Path in Life
by Dawn Alexander, Teacher Feature, October 2016
Coming from an agricultural background and 9 years in the 4-H program, my original plan when I graduated from college was to teach agriculture to high school students. In the early 1980’s that wasn’t so easy… being a female in a mostly male dominated area of education, and being in a state where there weren’t many ag programs to begin with, 18 at the time, I looked outside the state for a job. No luck, so I started substitute teaching and ended up mostly in elementary schools. I came to the realization I really liked younger students and I could still teach agriculture to these young people and may even have more of an impact on their ag knowledge than waiting until they were in high school! I took a few classes to get my elementary license and started as a 3rd grade teacher.
A few years later I became involved in the Nevada Ag in the Classroom program and helped with Ag Literacy and sharing with other teachers. When I moved to Oregon, I continued to integrate agriculture in my classroom. The Deschutes County Farm Bureau donated a class set of Get Oregonized books to each school in Redmond, and so teaching the regions of Oregon in 3rd grade was a ‘piece of cake’ (those of you who know the book, will know what that means). We took an imaginary trip around the state to integrate science and social studies standards. Students were able to see how much ag impacts their lives and how fortunate we are to live in a state where ag is abundant. I continually check the Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom website, where I borrow books and items. I use their hands-on kits and students are “ag-cited” to take home an item they have made and tell their parents what they’ve learned; helping to spread the ag message.
Students learning about where bread comes from.
Teaching a different grade level meant changing standards. I wanted to have a monthly ag focus where students would focus on a different Oregon commodity, how it impacted our lives, and the history of the commodity. I found a few local grants to purchase food supplies so students could sample, or even in a few cases, make their own food. We made Bread in a Bag one month, brought in a local baker, made the butter to go along with the bread, and one of my students lived on a dairy so we brought in a young calf!
There are so many great resources to help students gain a deeper understanding of the importance agriculture plays in their lives. When my son was an FFA member, I had the high school students come in several times during the year and teach my students. My students were so engaged listening to their peers and in awe of the blue jackets. I continue to have the FFA students in my class during the year for activities such as pumpkin pie in a bag, dirt babies, and the annual literacy project, where each year a different ag book and activity is shared in classrooms across the state.
FFA students helping in Dawn’s classroom.
This summer, I had the opportunity to attend the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in Litchfield, Arizona. The Deschutes County Farm Bureau made it possible for me to attend, and I came home with so much new information, ideas to use, and a long list of new ag teacher friends. It was so enlightening to see ag in another state and to listen to what other challenges teachers in other states have in getting the ag message out. One of the workshops focused on the National Agriculture Literacy Curriculum Matrix. What a plethora of ideas to use. Check it out if you haven’t already. The Bug Chicks were speakers at the last breakfast and also taught a workshop. How about some ‘buggy’ learning for my 5th graders this year and their impact on agriculture? I can’t wait! I highly recommend this learning opportunity for any teacher wanting to learn more about integrating ag into their classroom.
Dawn Alexander and the Bug Chicks, with Jessica Jansen at the National Ag in the Classroom conference.
With the focus on the Common Core Standards and exposing our students to more non-fiction reading, I have been obtaining more books related to agriculture and using them in my guided reading groups, as well as, during science and social studies. The American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture website has recommended books for students, as well as, their book of the year award. Check out any of the websites I have mentioned for great lesson plans, resources of materials, and grants to help teach ag in your classroom. Even though I may have veered from my original path I thought I was going to be taking when I started a career, I’m still pretty close to it, and may have been meant for this one anyway.
Dawn Alexander is starting her 32nd year of teaching elementary students and currently teaches in Redmond, Oregon. She was Oregon’s 2012 Ag in the Classroom Teacher of the Year.