Learning about the world around us beyond the classroom

It comes as no surprise that the dynamics of the typical American family have changed and will continue to do so. The family unit is increasingly diverse and constantly evolving. According to the Iowa Afterschool Alliance, 1 in 4 families has a child enrolled in some type of after school program.

Pig Farmer.jpgI would encourage those of us who are passionate about sharing information about agriculture to extend our thinking beyond the traditional classroom. There are a host of resources and activities that are great for specific lessons, but have we thought about using these resources outside of the common teacher/student role? After school programs, library reading programs, child care centers, YMCA youth programs, and home school self-studies are all under-utilized areas for making connections to agriculture.

The after school programs, summer programs, or structured learning within a childcare center provide an ideal time and place to get students excited about learning and pursuing their own interests. Self-confidence expands as they explore new talents in areas that may not be addressed by the regular school curriculum.

Newton library 2.jpgKnowing that many libraries and summer care facilities struggle to find interactive and fun programs to fill their time, I brainstormed a way to share information about agriculture in this setting. The 2015 summer reading theme, “Every Hero has a Story”, provided inspiration for this project. I took the idea of the superhero and applied it to agriculture. “Farmers are Superheroes Too” was born. Many kids can easily relate to superheroes and cartoons. What super powers might the farmer have? The thought of a farmer duplicating animals, having equipment that can drive itself and possessing super strength is exciting and intriguing for the targeted age group within these programs.

Chicks Library-2.jpgFrom photos of animals and crops to people and equipment, each became a cartoon using free online software. Matching up the photos with the superpowers led to the creation of a short story, “Farmers are Superheroes Too”.

Our local libraries, YMCA summer programs and care centers were happy to provide me with time to share this resource. We read the book with ages PreK to 4th graders. An exciting supplement to the book was the chance to use the FarmChat program and Skype with a farmer who demonstrated how his tractor could drive itself. This added experience helped make the farmer superhero come to life while demonstrating technology in agriculture. Other activities that have accompanied the book include planting vegetable seeds for children to take home and bringing baby chicks into childcare centers.

feeding calf at julies.jpgSharing information about agriculture helps put the world around us into perspective. There is no better tool than agriculture for the application of learning. Make sure the activities you offer are fun and engaging, no matter what they are designed to teach. Most kids are tired after a long day at school, and they will be best able to absorb the content of a lesson if it looks more like play and less like a traditional classroom lesson.

Be inspired to share agriculture in new ways! If you would like a free copy of the book, “Farmers are Superheroes Too” please feel free to contact me at jasper.county@ifbf.org.

-Trish Hafkey is the Ag in the Classroom coordinator for Jasper Co. Farm Bureau

Generate Excitement with Reading

School is starting across the state of Iowa and what a perfect time to get back into the routines of enjoying family reading times together. Reading is a fundamental part of life – truly something we need and will always use and enjoy. We want to help strengthen agriculture literacy in fun and exciting ways like reading. There are many opportunities to unlock the potential and nurture the importance of reading.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, children who are read to at home maintain an advantage over children who are not read to. Children are more likely to also have a higher reading proficiency and stronger reading skills. That can lead to success in other subjects in school and throughout life. We all know children in our circle of life that we can influence in positive ways. We help them to develop reading and language skills just by taking time to read to them and their imagination develops as well.

As parents or role models we play a very important role in the lives of the children around us. We can help them, as well as show them the enjoyment than comes from taking time to read. A few simple changes in our day to day routines can make reading a bigger part of our lives:

  1. Turn off the television
  2. Put aside the computer games and telephones
  3. Teach by your example
  4. Read together
  5. Hit the library as a family

We can unlock potential and get readers excited to read about agriculture. Agriculture teaches by using real life examples and encourages readers to value their local communities and farmers as well as teaches them about where their food, fiber and fuel comes from. Here are a few great reads for the young readers you know

cowsCows by Jules Older is a lighthearted, yet informative look at cows, different breeds, what they eat, how they make milk and lots of other facts on cows. Children will enjoy the humor and fantastic pictures while the learn factual informaindextion.

