The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many teachers and schools to consider mixed instruction for students or to transition to 100% online classes. Many Iowa schools will move between remote, hybrid, and fully in-person models assessing the changing conditions as they move through the school year. With this need for in-person and virtual lessons, the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation has developed virtual learning models that can be paired with our normal teacher lessons and can suit both needs.
Virtual learning resources already developed include Seesaw lessons (K-2). These lessons are easy for teachers to assign to their students directly. There are also virtual lesson modules (3-5, 6-8, 9-12) that can be easily copied and pasted into whatever online learning platform the school is using. These lessons follow the widely established 5E teaching sequence – which includes the progressive stages Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. Teachers can also take advantage of the Journey 2050 online module. This curriculum and online game help students identify what sustainable agriculture looks like around the world and what their role in it could be.
School districts are implementing strategies for safely reopening schools that involve some amount of continued online instruction and virtual learning for groups of students or periods of time. Students are
participating in a combination of facilitated and independent learning opportunities that take place at school and at home, which will require some new instructional approaches and content. Agriculture in the Classroom programs already offer content-rich virtual programming distributed to local school partners. The reopening of schools will require teachers to further adapt to the “new norm” of teaching and learning. Changes include finding new ways to blend face-to-face and virtual teaching, staggered teaching times, teaching in new settings, complex scheduling, and more. Partnering with Agriculture in the Classroom can
help to support teachers at the time when they most need it. As schools modify schedules for students and consider combinations of face-to-face and virtual learning, families will continue to face challenges with
Unusual times call for unusual solutions. Teachers and Agriculture in the Classroom partners can potentially extend and expand learning spaces into the community. The National Council for School Facilities suggest 44 square feet per student to allow for social distancing. With this guideline schools could operate at 60% of current classroom capacity. That means that additional space around the community is needed. Cafeterias, gymnasiums, community centers, and other public buildings could all be utilized or converted into learning spaces to help ensure social distancing.
Additionally, teachers could use the school grounds for learning. The risk of spreading COVID-19 and other infectious diseases is known to be lower in outdoor settings. Outdoor learning carries the additional benefits mental health and well-being including stress reduction, physical health, increased student engagement, and increased academic success. Outdoor learning spaces can be cost effective too.
School gardens are an obvious way to utilize outdoor spaces for learning. Students can construct raised beds, cold frames, or even full greenhouses. The best success with a project like this would be to focus on quick growing spring crops (spinach, radishes, etc.) that could be planted in April or early May and reap a harvest before school lets out. Throw a few pumpkin seeds in the ground or some potato eyes and let the summer maintenance of the garden be minimal. No need to actively weed all summer long. If the grounds sprinkler system gets the garden, then great! With any luck the students will come back to school in the fall ready to digs some potatoes and pick a great big pumpkin or two.
Outdoor learning spaces can also include research plots where students could monitor corn and soybean growth. Schools could construct chicken coops and students could do language arts lessons writing poems to their chickens (poultry + poetry = pouletry?). Students could plant their favorite fruit trees and develop a school orchard. Any harvested fruit could be added to the school lunch program or maybe processed into jams and jellies. All of these gardens or growing areas make perfect pollinator habitats too. What better way to help bees, butterflies, and other insects?!
While teachers have the brunt of the work ahead of them, online and virtual learning also puts a significant workload on parents too who might have to supervise their kids through the learning process. Supporting learning at home can help families cope and face challenges of childcare. Through this, Agriculture in the Classroom programs can engage the whole family – not with new, additional activities, but with activities they would already do, like cooking. Pick a favorite recipe and learn about all of the ingredients that went into it and how those ingredients were grown. This can engage the whole family with fun learning and promote family bonding.
While there is no perfect solution to education in these new and unusual times, we can all help support teachers and student learners – using agriculture!