in Nashville, Tennessee, and a three-part Professional Development Webinar Series with NexGenScience.
The Foundation and the Beef Checkoff are not alone in their efforts to bring agriculture alive in the classroom. The Food and Drug Administration, in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency and USDA, created the Agricultural Biotechnology Education and Outreach Initiative to “provide education and outreach to the public on agricultural biotechnology and food and animal feed ingredients derived from biotechnology.”
This new initiative spurred the creation of FDA’s Science and Our Food Supply, a STEM-based supplemental curriculum for middle and high school students focusing on food safety, nutrition and biotechnology. This free and award-winning curriculum arms educators with “challenging hands-on, minds-on activities that link food safety, nutrition and biotechnology to students’ everyday lives.”
In February 2021, the FDA released Science and Our Food Supply: Exploring Food Agriculture and Biotechnology, an online supplemental curriculum on genetically engineered plants and the science behind them. The curriculum aims to “help teachers instruct middle and high school students about traditional and modern agricultural methods, with a focus on genetic engineering and genome editing techniques that are used to produce foods commonly called ‘GMOs.’” These innovations have given farmers critical tools to increase efficiency and reduce their environmental impact, and this new program helps students understand how cutting-edge technology is changing modern farming by protecting crops and animals from disease and helping farmers use less water, fertilizer and pesticides.
And because learning never stops, another FDA program, Feed Your Mind, aims to help consumers of all ages better understand GMOs and their impact, both in agriculture and in our daily lives.
As STEM-based education becomes increasingly important to preparing students for the future, partners across the food and agriculture chain are working hard to ensure that students carry with them a deep understanding of how agriculture continues to shape our world. What’s more, these curricula are providing the building blocks to train the next generation of agriculturalists and researchers who will be critical to helping farmers and ranchers meet their sustainability goals while providing the food, fiber and fuel for an ever-growing world.
About the Beef Checkoff
The Beef Checkoff was established as part of the 1985 farm bill. The checkoff assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. States may retain up to 50 cents on the dollar and forward the other 50 cents per head to the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, which administers the national checkoff program, subject to USDA approval.
Amber Downer is a communications assistant at the American Farm Bureau Federation.