Why Do They Do That? –Irrigation

Most of us are familiar with weather and know that it is not consistent every year, and rain doesn’t always come when farmers need it. This is why some large fields resort to using some kind of irrigation system. Even though you may see a large irrigation system while driving down the road, it is helpful to note that most of Iowa’s cropland is not irrigated. According to the USDA, other states outside of the Midwest, such as California, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Idaho, rely more heavily on irrigation systems. This is due to their irregular and infrequent precipitation.

Using this method of irrigation systems to water crops, farmers can control their crops’ water requirements if there is not enough rainfall. Like many things in the agriculture industry, the control of these irrigations systems can be automated and can be done right from the farmer’s phone or tablet. With different technologies, farmers can adjust the water pressure, the amount of water, and more without even being on the field, similar to how you could control your home’s security or temperature with smart technology while being on the road. As advanced as this may seem, these irrigation systems continually advance with the rest of the agriculture industry with solar-powered irrigation systems being implemented more widely in the future.

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

When deciding what kind of irrigation system to use, farmers have several choices: sprinkler vs. drip and center pivot vs. linear.

sprinkler irrigation system:

This system imitates rainfall by distributing the water above the field surface, allowing it to fall on the crops and soil. All plants on the field should receive the same amount of water, hopefully resulting in similar growth. This system is one of the most popular kinds of irrigation, and you probably have seen them in the fields at one time or another. This system is also similar to what many homeowners use to water their lawns. Like every system, sprinkler irrigation has some advantages and disadvantages. A farmer may decide to go with the sprinkler system because of the reduced cost of overall farm labor and reduced soil erosion. Another farmer may opt out of sprinkler irrigation because of the high initial cost of pipes, motors, and installation, and because of the high water loss due to evaporation.

drip irrigation system:

Compared to a sprinkler system, the drip irrigation system can be more efficient than a sprinkler system because the water is being dripped from a lower point, drop by drop (there is less evaporation water loss). With this kind of system, the soil soaks in the droplets before they can evaporate or be blown away by the wind. The water is applied closer to the roots where it is truly needed. Although drip irrigation may seem like the more beneficial choice, there are some downfalls, including that the water outlets get clogged because they are in direct contact with the ground. These systems also take a lot of training to understand the machine and manage the system.

center-pivot irrigation system:

This type of sprinkler irrigation is just what it sounds like: a mechanical system that moves in a circle with a center point. This machine can also be used to apply fertilizers and pesticides. The chemicals are mixed into the water as the water is sprayed onto the field. This multipurpose system can be used on a variety of crops, including vegetables and fruit trees. The center point is usually a permanent, stationary point where the water is pumped up from an underground well. The long arm of the system stretches across half the field and as it moves in a circle, it waters the entire field. The arm is supported by large wheels that travel across the ground and hold the arm up. If you’ve traveled in a plane over Midwest states like Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado and looked out the window, you’ve likely noticed the circular fields. Each one of those fields has a center-pivot irrigation system on it.

Photo by Mark Stebnicki on Pexels.com

Linear Irrigation System:

Linear irrigation systems are marketed to irrigate 98% of the field by traveling across the field in a straight line, forward, and reverse working best in square or rectangular fields. This system is another example of a sprinkler system. The water used is either taken from underground or a hose that drags behind the machine’s wheeled cart. In a linear irrigation system, soil compaction is reduced. It is also easier to work in windier conditions, unlike the center-pivot system because they are lower to the ground. Center-pivot systems can work on tall crops like corn. Linear irrigation system are better for shorter crops like alfalfa.

Now that we know what types of irrigation systems are out there, the final question is, why use them? With this kind of technology, crops can be watered in a controlled environment where the lack of rain can be less of a burden on farmers and their yield. Controlling the amount of water applied in a slow and steady manner can lead to less runoff and erosion. Plus, the time that farmers would typically take using more complex kinds of irrigation can now be spent perfecting other areas of the field or farm operation.

Next time you see one of these systems as your driving down the road, now you will have a better idea of what it does! If you’re a farmer, let us know in the comments what works best for you!


