Three Ways to Help Students Use Text Features

Issue 6Getting students to read from a wide variety of texts is often a challenge in the classroom. Some of the challenges can be time, resources, and ways to help the students access all the different types of texts. Many teachers are using the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation’s student magazine, Iowa Ag Today to offer rich non-fiction text into their learning.

Rich student discussions can occur about the author’s purpose in the nonfiction text of Ag Today. The most common purposes of this type of text are to explain, inform, to teach how to do something, to express an opinion, or to persuade readers to do or believe something. Knowing the differences between nonfiction and fictional text can truly help students understand the meaning better.

Ag Today is aesthetically pleasing to readers as it offers text features to help them understand the text. These text features include and are not limited to print features such as bold print, symbols and icons; graphic aids like maps, charts and timelines; illustrations including photographs, drawings, or cartoons. It is imperative for teachers to explicitly teach students about using these features to help them with their understanding of the information presented.  Here are three ways to do this:

1.  Model through a think aloud. Talk through how you as a reader would tackle the text and how you would use the text features to help understand the text. Look at each page and ask students how an illustration helps them in their reading, or look at a map and ask why the map was added to the text. Students need to have conversations on the importance of text features in their reading to help them use them to better understand their reading. Teachers can also use this time to have students make predictions about what the text may be about after looking at text features.

2. Create a quick reference for to students to access when using text features. Here is an example list students can insert into their working notebooks or turn into posters for the classroom wall:

  • Maps: Help a reader visualize where places are in the state, nation, or world.
  • Captions: Can help understand a picture or photograph.
  • Illustrations or photographs: Help to visualize the text and make it real. They may also help determine what is important within the text.
  • Special print: Look for bold, italics, or underlined words to determine key vocabulary.
  • Graphs: Can help understand important data within the text and assist in interpreting.
Issue 6 centerfold

In this example from Issue 6, text features are used to draw attention, provide additional information, and help students visualize and understand what they read.

3.  Using Ag Today in the classroom not only helps with reading of nonfiction texts, but it also offers opportunities for students to write. Teachers can preview the text with students and then have them write questions they may have about the text features they see. In addition, there are many think and discuss prompts within the text for students to talk with another student and to write their thoughts as well. This truly helps students realize the importance of discussing, reflecting, and writing about what they are reading.

Students reading Ag Today - Issue 2In conclusion, it is imperative for students to have access to multiple types of texts in the classroom. Ag Today is an excellent example to use for not only various content areas but also learning how to use text features for understanding. I would encourage teachers to start with a few strategies such as the ones shared here and slowly add more as you see students becoming more familiar with using text features. Happy reading in your classroom!

-Jody Still Herbold, Education Consultant, Northwest AEA

Bread Making—A Form of Art & A Way To Connect Back to Agriculture

As a college student, bread making is not something most think about or have time to do on a regular basis. It’s a lot easier to go to the store and pick from a wide selection of sliced breads—just as it is for any food items found in the store. In this generation, it’s easy to take for granted the convenience of a supermarket and the men and women who work to make the food we eat. This is where the gap between the consumer and the farmer begins—because we are not directly making or growing the food we eat—bread making is a prime example of this, and so I spent the weekend learning how to make bread. Here is my story and the lessons I learned along the way.cinrolls

Last week, I had a curious interest about bread making. It was interesting—earlier in the week my roommate and I were having a conversation about how much we love bread and then later on that night I was on Facebook and saw one of those quick food recipe videos—it was about making homemade bread.  It intrigued me just enough that the next day I was making my very own homemade bread.

I went to the store and got all the ingredients, and when I came back I instantly got started on the process. My favorite part of the bread making process was kneading the dough—it reminded me of kneading clay in pottery class—which is something that this process is very similar to. Kneading is an important step in the bread making process. Kneading activates the natural gluten in the wheat bread flour. Gluten is a protein that stretches; when we knead the dough, the gluten stretches and becomes more elastic. Then the yeast does its job in the process. The yeast in the bread releases carbon dioxide creating little air pockets. The air pockets are only possible because the gluten allows the bread to stretch instead of crumble and break apart. This results in a light, chewy, airy texture in the final product.

