Putting agriculture back in the classroom

Alberta teachers get first hand experience through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership’s Agriculture Literacy Program

Increasing awareness and understanding of agriculture and the food production system starts in the classroom, and what better way to do that than providing first hand experiences to teachers.

Inside Education is a not-for-profit education organization supporting perspective environmental and natural resources educational programs in Alberta.

A group of Alberta teachers were lucky enough to participate in an agricultural innovations tour across Central Alberta before the threat of COVID-19 changed the world. The tour included stops at a feedlot, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry’s Crop Diversification Centre North and Olds College.

“At Inside Education our mandate is supporting teachers and inspiring students,” said agricultural educator Julie Fisher. “By organizing these types of programs, we create the chance to support teachers in their own learning. By giving them hands on experience, they have better tools to take these topics back to the classrooms and bring these ideas to life.”

Fisher added that teachers also met industry professionals and gained access to experts to secure as much knowledge on these topics regarding agriculture and natural resources as possible.

“We then try to help them develop an activity or learning that they can implement in the classroom via a classroom workshop, which is more focused on the actual teaching side of things.”

Matt Chomistek, a teacher from Cochrane who was on the tour, said that he comes from a farming background, but the tour really opened his eyes.

“My dad and grandma had a dairy farm, and we calved out around 100 beef cows. I also worked on a feedlot and the farms that provided the feed for the animals. I thought I knew what agriculture in Alberta was like – was I ever mistaken. The Inside Education Professional Development (PD) Day gave me the chance to see the incredible scope of practices and production there is in Alberta agriculture. It was truly incredible to see innovations in traditional agri-businesses and brand new food production techniques.”

This type of educational tour gives education professionals from all backgrounds the chance to learn about agricultural initiatives in Alberta and in turn, develop course work and content that will educate their students about agriculture in Alberta.

While on the tour, teachers asked questions about how to convert the practices of these agricultural businesses into projects for the classrooms and incorporate the learnings into educational material.

Teachers from across the province were excited by what Inside Education’s programs could do for their classrooms.

Morinville Community High School teacher Neil Korotash said that he could see how this type of professional development changing his school.

“We visited a mushroom farm in Nisku, and they offer a discounted rate to schools on their used production equipment and some of the ingredients needed to start your own farm,” says Korotash, excited by the prospect of something new to grow in their school garden. “The fact that the manufacturers can make things available to schools at a discounted rate is incredible. These are very easy projects and we can have the students learning about how the family farm we visited works.”

Korotash also learned about apiculture while on the tour.

He said that it represented another simple project that students can engage in at almost all schools, teaching students about bees and the life cycle of honey producers.

“These types of tours and professional development opportunities should be important to all educators. It’s about making people comfortable about agriculture – teachers being more comfortable teaching topics relating to agriculture and students being more comfortable learning about it,” said Korotash. “Opportunities like this from Inside Education do exactly that. It gets people thinking about ways to address agriculture in the classroom.”

Inside Education received funding for the tour through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership’s Agriculture Literacy program.

This funding allowed the Inside Education program to cover all costs from the tour and even a supply teacher subsidy, which allots a portion of finances to offset the cost of having a substitute or supply teacher cover their classrooms. This grant program supports initiatives that build industry communication capacity to increase public and consumers’ awareness and understanding of agriculture and the food production system.

The tour was well attended which speaks to the interest and need for increased learning and understanding of agriculture and the need to bring it to the classroom.

All 27 in attendance chose to be there and further their education to pass on to their students, which is important for the future of agriculture in Alberta.

– Alberta Agri-news

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