Hi! My name is Madison Paine and I am the education programs intern at IALF for the next year. I am currently a junior at Iowa State University studying agriculture communications. I grew up on an acreage outside of Maxwell, IA where my love for agriculture first sparked. I am very excited to be here and can’t wait to see what this next year all entails!

Favorite Books & Kits for Agriculture Literacy

We know that teachers are always looking for new ways to engage students, but funding for classroom resources is limited. To help, we offer the Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher Supplement Grant Program.

With funding from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, the program offers $250 grants to support the integration of agriculture into preschool-12th grade in-school and after-school programs. Grants can be used to fund innovative lessons, activities, classroom resources, field trips and other projects.

Throughout the year, we come across many new agriculture literacy resources that would be perfect for a teacher supplement grant project.  Here’s a highlight of some of our favorites!

Kits from the National Agriculture in the Classroom Online Store   

The National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization makes it easy for teachers to introduce students to agriculture while meeting core standards in science, social studies, math, English language arts, and more.  The Curriculum Matrix includes more than 450 standards-aligned lessons with step-by-step instructions, background information, and supplemental files to teach each lesson. To make it even easier, their online store includes many kits that include everything needed to teach lessons on the matrix. These kits include science equipment, seeds, laminated pictures, and other items needed to teach a lesson.

Some of our favorite elementary (grades PK-5) kits include:

Some of our favorite secondary (grades 7-12) kits include:


Books are a perfect way for students to learn about agriculture! Incorporate books with an agricultural theme into a language arts or social studies lesson described in the grant application. Then add them to your classroom library to be enjoyed by students for years to come. In addition to the newer books listed below, check out this blog post for reviews of some of our other tried-and-true books.

Some of our favorite books for elementary classrooms include:

Some of our favorite books for secondary classrooms include:

Now, it’s your turn! What are your favorite resources for teaching students about agriculture?


How Does Agriculture Connect to Standards?

School is out, which means it’s teacher professional development season!

During the last two weeks, we’ve held four teacher workshops across the state. More than 130 teachers have spent two days immersed in learning about agriculture. They toured farms and agribusinesses, participated in hands-on lessons, experienced FarmChat® from a student’s perspective, discovered new resources, and spent time discussing ideas to incorporate agriculture into lessons during the coming school year.

Almost every time we present to teachers we tell them not to think of agriculture as one more thing on their list of things to teach. With a jam-packed schedule of reading, writing, math, science, social studies, PE, guidance, music, and art – there’s not room in the school day to add one more thing. Instead, we encourage teachers to think about how they can teach their current subjects through an agriculture lens. To do this, their agriculture-based lessons must align to the Iowa Core.The Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation has spent the last five years doing just that – developing lesson plans and resources that are aligned to science, social studies, math, and language arts standards. Our goal is to make it easier for teachers to incorporate agriculture topics into their existing curriculum.

At this summer’s teacher professional development workshops, we are asking teachers to develop a concept map illustrating how agriculture connects to what they teach. We introduce the guide below on the first day and challenge them to think about how the topics and resources they discover during the workshop connect to their existing science and/or social studies units.

During the next two days, we eagerly watch the concept maps grow as teachers add existing resources and ideas for new lessons. We intended to collect their concept maps at the end of the workshop, but most teachers have not wanted to let them go. They want to keep them as an easy reminder of the resources that they can “plug and play” into units during the upcoming school-year.

While we didn’t collect their concept maps, we did take pictures! We will use them as inspiration for future lesson plans and resources. I also plan to share some of them in a series of blog posts on agriculture connections to elementary, middle, and high school science and social studies standards.I’ll feature one concept map today, as a sneak peek to the many ideas that will be introduced in future posts.

This concept map was created by a 3rd-grade teacher at the first workshop of the summer.

I love how she used the entire page and identified agriculture connections to every science and social studies unit that she teaches!Do you see the numbers in the cloud-shaped outline? Those are the specific Iowa Core standards covered in each unit.

In social studies, she identified agriculture topics and resources for units on supply and demand, natural resources, and economic decisions. Agriculture will be the theme that weaves these three units together as they learn to discover how weather and soil impact farming, how crops and grain are bought and sold, and how agriculture impacts our local and distant economies.