Food and Farming, Then and Now by Bobbie Kalman is a wonderful book to help children see how farming, selling, preservation and preparation of food has changed over the years. Today most of our food is bought from a grocery store, but many years ago things were grown on the family farm and harvested for family use. This book helps kids see how much things have changed in food production. They learn where our food comes from and about the people that grow i51pQdBKPjnL._SX410_BO1,204,203,200_t.

Before We Eat from Farm to Table by award winning author Pat Brisson helps to show that before we eat, many people work very hard. They plant grain, catch fish, tend to animals and stock shelves to help feed our growing population. Milk doesn’t just appear in the refrigerator nor do apples grow in the bowl on the counter.

Fantastic Farm Machines by Cris Peterson gives superb examples of the monster machinery that work the fields 61jLvr7BNoL._SX431_BO1,204,203,200_across our beautiful country. Vivid color photos provide examples of different machines that do the planting, harvesting, and so much more. The author takes the reader on a journey from one farm to another to show many examples of machines from past and present. It is a great read for those who love tractors and big machines.

We invite you to get excited about reading and making a difference in the lives of the young people around you. Take time to read and read to those you’ve been given the opportunity to influence!


Great Teachers Create Great Students

Research shows that an inspiring and informed teacher is the most important school-related factor influencing student achievement. It is increasingly critical for new and experienced educators to be trained so they can relay those experiences to their students.

Teachers can take advantage of a number of different professional development opportunities to learn from each other and learn from other experts in the field. This ongoing learning keeps teachers up-to-date on new research on how children learn, emerging technology tools, new curriculum resources, and much more. The best professional development is experiential and collaborative. It should be connected to working with students, understanding their culture, and making learning real and relevant.

IMG_2063Through a series of workshops this summer, teachers across Iowa get the chance to participate in experiential and student focused professional development. These workshops use agriculture as the context to teach science, social studies, language arts, and other subject.

Each two-day workshop is set up with one field day and one classroom day. The field days take teachers to see firsthand farms, feedlots, dairies, co-ops, ethanol production plants, and other agribusinesses. Many of these businesses are hallmarks for the community yet we don’t understand what they do. The classroom day helps teachers break down what they saw on the tours into manageable lessons and activities that they can take back and implement in their classrooms.

Integrating Science

IMG_2052One of the stops of the workshop hosted in Tabor, Iowa was to a beef cattle feedlot that recently installed a monoslope barn. Monoslope barns might not be much to look at, but they utilize a number of different scientific concepts to provide a comfortable environment for the cattle. The building is built with an east-west alignment. This alignment keeps the cattle cool and shaded during the summer months and allows for maximum sunlight during the winter months. The pitch of the roof allows for heat to rise and be siphoned off very efficiently. Even though it is open air, there can be as much as a 15-degree temperature difference between the inside of the building and the outside of the building. The narrow opening on the north side of the building also takes advantage of the Venturi effect and promotes a lot of air flow through the building.

Integrating Social Studies

Journey 2050 Final Logo Illustrated_HIGH_RGBOne of the new resources that teachers are learning about is Journey 2050. This online gaming platform explores what sustainable agriculture really means. It looks at farmers in Kenya, India, and Canada. By understanding how farmers in different parts of the world are different and how they are the same we can begin to apply different social studies concepts. We can discuss the geography of those regions that create limiting factors. We can discuss the economics of those regions that might lead to the success or failure of those farmers. And we can discuss all of the factors that contribute to sustainability including profits, jobs, community, food, education, health, infrastructure, soil, water, and greenhouse gases.

Integrating Language Arts

IMG_2186Teachers who attended the workshops were introduced to a variety of resources to help supplement language arts lessons including Iowa Ag Today and My Family’s Beef Farm. Using these resources, students can practice contextual reading and begin to understand farming. Using teaching strategies like close reading, context clues, visualization, fluency, self-questioning, and making tracks, teachers can teach language arts to their students. This can boost reading, writing, and speaking skills easily aligning to standards.