I think what shocked me the most was the amount of waiting time that went into bread making. After kneading, you must let the dough rise. Letting the dough rise gives the yeast time to metabolize some of the sugars in the flour and release carbon dioxide creating little air bubbles. Yeast is a fungus and is essential in leavened bread. The more active the yeast is, the more the bread will rise. Yeast is most active at room temperature or slightly warmer, but as the baking process starts it then kills the yeast. It takes quite a few hours to let the bread rise and even after that you must do that a couple of times to get the perfect outcome.

bitmoji- breadAs I reflected on the process, I realized that bread making, in its own unique way, is a form of art, and after going through the recipe I can begin to appreciate the process and the people who make bread on a daily basis. It’s an art in the way one kneads the dough, it’s an art in the type of bread made—bagels, dinner rolls, sourdough, rye, or whole wheat—it’s an art in how you let the dough rise, and its an art in how you shape the dough to be baked. A big part of the bread making process is a form of art that some have mastered perfectly.

As the weekend went on, I found myself really enjoying making bread and sharing it with others. After making two loafs of bread on Friday I went on to make homemade cinnamon rolls on Saturday and contemplated the process of croissants on Sunday—which is a blog for another day.

It seems crazy to think how something as simple as making bread can make us closer to our agricultural roots. But anything that takes a raw product, such as wheat and dairy, and then turns it in to something new, like bread, ice cream or yogurt, can connect us back to the industry that allows us to do this—agriculture. Now even though I enjoyed my time making bread and other bakery treats this weekend, I will probably still take the convenient route of going to the store and save making homemade bread for another time when I need to be reminded of how our food is grown.bread and me crop

Recipe for White Bread

Ingredients

1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast

2 ¼ cups warm water

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons canola oil

6 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

Directions

 Step 1: In large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add sugar, salt, oil, and start with 3 cups of flour. Mix together and slowly add in the remaining flour to form a soft dough.

Step 2: Create a floured surface and knead dough until dough becomes smooth and elastic. Roughly knead for 5-10 minutes.

Step 3: Place in a greased bowl. Cover and let dough rise until it has doubled in size. Roughly 1.5-3 hours.

Step 4: After dough has doubled in size, punch down and divide dough in half. Shape the dough and place in a greased loaf pan. Cover and let rise again until doubled in size. Approximately 1 hour.

Step 5: Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Step 6: Let cool and Enjoy!

Hannah

Ethanol Quick Facts

Many of us know that ethanol exists. It comes from corn and can be used to power our vehicles. But many people are afraid to use it for fear of hurting their car, truck, or SUV. Today, let’s talk more about what ethanol is, where it comes from, and who can use it.

In chemistry terms, ethanol is ethyl alcohol, or C2H60. It can be made from many different things, including sugar cane, cassava, and sorghum. Essentially what happens is the sugars in the grain are fermented and turned into alcohol.

It’s not an incredibly new idea, either. In fact, there was even an episode of Dukes of Hazzard about it in 1979 (High Octane, for the fans out there). Bo and Luke entered a contest to find a cleaner burning fuel and entered their homemade moonshine (essentially just food-grade ethanol) in the contest. Of course, they had to fool Boss Hogg and Rosco P. Coltrane in the process, but in the end they won the prize money. Of course. They’re the Dukes.

Though the 1970s did mark the beginning of the modern ethanol industry, it didn’t all start then. According to the Energy Information Agency, ethanol was first used to power an engine as early as 1826! It was used as fuel for lighting in the 1850’s, too, but this use fell off when it was taxed as a liquor during the Civil War.

But anyway, how is ethanol made? Well, it really is just a bigger, fancier version of making moonshine. It works in the same way that other alcohol production works; yeasts break down sugars and create alcohol and carbon dioxide in the process.

Here in Iowa, we make ethanol from the starches of the corn kernel. Starches are essentially a long chain of sugar molecules. You may have heard of cellulosic ethanol, which yields the same product, but the process is a bit different, because the alcohol is created from cellulosic plant material, like corn stalks, instead of starches like in corn kernels.

a

First in the process to make ethanol, you have to physically break open the kernel so that the starches are exposed. Then, enzymes are introduced that break down that starch chain into a simple sugar. This is the same kind of thing that happens when you put a cracker on your tongue and don’t chew it. It breaks down anyway, because there are enzymes in your saliva that do the same thing. How cool is that?

Once the starches are broken down into sugars, yeast can be added. The yeast eats the sugar, and produces ethanol and carbon dioxide. After the yeast has done its job, the ethanol is purified, meaning any remaining water is removed using heat and molecular sieves. Lastly, ethanol is blended with a specific amount of gasoline to ensure that it cannot be used for human consumption.

b

In this graphic, you can see that there is a byproduct in ethanol production that creates animal feed. Depending on if it is dried or remains wet, it is either called DDGs (dried distillers grains) or “wet cake” (wet distillers grains). This is a common feed supplement because it is a high quality feed at a low price.