In science, students will discover the real-world applications of simple machines as they identify them in farm equipment and learn how they make work easier. The 3rd-grade growing unit will focus on plants and animals raised on farms. Students will do hands-on investigations with soybeans and do a FarmChat® program to learn about livestock.

By using agriculture topics in both social studies and science, these two subjects are no longer stand-alone sections of the school day. Instead, they are woven together as students explore both the science and economics of the crops, livestock, and natural resources.


8 Great Spring Lessons about Animals, Plants & Seasons

Agriculture is always good topic for teaching science, but spring is probably the most popular time to include topics related to plants, animals, seed, seasons, etc. Why? Because classroom learning becomes more real and relevant when we can make connections to what is happening outside of school. Students can tell the weather is becoming warmer. They see leaves beginning to develop on trees, young calves in pastures, and tractors planting seeds in fields. These changes that happen outdoors in the spring can spark beautiful science conversations in elementary classrooms!

Below are eight of our favorite lessons and books for teaching elementary students about seasons, and plant and animal life cycles in the spring.

  1. Farm by Alishea Cooper. The farmer or farm animals are the main characters of most farm-themed books.  Not this one.  The farm itself takes center stage.  Through lyrical writing and beautiful illustrations, this books takes the reader on a journey to learn about what happens on a farm in the spring and throughout the year.
  2. Eggology. Incubating eggs is a popular spring activity in elementary classrooms. This lesson provides teachers with many ideas and resources for turning an incubating experience into a rich science learning experience. Through three engaging activities, students learn how the basic needs of a growing chick are met during incubation
  3. Hatching Eggs in Room Six. Whether you incubate eggs in your classroom or not, this book is a prefect way to introduce students to the concept of incubation. It highlights the life cycle of chickens, parts of an egg, incubation, and caring for freshly hatched chicks.
  4. From Chicken Little to Chicken Big. Chickens are a perfect animal to learn about when discussing life cycles and physical characteristics. In this lesson students identify different breeds of chickens, examine their physical characteristics and sequence the life cycle of a chicken.
  5. Animal Life Cycles, This lesson goes beyond chickens to help students learn about animal characteristics and life cycles. Students are introduced to six major livestock species, discover that all animals need air, food, water, and shelter to survive, and compare and contrast animal life cycles.
  6. Seed Germination Necklaces. Planting a seed and watching it grow is one of the simplest, but most mesmerizing things you can do with students. Unfortunately, most of the magic of seed germination happens underground where students cannot see the changes that happen as the seed swells and roots and leaves emerge from the seed. This lesson solves that problem by germinating corn and soybean seeds in a clear bag.
  7. Soybean Life Cycle Sequencing. The soybean plant is an excellent plant to use when teaching life cycles, because it has a very typical life cycle and it is grown throughout Iowa and most of the United States!  After reading My Family’s Soybean Farm by Katie Olthoff, students works as a group to sequence pictures of the soybean life cycle stages and complete a worksheet to match vocabulary introduced in the book to the stages of the soybean life cycle.
  8. Growing Plants in Science and Literature, More than Empty Pot. Students will use the story of The Empty Pot to explore literature and science, practicing story mapping and learning about the needs of plants and the importance of soil and water. Like the characters in the story, students will plant and observe the growth of seeds.


Now it’s your turn!  What is your favorite way to incorporate agriculture in into lessons in the spring?






We recently had the opportunity to attend the National Agriculture in the Classroom conference, this year held in Portland, Maine. While there we learned about all of the unique agriculture that Maine has to offer including blueberries, potatoes, and….aquaculture!


For a long time and still today, fishermen use the ocean to harvest wild species of seafood. We learned about how they regulate and maintain populations of wild species. For example, lobster are only harvested when their carapace (body shell length) is between 3.25 and 5 inches in length. The idea behind this is that there will be sufficient enough breeding animals to ensure the maintenance of wild populations if only lobsters of a certain size are harvested. Lobster traps are designed so that big lobsters can’t get in. Smaller lobsters might get in and feed on the bait, but then are easily able to get out. Only lobsters of the correct size are caught. But each lobster is measured once the traps are hauled in, and if they don’t meet the size requirements they are released back into the water. It takes about seven years for a lobster to grow to a size that can be harvested.