Learn more about these workshop and other upcoming workshops. Great teachers make great students! With ongoing education, we can ensure that our students have the best possible chance for future success. The workshops were made possible with support from the Iowa Energy Center, the CHS Foundation, and the Monsanto Fund.


7 Ideas to “Beef” Up Reading and Writing Skills

Beef Book Cover  Have you seen our latest project, My Family’s Beef Farm?    It’s a non-fiction book by children’s author, Katie Olthoff that tells the story of raising cattle on a modern beef farm.

The story follows Cecelia, a 10-year-old farm girl in Iowa. She lives with her family on a beef cattle farm. Cecelia takes the readers on a tour of the family farm and discusses how farmers care for livestock and raise safe, nutritious beef.

My Family’s Beef Farm was mailed to every 3rd grade classroom in the state, and available to other teachers on request.   It has been fun to hear how teachers are using the book in classrooms.  While the content of the book ties to science standards, the book is a great tool to use for language arts lessons too.

Below are just a few ideas to “beef” up students’ reading and writing skills using My Family’s Beef Farm.

  1. Build-a-Sentence. Turn demonstrating understanding into a fun group activity by creating word cards for students to put together to create sentences, similar to Magnetic Poetry. Either create pre-printed words on strips, or have students write 100 words from the book on small strips of paper.  Then ask students to use the words to answer questions such as:  What is the main idea of the story?  Describe the main character.  What do farmers do to take care of animals?  Students can also use their word cards to create their own story!   Add another level of engagement and a STEM connection by attaching the words to blocks, so students can literally “build” sentences.
  1. PastureTIP Method (Term, Information, Picture). Ask students to select a word from the book that is new to them.  Then have them write the word (term), write the definition or information they know about the word, and draw a picture that represents the word.  If they are stumped, encourage them to refer back to the book and use context clues in the text and pictures to determine the definition.  As a class, share and discuss the definitions and drawings.  This method of understanding new vocabulary appeals to both visual and auditory learners.
  2.  Echo Reading. Read a paragraph of the text aloud, following the words with a pointer for students to see. After the text is read aloud, the students imitate, or echo  you while reading from their individual copies or the digital version projected on a screen.   Echo reading allows children to practice proper phrasing and expression and develop sight word
  3. Partner ReadingSee-Saw Reading. In pairs, ask students to read the book aloud to each other alternating who reads each paragraph or page. This strategy helps build confidence and reading fluency.
  4.  Say Something. Play relaxing music as students read the book quietly to themselves. When the music stops, ask the students to make a comment to a partner about what they just read.  Repeat every few minutes until all students are done reading their book.   Check out this teacher’s Say Something conversation starters.
  5. Beef BooksConnecting Text to Text. Select another non-fiction book about livestock farming, such as Amazing Grazing by Cris Peterson. After reading the second book, list and discuss connections between the two texts.  Did one book provide background information that helped them better understand the other book?  Connections enable readers to use what they already know to develop meaning about something that is new.
  6. Click Clack mooPoint-of-View letter. After reading My Family’s Beef Farm and Click Clack Moo Cows that Type, ask students to write letters from a cow on Cecilia’s farm to her family.  Ask the students to focus the letter on a particular opinion (of the cow) and provide evidence to support that opinion.  This assignment will be extra fun if you can get your hands on old type-writers!


Do you have other ideas for using My Family’s Beef Farm with students?   We’d love to hear them!


Iowa elementary teachers can request classroom sets of My Family’s Beef Farm by emailing info@iowaagliteracy.org or access the digital version and supplemental lessons hereAmazing Grazing, Click Clack Moo, and other great books are available for teachers to borrow from the IALF Lending Library.

My Family’s Beef Farm is a special project of the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation with financial support from the Iowa Beef Industry Council.

Farm Yoga for Kids

Yoga may not be for everyone. But for those who have taken up this old world exercise there can be many positive benefits. Benefits can include improved flexibility, better posture, increased blood flow, increased focus and much more.

