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.



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

The Science of Agriculture

Have you ever observed something and wondered why does it look that way or why does it do that? This is what scientists do on a continuous basis in their lives. They look at a phenomena and try to figure out the how, why, or what of it.

IMG_2543.JPGOur beautiful state of Iowa offers a plethora of agricultural phenomena to be figured out in classrooms. One example of this is in northwest Iowa where I live. Earlier this spring there was a lot of rainfall that kept farmers out of the fields. In fact, some farmers, including my husband, were not able to farm some of the ground because of standing water. In one particular area, a pond flooded so badly that it crossed a state highway and filled the ditches.

IMG_2544.JPGMany people drive by this area and wonder, why did that farm ground flood so badly and why is the water still standing in the ditches? In fact, this flooding has attracted many Great Blue Herons and various types of ducks.

  • So the question is, what caused this area to flood so badly and still be flooded in the fall?
  • What brought the Great Blue Heron to this area when we never see them before?
  • What will the farmer have to do to prepare this land for planting next year when it has all this water standing on it?
  • Will it affect his crops next year?

IMG_2537.JPGThis is a local phenomenon that teachers could have their students figure out. For example, the teacher could take the students on a field trip and observe the impact of the flooding on this particular system. Or if a field trip is not possible the teacher could take a picture to show the students. Construct a driving question board on why it happened. Students could question if this was due to some sort of human activity with the land or maybe a drainage problem. This is where students would engage in the science and engineering practices of obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information to explain what is happening and come up with a design solution to the problem.

This type of phenomena can involve different disciplines of science. Through their investigations the students can make connections between the ecosystems of the Great Blue Heron in life science. They can connect earth and human activity in earth and space with the flooding. They can connect weather patterns with the rainfall in physical science.

The new Iowa Science Standards offer a bridge between science and agriculture. Teachers can construct real life experiences by exposing students to local phenomena such as the flooding on this farm ground and having them engage like scientists in figuring out what happened here. Is there something we can design or possibly do to prevent this from happening?

Making the shift in the classroom from learning-about to figuring-out can bring about some authentic agriculture related science experiences. Look around! There are agricultural phenomena everywhere just waiting to be figured out!

-Jody Still Herbold, Education Consultant and farmer, Northwest AEA

Summer 2016 Professional Development


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This summer, our staff assisted in hosting eight different professional development workshops across the state. Each workshop consisted of one tour day and one day in the classroom. The tours visited a wide variety of farms and agribusinesses, which helped teachers learn more about agriculture concepts, how they tie to other subject areas, and the potential career opportunities for their students.

The tours ranged from dairy farms and beef cattle farms, to a tomato and aquaculture farm, children’s museum, grain cooperatives, ethanol refineries, implement dealerships, grocery warehouses, a wind farm, implement factory, greenhouses and even a genetics laboratory. At ethanol refineries, we were able to talk about chemistry, biochemistry, marketing, and energy issues. At the various farm operations, we were able to discuss biology, biosecurity, health, safety, logistics, and marketing. At implement dealerships and factories, we were able to discuss engineering, science, and the challenges that farmers face that agriculture engineers work to solve.

The second day of the workshops focused on tying the concepts from the first day into subject areas like science, social studies, language arts, and math. Teachers got to walk through hands-on activities and lesson plans that bridge these concepts.

During these workshops, we documented our experiences. Check out our Storify story to see some social media posts.

We also documented the workshops with a short video. Give it a few minutes and learn about what we did this summer!


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.


Language Arts and Agriculture: Strategies that work!


Why in the world would you use agriculture to teach Language arts? The answer is easy. Agriculture is interesting and relevant to students. They encounter it at least three times a day. Who doesn’t enjoy talking about food? Once students begin to discover that everything they eat, wear, and use comes from a plant or animal grown on a farm, they are curious to learn more and look at the food and products around them with curiosity and wonder.

There are many great books and other publications that introduce elementary students to the world of agriculture. They explore topics such the job of a farmer, where our food comes from, and how plants and animals grown on farms make their way to our table in the form of cornflakes, spaghetti, or ice cream. I frequently see these books in classrooms and school libraries, but I often wonder if they are being used to their potential by teachers and students. Why only use these great books for a plant or animal unit? I say take them off the shelf and use them in a language arts lessons! Doing so gives them a purpose beyond teaching students about plants, animals, and agriculture. Below are a few of my favorite strategies to strengthen language arts skills. I can’t take credit for developing these myself. I borrowed them from a few brilliant teachers.

Making tracksMaking Tracks – Also called annotation or reading with a pencil, this strategy encourages students to write as they read. They attack the page with their pencil by underlining, circling, and writing questions and thoughts in the margins or on sticky notes. Making tracks as they read encourages critical thinking and helps comprehension of difficult text. It is helpful to create an annotation key with your students which includes symbols to mark parts of text that are interesting, confusing, spark a question, etc.. Our new student magazine, Iowa Ag Today is perfect for upper elementary students to make tracks on!

Vocabulary Charades – Ask students to write new vocabulary on index cards when reading a non-fiction article or book. Divide the class into two teams and have players take turns coming to the front of the room, selecting a card at random, and acting out or role-playing the definition of the selected word. You will be amazed with the words they are able to translate (and remember) through gestures and actions. Forget flashcards.  Playing charades makes learning new vocabulary fun!

t-chartFacts vs. Fiction – There are many farm-themed storybooks that combine fact and fiction. After reading a book like Otis, Hogwash, or Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type ask students to create a T-Chart to separate real aspects of the story from those that are make-believe. You can ask them to chart the entire book or focus on a particular animal or page of the book.

Stop and Jot – As you read a book to the class pause frequently and ask students to jot down something they visualized, wondered about, or found interesting during the reading. After the book is finished students can talk about their jots as a whole class or in small groups.

General Understandings – After reading a book, ask students to retell the story to a partner using words like first, next, and finally. From Corn to Cereal and Tops and Bottoms are perfect books to pair with this strategy.

My family's Farm

Text Dependent Questions – Instead of asking students questions about facts they learned while reading a book, ask questions that require critical thinking and reinforce language arts concepts. Below are a few examples of text dependent questions based on the book My Family’s Farm. Check out the digital version from the Iowa Turkey Federation or order your free copy here.

  • Key details– How does Adam help his dad on the turkey farm?
  • Vocabulary and text structure – How did the author help us to understand what wattle means?
  • Author’s purpose –  Who tells the story? How do you know?
  • Inferences– Do you think Adam’s dad, Bart works hard on the turkey farm? Why do you think this?
  • Opinions, arguments, intertextual connections– In your opinion, is raising turkeys an important job?
  • Sketch to stretch – After reading a book to young students ask them to draw what they learned from the book and then talk about their drawings.

I hope these strategies will help you to find a new use for agriculture books while adding something new to language arts lessons! Please add to our list by sharing one of your favorite language arts activities in a comment below.

– Cindy