But throughout history, fishermen have had a hard time regulating natural and wild fisheries. Environmental conditions can make populations boom and so harvest increases. But when populations fall, harvest doesn’t always react as quickly because there is now a consumer demand that has been built. Sometimes this has led to species loss or at least significant population loss so the fish is no longer economically viable to harvest.


Enter aquaculture or fish farming. Fish farms can take advantage of ocean water, currents, and habitats. But the fish and seafood are cordoned off so that they can be monitored, controlled, cared for, and ultimately harvested easier. Maine aquaculture has 10 different types of farms including baitfish, halibut, hatcheries, mussels, oysters, salmon, scallops, seaweed, trout, and urchin.

One of my favorite of these types of farms is seaweed or kelp. Through this type of farming, the ecosystem of the ocean can actually be improved. Kelp is ‘seeded’ near the surface of the ocean on lines and takes advantage of the sunlight it receives. Farmers can then practice vertical farming with scallop lanterns and mussel socks suspended below the kelp lines. On the sea floor, oyster and clam cages can be installed. The kelp helps increase oxygen levels in the fishery. It can pull out excess nitrogen and carbon (up to 5x more than land-based plants) in the water helping ‘clean’ the water and rebuild a degraded ecosystem.


The oceans offer an incredible resource that if managed correctly can continue to grow food to feed our hungry world. But more and more fisheries are moving inland which presents a new opportunity. Places like Iowa don’t need a coastline to potentially get into the seafood industry! While there are some negative considerations, there are many advantages to inland aquaculture systems. Iowa might make sense to house aquaculture systems because Iowa grows a lot of corn and soybeans which could be used as food for the fish being raised.

Some Iowa farmers have already started to produce fish, shrimp, and other seafood products. By raising seafood in an inland system, farmers can better monitor the growth and health of the fish and shellfish. Managing water quality, feeding schedules, effluents, etc. can all be challenging. But once an effective system is in place aquaculture in Iowa can really make sense.


As Iowa looks for ways to continue to grow and expand the agriculture industry, aquaculture represents a real opportunity. Nearly all of the beef, poultry, and pork that is consumed in the U.S. is also produced in the U.S. The domestic market is saturated and so farmers need to seek international markets if they want to raise more cattle, pigs, chickens, or turkeys. However, less than 10% of the seafood eaten in the U.S. is raised here. The rest is imported from other countries including China, Canada, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Chile. Some of these countries have high standards of food quality and safety, but not all. Raising more seafood domestically in the U.S. could help ensure food security, but could also help ensure food safety and farmers would adhere to high standards and regulations.

In addition to being a leader in producing corn, soybeans, pork and eggs, maybe someday Iowa could be a leader in producing fish as well!

– Will

8 Ways to Spark Students’ Interest in Agriculture Careers

Those working in agriculture know that it’s a good career choice. The work is fulfilling, usually pays well, and the types of jobs available are plentiful and diverse. However, careers in agriculture are often overlooked. Aside from a farmer or veterinarian, when was the last time you heard a kid name an agriculture career when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

We held six professional development workshops in June where teachers spent one day visiting farms and agribusinesses in their communities. At every workshop we heard teachers say something like, “I had no idea there were so many good jobs in agriculture.” or “Wow, agriculture is so high-tech! My students would love these jobs.”

Teaching students about agriculture is the first step to sparking interest in agriculture careers. But how do you showcase the wide variety of jobs available? We are often asked for recommendations for good lesson plans, displays, handouts, and engaging activities about careers in agriculture. There are tons of resources available, but finding the best through a Google search can be daunting.

Below are my top picks of career resources that are suitable for both classroom teachers and those working in agriculture to take into schools. The list includes choices for elementary, middle and high school students and things well-suited to a variety of settings and time constraints.