At the gas pump, however, there are a few common blends of ethanol to know about. The one that is the most common at gas stations is E-10. That means that the fuel is 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline. The second kind of fuel is E-15. E-15 is not at all gas stations, but is denoted with a blue handle at the pump. Many people stray away from E-15 for fear of hurting their engine, but that is a common misconception. All cars made in the year 2001 or after are approved to use E-15. E-15 options are generally cheaper (up to a dime per gallon), and burn cleaner than lower percentage ethanol blends.

Lastly, there is E-85, which is a remarkable 85% ethanol. This blend should only be used in Flex Fuel vehicles designed for that much ethanol. These vehicles are becoming more and more popular.

c

In summary, ethanol in Iowa is most commonly made from the starches in the corn kernel. The process yields a cleaner burning, cheaper, renewable fuel alternative, as well as a low cost and high quality livestock supplemental feed. Flex Fuel vehicles can use up to 85% ethanol (E-85) blends, and all cars built in 2001 or later can use E-15 blends.

To find a gas station with E-15, click here! For lessons relating to ethanol production, click here. And for a new book about modern corn production, click here.

-Chrissy

Yogurt Grows on Trees?

Have you ever asked a young child where they think their food comes from? You might be capture-2-e1487971277155.jpgsurprised at the answers. One article said a young 4 year-old didn’t understand what the long orange vegetable was with big green leaves coming out of the top. The father responded that it was a carrot. The youngster thought carrots came in plastic bags.

Many children believe that food comes from the grocery store and if they run out, all they need to do is get more at the store. Many children don’t understand that all of the plants that we eat have to be grown and all of the animal protein has to be raised. Most American families don’t raise their own food, so we rely on farmers to produce crops and livestock.

With modern technology and the internet, students today have many resources at their fingertips, and yet haven’t been given the opportunity to understand some of the most basic things about food, fiber and fuel and where they come from. Very few children have thaccess to fresh fruits and vegetables that have come from a garden. Even fewer children have been able to visit a farm and see the crops growing in the fields or the animals grazing in the pasture. How about the young people in your life? Do they know where food comes from?

Children from other countries are battling this same issue. An article in the Telegraph stated that young adults in the UK don’t know that milk comes from a dairy cow or that eggs come from chickens. The same article also stated that one third of the students surveyed did not know that bacon came from a pig. In Australia, students thought fish fingers came from chicken or pigs and that yogurt grew on trees.

In our rush of the day to day obligations and priorities, have we lost a little understanding of why agriculture literacy is important to our economy? Agriculture is essential to our survival, but what can we do to help educate the next generation? Have you heard the saying “It only takes a spark to get a fire going?” As a mother of three and a grandmother of two, I intend to be certain the young people in my family have the opportunity to understand and experience agriculture up close and personal.

I read books to my grandkids that will help open their minds to where their food comescapture from. I really like “Where Does Our Food Come From”, by Bobbie Kalman. I also love to take them to the local farmer’s market and let them see, taste, and experience fresh fruits and vegetables and the people that grew them. As they reach grade school, I look forward to them experiencing lessons that integrate agriculture into science, social studies, and language arts curricula. Every year we experience the activities at the Iowa State Fair, like the Little Kids on the Farm and all of the educational things happening at the Animal Learning Center.

I encourage you to look for opportunities to share agriculture with your family and friends. Our need is real and there are limitless resources. Your local Agriculture in the Classroom coordinator has information, literature, books, lessons and may even be able to connect you with a local farmer who would be thrilled to share his experiences and expertise with you. Many Iowa communities have agriculture festivals and agriculture days’ year round. Every August the Iowa State Fair celebrates 11 days of awesome agriculture festivities. Let’s all be a spark for agriculture in our communities.

-Sheri

Why are Baby Farm Animals Typically Born in the Spring?

ThinkstockPhotos-483531372.jpgThis unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having in February has us thinking about spring. And spring on farms usually means babies! Some of my friends even celebrate events like ‘Lambaggedon’. So many baby lambs can be born on a single weekend that family and friends have to come from miles away to help out. They make the event fun with a little contest. Guess the number of lambs to be born between Friday morning and Monday noon. Closest guess gets the privilege of naming one of the lambs.

But why are so many babies born in the spring?

In a lot of ways spring is the perfect time for babies to be born. Mother mammals usually need better, richer food to produce quality milk for their babies to nurse. For grazing animals like cattle, sheep, and horses, the fresh green grass and other plants on pasture in spring and early summer are rich in nutrients. These plants can have a higher percentage of protein and ‘total digestible nutrients’. This can lead to better milk production for the babies. Most calves are born between January and May because of this reason. Read more about early calving here.