But yoga doesn’t have to be for just adults. Kids can join in the fun too! And what better way to practice healthy living than to do some physical activities with yoga poses based on things you would see at a farm! Teach these yoga poses in the spirit of play. Tell the story below and have students interact with the story by creating the character poses.

mountain-pose.jpgHold each pose for 30 to 60 seconds and then relax and transition to the next pose, as the story continues.

There once was a SCARECROW that stood overlooking a field and a farm. From his vantage point he could see all of the farm. His main job was to keep the birds away from eating the corn. He was so good at his job that there weren’t very many birds around. He had a lot of time to watch the farmer go about his daily chores.

StandSquat_9469.jpgThe farmer woke up bright and early (before the sunrise!). After feeding the cattle, he grabbed his PITCHFORK and headed inside the barn. He had to remove all of the old straw and bedding that the cows slept on. Then he replaced it with fresh, clean straw. He knew that big farms do this with tractors and machinery. But he only has a few cows and still has time to do it by hand.

7.-Chair-Pose.jpgThe farmer does have a tractor and he uses it to plant seeds in the field or move big bales of hay around. The scarecrow saw the farmer DRIVING-A-TRACTOR toward the haystack. The farmer loaded up a big bale of hay. He will mix that with corn, soybeans and other ingredients to make a delicious dinner for the cattle.

warrior-3-pose.jpgAfter mixing the cattle’s dinner, the farmer drove the tractor back through the farm GATE and into the machine shed.

252_hp_move_10a_450.jpgFrom the machine shed he could see a lone DUCK swimming in the pond. The duck swam round and round in circles creating ripples in the still water.

0c6b703d5bff63e61d5c7e40ee288760.jpgThe DOG sat at the edge of the pond watching the duck. The dog knew that if he tried to chase the duck the duck would just fly away.

cat.jpgThe HAPPY CAT sat on the porch of the house. He was content in knowing that the dog was occupied with watching the duck. The happy cat had the house all to himself.

The farmer made his way back to the barn to see if the cattle were yoga-poses-for-beginners-03-pg-full.jpgdone with their breakfast. One COW was mooing loudly. It was as if she was telling the farmer that it was time to start milking. The farmer guided her into the stall and hooked up the automatic milker. He knew that this delicious milk might be in grocery stores by the very next day.

rock-pose-300x225.jpgOne after another the farmer guided the cows into the stall to be milked. When the milk truck came to pick up the milk from the farm, the farmer opened up the door to help guide the trucker. A tiny MOUSE scurried across his boot.

249_hp_groove_16_450.jpgWhen the milk truck drove away the farmer went to check on his pigs. Usually pigs live inside where they are protected from cold, sun, and predators. But today was such a nice day that the farmer had opened up the barn to allow them to roam in an outdoor pen. One large PIG-IN-MUD was rolling around and having a great time!

reclining_bound_angle_pose.jpgThe farmer swore the pig was trying to make a MUD-ANGEL.

After a long day of caring for his animals, the farmer laid down in the cool grass. He looked up at the dark sky for a little HWSavasana.jpgSTAR GAZING.

Check out this quick video of the whole story.


Lend Me Your Ear for Ag Idioms

chickenIdioms…we have all heard them at one time or another. For those of you like myself that have been out of school for some time, an idiom is a phrase of words that means something different from the literal meaning of the individual words. I find it amazing that there are so many agriculture related idioms. Here are just a few of the more common agriculture-related idioms to ponder as we move into dog days of summer.

There are countless ones about chickens…like running around “like a chicken with its head cut off” –Realistically chickens do continue to twitch or move a little for a short time after harvest because of their neural network and the spinal cord sending delayed messages to their muscles.

It’s almost the fourth of July and I have heard it said that “The corn is knee high by the Fourth of July.” Decades ago, knee high corn meant it was doing well and a good harvest was in sight. But today, knee high corn in July would signify something is wrong with the crop. As the novice on agriculture….this one always made me laugh because I was already eating sweet corn by the fourth of July! Field corn stays out in the fields a little longer than sweet corn and it is used for things like ethanol or feed for livestock, not for human consumption.