  1. My American Farm – Little Ag Me. This simple online game is a perfect way to help elementary students discover the job of a farmer isn’t the only career in agriculture. Students earn points by correctly picking clothes, tools, work places, and tasks for a produce buyer, diesel mechanic, agricultural journalist, plant scientist, and more. The game’s accompanying educational resources include ideas for classroom presentations and hands-on activities, printable student readers, and even an augmented reality experience.littleAgMe
  2. Career Ag Mag. Read-all-about it! This newspaper-like student reader is a great way to have students learn more about agriculture careers at their own pace.AE-AGMAGCR-001-030
  3. When I Grow Up: Discovering Careers. Developed by the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, this free online curriculum includes all you need to explore nine different agriculture career areas with middle school students. The educator guide includes a lesson plan, three interdisciplinary supplemental activities, and an activity sheet for each career area. Pick and choose what resources fit best for your time, setting, and the students’ interests. A card game and poster set are also available to purchase through the AFB Store or borrow from the IALF lending library.When I grow up
  4. Agriculture Career Pictionary. Who doesn’t like Pictionary? This is a fun way to introduce older students to the variety of jobs in agriculture or have younger students review what they learned learned from the Careers Ag Mag or When I Grow Up curriculum.
  5. Career Trek. In this lesson students complete the Holland’s Interest Assessment and do online research to learn more about the agriculture careers best suited to their interest, talents, and aptitude. The lesson also includes a fun board game to assess student knowledge about agriculture and natural resources careers. Career Trek game boards available to purchase through the National Agriculture in the Classroom Store or borrow form the IALF lending library.   
  6. Careers in Agriculture Videos. This collection of 40 short videos highlights a wide variety of careers in agriculture and natural resources. Each video is one to four minutes long and features an interview with a professional working in an agricultural field. Give students time to explore these videos on their own or select a few to show in class.
  7. Careers for 2050 & Beyond/Journey 2050. This lesson and app-based game is a quick and easy way to introduce middle and high school students to careers in agriculture.  The entire lesson only takes 30 minutes!  A ready-to-go PowerPoint is provided to engage students in discussion about the careers needed to produce, process and market the food we eat and introduce a career game in the Journey2050 app. The game takes less than 10 minutes to play and can use used as a stand-alone activity at school and community events! 
  8. AgExplorer is the most robust and comprehensive career resource on this list! Developed by National FFA and Discover Education, the website includes more than 235 unique career profiles, virtual fieldtrip videos and an interactive career assessment to help high school students explore the broad range of careers within the agriculture industry.


The most important thing we can do to spark students’ interest in agriculture careers is share our passion for agriculture with them.  Tell them about new the many ways technology is used in agriculture. Create opportunities for them to experience the science and business of agriculture. Take them a farm or agribusinesses, or visit one virtually.  Introduce them to someone in an agriculture career that interests them.  The possibilities are endless.



6 Reasons to Apply for an Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher Supplement Grant

We know that teachers are always looking for new ways to engage students, but funding for classroom resources is limited.  We have a solution!

This week we kicked off another year of the Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher Supplement Program. Since 2003, teachers have utilized these grants to fund innovative lessons, classroom resources, outreach programs, field trips and more!

With funding from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation offers $200 grants to support the integration of agriculture into preschool-12th grade in-school and afterschool programs. The subject-area focus of the grant changes each year to allow a variety of projects to receive funding and encourage teachers to consider incorporate agriculture across the curriculum. This year’s focus areas are agriculture in literacy/language arts OR agriculture in social studies.

Not convinced yet, here’s a few reasons to apply:

1.  Agriculture is a topic students can easily connect with because it is all around us! Nearly everything we eat, wear, use — even the fuel that powers cars and buses — comes from plants and animals grown on farms.

2.   Agriculture provides real-world connections to Iowa Core Standards.  Teaching about agriculture in Iowa is an ideal way for students to learn what their state is all about and provide real-life connections to all subjects.

  • Tip:  On the application, be sure to specifically describe what your students will learn about agriculture through your project– not just how a topic, like Iowa history or technology, relates to agriculture.

3.  Social Studies, Social Studies, Social Studies!  Iowa recently adopted new social studies standards, and many have strong connections to agriculture!  Here’s just few examples:

-1st Grade: Describe the diverse cultural makeup of Iowa’s past and present in the local community, including indigenous and agricultural communities. (SS.1.23)

-2nd Grade: Identify how people use natural resources to produce goods and services. (SS.2.12)

-4th Grade: Explain how Iowa’s agriculture has changed over time. (SS.4.26)

-6th Grade: Explain how changes in transportation, communication, and technology influence the movement of people, goods, and ideas in various countries. (SS.6.18)

-7th Grade: Analyze the role that Iowa plays in contemporary global issues. (SS.7.27)

  • Tip: Take a look at the National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes for more ideas about what students should know about agriculture as it relates to the study of culture, society, economy and geography. Social Studies content is in orange print.