ThinkstockPhotos-139923089.jpgSpring is also a good time for babies to be born because the days become longer and temperatures rise. With the warmer weather it is easier for the baby to survive. There is less chance of harsh weather. Just like humans, animals need to be protected from severe weather. Cows often like to wander away from the herd to give birth in solitude. This can put the mother and calf at risk. If the cow has any problems during the birthing process, a farmer might not be available to assist and help pull the calf. Away from the herd, especially in cold weather, the calf might be less likely to survive. Away from the herd, the baby might be in danger from predators like foxes, coyotes, or even large birds of prey like eagles. In many, contemporary farming operations calving and farrowing happens in a barn or ‘under roof’. This protects the mother and baby from many of those dangers.

Because spring is such a good time of year for babies, many animals evolved to accommodate these natural cycles. Many Iowans are familiar with the deer rut that happens in October, November, and December. Male deer are at peak testosterone, get more aggressive, and start fighting for mates. They wander out of their natural habitats which leads to increased motor vehicle accidents when they cross roads. This is in large part because the female deer come into estrus in the fall. As the days shorten, their hormones trigger the estrus cycles. A deer’s gestation will take 201 days. So if the female gets pregnant on October 1, you can expect a fawn around April 20th.

In farming generally, pregnancy and gestation follow these same deep-seated, natural cycles. Cattle gestate for 283 days. So if farmers want to start calving in February, they need to artificially inseminate or introduce the bull into the herd in the middle of April.

ThinkstockPhotos-489807042.jpgHowever, in contemporary farms piglets and chickens are born year-round. This might be attributed to two main reasons – consumer demand and differences in rates of development. Consumers want fresh meat and eggs year round. They don’t want fresh meat only in the fall when animals born in the spring are fully grown. Because consumers demand fresh meat year-round, farmers try to stagger when their animals go to market. This means that they might have to stagger when the animals give birth. Also, animals like pigs and chickens have much shorter gestation and development rates. Gestation of a pig is roughly 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days. Pigs farrow (give birth) and then piglets are usually weaned within a month after being born. This means that a sow could have two or possibly even three litters per year.

ThinkstockPhotos-459924937.jpgChicken eggs take almost exactly 21 days to hatch. A chicken can lay an egg every single day. This rapid turnaround can produce a lot of birds quickly. Traditionally, chickens did not lay eggs in the winter. With the shorter daylight, their bodies stop producing the hormones that make them ovulate and produce an egg. But on contemporary farms, chickens are raised in barns where the light can be controlled. With artificial lighting, chickens can and will continue to produce eggs year-round. This is a huge convenience for modern shoppers who expect to see eggs in grocery stores even in the winter months.

So, while many farmers are still in tune with the natural cycles of the season with their animals, modern farming practices have helped solve some of the problems that restrict births to only the spring. There is an abundance of babies in the spring, but in agriculture babies might be born all year long.

-Will

Why do they do that? – Early Calving

thinkstockphotos-87175110Traditionally, spring is thought to be the time when baby animals are born. Spring is a season of new life, but on many Iowa farms calving season begins in the winter. So why do some farmers plan to expand their herd when the weather is still cold?

Farmers take several things into consideration when deciding when to breed their cows. The gestation for cattle is 283 days, so calving will begin about 9 months after cows are bred.  Most cattle farmers today use artificial insemination to breed their cows. Among the many benefits, artificial insemination allows them to better plan when calves are born.

Farmers choose to breed their herd to calve at different times, depending on what is best for their operation. The two main things they consider are time and weather, and these two factors go hand in hand.

Many farms, especially those in the southern half of the state try to plan calving in February and March. This enables calving to end before spring planting begins, and gives them more time to dedicate to it. Farmers’ first priority is the health and safety of their animals. They check on expecting cows and new calves often, sometimes hourly. They check to see if cows are going into labor, if new calves are born, and that moms and babies are doing well. Most cows are able to give birth on their own, but farmers are ready to assist if the cow or calf’s health is at risk. Occasionally farmers or veterinarians must pull calves that are stuck in the birth canal.

Herd of cows in a field at sunsetSome farmers move expecting cows to a pen or small paddock so they can closely monitor them as their due date approaches. It is common for farmers to move the cows into a barn or protected area of the pasture just before or when they go into labor. Some farmers have equipped their barns with Wi-Fi cameras, so they can keep an even closer eye on the cows in labor.

Weather is another key factor that farmers consider. Although it may seem odd to plan to have baby calves arrive when temperatures are low, the cold weather can be advantage.  Generally speaking, diseases don’t spread as quickly in cold weather. Frozen ground can also be an advantage. Muddy ground in the spring is difficult for young calves to walk in.  They can even get stuck in the mud.