I recall as a teenager to make hay while the sun shines. What was that supposed to mean? My parents meant for me to get busy doing what I was asked to do. This old proverb tells us to do today what we can, because we may not have the opportunity tomorrow. Back in the day, if the hay had been cut and set out to dry and got wet, there was a strong chance the hay would be ruined. No time like the present to do what needs to be done!

I have been known to say that I’m sweating like a pig. Well that’s funny, because pigs don’t sweat. They do not have sweat glands. They cool off by getting into the mud or water. How about this room looks like a pig pen? Pigs are actually clean animals. They leave the area to relieve themselves. I have also heard the saying “you’re eating like a pig.” This statement would infer that someone is overeating. Pigs only eat until they are full. Amazing how these statements are taken literally and yet they aren’t factual.

I hope to be as cool as a cucumber when it’s hot and sticky outside and if all else fails…let’s just grab a glass of ice cold lemonade and shoot the breeze! There are so many humorous idioms about the farm, I can only share a few – I encourage you to find a few of your own.

Have a great July!


In Awe of Agriculture

DSC_6742Last week was an exciting week for the Iowa Ag Literacy Foundation and for Ag in the Classroom programs across the state. We partnered with county Farm Bureaus to offer four professional development workshops for teachers. During the two-day experience teachers visited farms, grain elevators, implement dealers, and agribusinesses to learn first-hand about modern agriculture and see the STEM connections in the field. They did hands-on science experiments, explored language arts teaching strategies using agriculture books, and began developing lessons to help connect their students with agriculture while teaching math, science, social studies, and language arts.

DSC_6940The teachers attending the workshops were diverse. The majority were elementary teachers, but a few secondary science, math, social studies, and agriculture teachers were in the mix too. As we did introductions on the first day, one common theme emerged. Nearly every teacher had a connection to agriculture. Many of them grew up on farms or are currently involved in a family farming operation. It was obvious that these teachers already understood the value of agriculture and wanted to share that message with their students.

DSC_6888Positioned in the back of each workshop room was a giant sticky board we call a Wonder Wall. Teachers were encouraged to post questions they have about agriculture, ideas for using what they learned in their classroom, and “Wow! Moments” that stuck them. A “Wow! Moment” could be a simple surprising fact mentioned during a tour or an eye-opening epiphany about agriculture and education.

After finishing the whirl-wind week of workshops, I sat at my desk Friday afternoon and read what teachers wrote on the Wonder Wall. The Wow! Moments were the most profound. Nearly all of them focused on a realization they had about agriculture that hit them during the workshops. A few themes emerged. Teachers were wowed by innovation, opportunity, reliance, and commitment.

Their Wow! Moments didn’t completely surprise me because after all, agriculture is pretty amazing. However, I didn’t expect so many big-picture realizations about agriculture to develop from this group. Remember, nearly all of the teachers participating in the workshops already had an interest in and knowledge of agriculture.

This opened my eyes to the fact that we often don’t see what is right in front of us. We know that agriculture is high-tech, expensive, and innovative. We know that the jobs in it are abundant and diverse. We know that farmers love what they do and are committed to protecting the animals, land, and resources that support them. But what we often forget is that we need to share these things that we know with others.
I’ve been thinking about their Wow! Moments for the last week and will leave you with a few that are representative of those shared by these inspired and dedicated teachers.

career wow“The lady at the dairy was amazing. You could tell she loved what she was doing and truly cares for the well-being of the cows.”

“I was blown-away with the technology I saw today. So cool that Agrivision can see some problems [with equipment] before the farmer can and be able to contact the farmer to let them know and keep them in the field.”

“It was really cool to see the inside of the big pig barn. I’ve always wanted to walk up to one and take a peek inside but have never had the opportunity. I was amazed with all farmers do to keep the pigs safe from disease/contamination.”

“I did not realize how many jobs we had for people right here in our local area. We need to expose our learners from an early age.”

“Agriculture provides so much more than food. I am amazed with the many products made with items grown on farms.”

Now it’s your turn. What “Wows” you about agriculture?

– Cindy