4.  It’s a great way to build your classroom library. Books are a perfect way for students to learn about agriculture! Incorporate books with an agricultural theme into a language arts or social studies lesson described in the application.  Then add them to your classroom library to be enjoyed by students for years to come.

  • Tip: Take a look at the books in the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation’s Lending Library for ideas. We have over 200 titles, and you can even check them out to review before buying your own.

5.  Funding for field trips is hard to come by. Take students to learn about agriculture first-hand at a farm, museum or historic site. Iowa’s many agriculture museums and historic sites offer tours and self-guided opportunities to learn about Iowa’s agricultural history.

  • Tip:  Be sure to include what you will do in the classroom before and after the field trip to make the most of the learning experience.  If you are learning about agriculture long-ago during the field trip, describe ways your students will compare and contrast that to farming today once they return.

6.  It’s easy!  Many grant applications take hours to complete and require long essays, spreadsheets with details budgets, administrator approval, and more.  Not this one! It only has 10 questions, and most have short answers. Head on over to the application page, create a log-in, and get started.

  • Tip:  Take a look at the application questions now, think about project ideas, and return later to finish. Once you start the application, you can save and return as often as necessary before January 10, 2018.



Summer Boredom Busters


We’re only a few weeks into summer break, but I know many kids are already saying, “I’m bored.  There’s nothing to do.”

Whether you’re trying to keep your own kids busy or want to teach a group of kids about agriculture, we have many ideas for you!  Below are some great ways to help kids explore the world of agriculture, have fun, and learn about science or history too!  Some will work well for one or two kids to do at home, while others can easily be done with larger groups at a county fair, summer camp, etc.

GrassheadbigGrow Something

  • Create a Cover Crop Monster with grass seed, soil, stockings or old tights, a few art supplies. The grass grows into a funky hairdo your kiddos will love!
  • Plant a seed necklace. Add a corn kernel and a soybean seed to a jewelry-size zip top bag filled with moisture beads or a moistened cotton ball. Punch a hole in the top, add a piece of yarn, and viola… you have a living necklace featuring Iowa’s two main crops.
  • Get gardening. Remember, you don’t need to a big garden to get started.  Plunk a seedling or two into an existing flower bed, or create a container garden with something you already have around such as an old flower pot, bucket, barrel or even a shoe.  Just make sure it has holes in the bottom, to allow excels water to drain.
  • Plant soybeans in plaster of Paris. Say, what???  Just do it.  I promise you won’t be disappointed!


TypingRead & Write

  • Read the digital version or request your own copy of My Family’s Beef Farm or My Family’s Corn Farm. For farm kids, have them to write and illustrate a simple story about their farm.  This would be a great family project!
  • Explore the list of books in our Lending Library with your children and pick out a few of their favorites to read together. See if your local library has these titles, or check them out through us for two weeks.  A few of my favs for younger children are Who Grew My Soup, and So you want to Grow a Taco, and All in Just one Cookie.  Great picks for older kids include The Kid Who Changed the World, Farmer George Plants a Nation. A Hog Ate my Homework, and The Beef Princess of Practical County.
  • Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type is one of my kids’ favorite books. In this super silly book, the cows write letters to the farmer demanding extra amenities in the barn or they will go on strike. After reading this book and “My Family’s Beef Farm,” ask kids to write a letter to Cecelia’s family from the perspective of one of the calves.  Their letters can be silly or more serious and consider the needs of the calves and what Cecilia’s family provides for them.  Instead of a “demand” letter, maybe they’ll choose to write a “thank you” letter.  To make this extra fun, ask around to see if you can find an old typewriter so the kids can type the letter just like the cows in Click Clack Moo.  The digital version can be found at PBS and it’s in our Lending Library too.

ice-creamGet Cooking

2050Play Games

  • Farmers 2050 is perfect for the middle and high school videogame-loving kids. This online and app-based game allows players to grow crops, raise livestock, and support their local community, and engage with local and global partners as they level up.
  • My American Farm’s interactive games are perfect for elementary-age kids. Players learn where food comes from and how those products get from the farm to their dinner plate.

