Pioneers “Goats in the Classroom” Curriculum
Most children learn about "curds and whey" through a familiar nursery rhyme. But for some Bibb County students, they’re learning first hand about this step in the cheese-making process. But it doesn’t stop with cheese-making.
Shelly Jones, a teacher at Cahawba Christian School, has introduced several agricultural topics to her students like making entrees and goodies from locally-grown products, creating compost piles and building raised-bed gardens. Jones gives much of the credit for her inspiration for including these concepts in her curriculum to programs like Ag in the Classroom.
"Two years ago, I attended the Ag in the Classroom training in Tuscaloosa," Jones said. "It was wonderful! I learned how to integrate the ag knowledge I had into real activities in the classroom."
Ag in the Classroom (AITC) is making it easier for teachers to incorporate agricultural topics into their day-to-day class activities in ways that are not only informative, but also practical and fun. With projects like Pioneer Corn Husk Dolls complete with feathers and beads, or the Dirt Baby with grass seeds that, when watered, produce a head full of lush, green hair, AITC is helping teachers include everyday agriculture products and concepts in all subject areas.
While Jones does utilize many of the AITC projects in her lesson plans, she has found her own way to make the lessons more personal. She and her sons have a herd of goats and recently took them to school to demonstrate topics like breed character, milk production, proper care-giving techniques and other topics that are easier for students to comprehend when they can visualize the animal first-hand. After her presentation and allowing the children to lead the goats, she took the class indoors and conducted a cheese-making demonstration. Jones found a practical and tasty way to put that cheese to use and the project has proven to be one of her favorites.
"Goats in the Classroom has been my favorite project. The goats are so connected to people," she said. "The students loved having them at school. The cheese we made turned out well and the next week, we made homemade pizza with it. There was not a scrap left!"
While Goats in the Classroom has been her favorite topic, Jones certainly hasn’t limited her ag-related topics to goats.
"In August, our class began a raised-bed vegetable garden. The students have really enjoyed watching their mustard greens, beets, carrots and sunflowers grow," she said.
She also noted her students learned important life lessons when caterpillars destroyed their mustard greens and when a rain storm washed away much of their carrot seedlings in just a matter of days.
Jones and her class created a compost pile on the edge of nearby woods and they frequently see local wildlife like whitetail deer ease over to investigate the fertile pile.
Jones enjoys teaching her students to make treats from agricultural products like pear preserves made from pears her administrator brought them and lip balm from beeswax and coconut oil. But another project she conducted allowed the students to put their individual culinary skills to use.
"One of our other projects was an ‘Eat Fresh, Eat Local’ food contest," she said. "Students brought in food items that came from within 50 miles of their home. They were then judged on how much they knew about the product they brought in."
The project produced some delicious dishes like blueberry cobbler, pecan pie, blueberry pancakes, plum preserves, seasoned potatoes, pumpkin muffins and mustard green salad (produced from greens in the class’s garden).
According to Amy Belcher, a coordinator for Alabama AITC, as children are becoming more removed from the family farms of yesteryear, it is becoming increasingly important to teach them about farming and agriculture.
"As each generation has gotten farther and farther removed from the farm, kids have lost their connection to agriculture. Years ago maybe their grandparents had a farm or something, but nowadays that’s not the case. We want students to know where their food and fiber come from. We want them to appreciate the importance of the American farmer. If the American farmer can’t stay in business, then we must rely on other countries to supply our food," she said.
Belcher said AITC coordinators host summer institutes and workshops where teachers are presented agricultural literacy activities which provide course of study content to incorporate into their daily lesson plans. She added that all curriculum activities and teaching materials incorporate skills for all subject areas, the Alabama courses of study and the Stanford 9 Test.
"At the summer institute teachers receive tons of free materials including curriculum, books (typically accelerated reader books), DVDs, samples of raw ag products and so much more," she said. "The summer institute is a professional development institute which includes instruction providing participants with innovative research materials and high-yield teaching strategies that increase student knowledge of the nutritional and economic importance of the food and fiber systems in their daily lives."
Belcher added that since Alabama AITC was established over 700 teachers have been trained in their workshops, and, this past summer, 84 teachers attended the three-day summer Institute, giving countless Alabama students the same up-close and personal learning experiences as Jones’ students.
"The students are very engaged in the hands-on activities we have done," she said. "The teachable moments are endless when you can have your students up out of their desks experiencing learning in a very real way."
For more information on Ag in the Classroom, visit www.agclassroom.org.
Grace Smith is an associate editor for AFC Cooperative Farming News.