Black Angus CattleAlthough there are benefits of cold weather, extremely cold conditions are not good either.   Farmers in northern Iowa, where it is common for temperatures to drop below zero regularly in January and February, generally breed cows so that calving begins in March when conditions are a bit warmer. This makes for a very busy spring for farmers who also raise corn and soybeans, since spring tillage and fertilizer application often begin in March. But with proper planning and management, farmers are able to balance both.

Be sure to check out Chrissy’s recent blog, Vo-COW-bulary to learn more about cattle.

– Cindy

6 Reasons Farmers Use Cover Crops

There is a challenge that farmers are faced with every day of their career—how do we protect the land we work on? Farmers work with the land everyday of their lives and work to protect and restore the land for future generations. They understand how the land provides for them—after all, without taking care of the land they work they would not be able to grow a product, such as corn and soybeans, and be able to make a profit for their livelihood. One way farmers work to protect the land is through cover crops.

What is a cover crop? This is a plant that is grown in fields to protect land quality for the future. There are many benefits of implementing the use of cover crops—and here are 6 reasons farmers use cover crops in their operation.sloans-cover-crop-in-corn-stubble

1.)Soil Erosion: One thing I will always remember from my American History lesson of the Dust Bowl is that bare ground is not the answer. Open topsoil is something to avoid in farming practices. Wind and water can carry the soil away through erosion. My dad always said that we can’t rebuild the soil, and he’s right—it takes many years to produce organic matter that makes up Iowa’s rich topsoil. By planting cover crops we help stabilize the soil and protect the topsoil layer by not exposing it to erosion by wind and water.

2.)Nutrient Management: Cover crops are a great way to add valuable nutrients back to the soil. Not only that but cover crops also add back organic matter to the soil as they decompose. In my agronomy class at Iowa State University, I am learning how certain types of legume plants have the ability to ‘fix’ nitrogen in the soil, such as hairy vetch and winter peas. Nitrogen is an essential element in plant growth. By adding in certain cover crops we are also adding in ways to produce nitrogen. Adding in nutrients is not the only benefit, but also balancing nutrients in the soil is a great perk of cover crops too. Adding in certain cover crops, such as non-legumes cover crops (radishes and rye), also have the ability to tie up the nutrients and prevent them from runoff or leaching. Which leads us into our next reason, water quality.

3.)Water Quality: With nitrogen in the soil also comes nitrogen runoff—both which farmers work towards maintaining. Our water streams are easily exposed to nitrogen runoff and other pollution sources. Not only do some cover crops help produce nitrogen, but others like, radishes and rye, also work to lock in nutrients and keep them from producing runoff or leaching. If you think about it, cover crops work as an extra filter system on fields.

4.)Biodiversity: Not only are farmers introducing a new plant onto these fields, they also introduce new interactions of all types of life. Cover crops bring in new habitats, they bring in beneficial or repelling insects, they attract wildlife, and provide protection against wind and water erosion. Creating an area of diverse species only boosts the circle of life and provides new opportunities to grow.

5.)Weed Suppression: Competition is a real thing in the plant world and farmers use cover crops as a way to eliminate weeds from their fields. Roots of cover crops extend deep down into the soil to take up any nutrients or water available. While doing so they also ‘weed’ out other weeds (no pun intended) for those nutrients. Not only do cover crops compete with weeds below the soil surface, but they also compete above the surface for sunlight and space. The competition from cover crops is too stressful for the weeds to handle, making it easy for farmers to have complete weed control.

6.)Green Pasture: Some farmers who also have cattle also have the option of grazing their cattle on the cover crop fields. Its just another way farmers can save feed costs. Cattle love to graze on certain forages, especially crops like clover, radish tops, and rye. Not only can the farmer feed his cattle, but he can also fertilize his fields in the process. The cattle’s manure makes a great source of fertilizer—so basically it’s a two for one deal here.screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-11-47-14-am

There are many reasons why farmers use cover crops—each reason presents an opportunity to improve soil and land quality for the future. Now you may wonder why not all farmers use cover crops. Well even though there are benefits there are also challenges. Cost is a big challenge facing farmers and one of the key reasons that they do not use them. Although cost takes a toll in the present, the benefits can outweigh the costs for the future. For example adding in nutrients and managing weeds work to boost yields, not to mention protecting the topsoil works to help plant growth too. A farmer may be faced with many challenges each day, but they also know how they can work to make the best decision for their operation as well as for the land to be worked on in the future.

-Hannah Pagel