IMG_1354Create Something:

  • Paint with Soil! Yes, dirt can be beautiful. The color of soil in Iowa varies quite a bit, but for a more colorful work of art ask out of state friends and relatives to send you soil too!
  • Make corn mosaics. Explore the difference between Indian corn, popcorn, and field corn while creating a beautiful work of art. Gather seeds of each type, craft glue, and cardboard squares and let your little artist create a masterpiece worthy of display in the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.
  • Forget rubber stamps, an ear of corn is all you need to create a beautiful work of art with ink pads or washable tempera paint. Rolling the whole ear in paint will create a beautiful pattern, but also try printing with the husks, cob, or a cross section of an ear. Other veggies like broccoli, potatoes, carrots, and even lettuce leaves make great prints too!

Grout-Museum-District-362x272Go Somewhere:

  • Visit a farm. Ask a relative, neighbor, or friend if your family can come visit their farm – or even better put the kiddos to work for a few hours help.  In person is best, but don’t forget about virtual visits too!  Check out our FarmChat® tips to learn how.
  • Have fun at a local farmer’s market. Encourage kids to help you pick out vegetables or ask the farmers questions.  This farmer’s market scavenger hunt will make the visit extra fun too!
  • Plan a family road trip to visit one of the many agricultural historical sites in Iowa. Check out Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area‘s eight Ag Adventure loop guides to make your planning easy! Even better, let the kids explore the website and help decide where to go!





My Family’s Corn Farm and 8 Other Ways to Teach About Corn

When most people think of Iowa, they think of corn.   It’s the number one agriculture commodity in Iowa, and Iowa farmers grow more corn than any other state.  In fact, only three countries (U.S., China, and Brazil) produce more corn than is grown in our little state.

Because corn is big here, it makes sense that Iowans are excited to get their hands on a children’s book all about corn farming!  My Family’s Corn Farm is a non-fiction book by Katie Olthoff.

The story follows Presley, a young Iowa farm girl.  She lives with her family on a corn and swine farm in southeast Iowa. Presley a takes the readers on a tour of the family farm and discusses how corn is grown for livestock feed, human food, industrial uses, and to produce fuel like ethanol.

The story is written at a 3rd grade reading level, but it is great for all elementary classrooms.  Lower elementary teachers are using it as a read aloud book, and it offers supplemental text on more advanced topics science and social studies topics for older students.

More than 1000 copies of the book were requested by teachers during the first month!   Along with those requests, came requests for corn-themed lessons, activities, and books from our lending library to use with My Family’s Corn Farm.

Here’s eight of my favorite lessons and resources for teaching about corn!

  1. Corny Charades. How fun does that sound? Students will hone language arts skills and learn new science vocabulary while playing this corn-y version of charades.
  2. The Diversity of Corn. Many kids think that most of the corn grown in Iowa is sweet corn.  In this lesson, they’ll explore different characteristics and uses of field corn, sweet corn, popcorn, and ornamental corn, and learn a little about traits and heredity too!
  3. Seed Germination Necklaces. This is a fun twist on germinating seeds, a common science experiment in elementary classroom.
  4. Make Corn Plastic! Forget DIY Slime, when you can make corn plastic!  In this science and social studies lesson, students learn about renewable and non-renewable resources and make bioplastics with just corn cornstarch and corn oil.
  5. Seed to Cereal. In this lesson, students sequence photographs while discovering the journey corn takes from seed to cereal, ethanol, and even cheeseburgers!
  6. Collaborative Corn Stock. The name says it all. Students work together to create a paper cornstalk while learning about plant parts and function.  As an added bonus, you’ll have a great work of art to jazz up the classroom walls!
  7. The Life and Times of Corn by Charles Micucci is a great complement to My Family’s Corn Farm. It’s not a great read-aloud book, but it is a great source for student to flip through to learn more about corn growth & development, history, and uses.
  8. Corn Volumes. This math lesson is a fun way to practice math concepts like measuring and estimating volumes — all using corn!

– Cindy

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