THE IMPORTANCE OF AG IN THE CLASSROOM AND FARMING

cartoon-barn-imageOctober 12 is National Farmer’s Day. I’d decided to write something about Oklahoma’s wonderful Ag in the Classroom program for teachers, when I noticed that there was a special day for farmers. We can’t do without our farmers. They feed the world. And, Ag in the Classroom helps us learn about agriculture and farming.

They say in the Ag in the Classroom program that you can’t have an agless day. And, they’re right. From the food we eat, the clothing we wear, the bedding we sleep on, and the wood we use to heat our homes or roast our marshmallows, all are a part of agriculture. In fact, ag constantly touches our lives.

Ag in the Classroom has wonderful programs and lessons for teachers. Melody Aufill, Audrey Harmon, and Emily Ague are professional educational coordinators for the program. They visit Oklahoma schools, provide workshops, and write curriculum as needed to help teachers learn more about agriculture. Their lessons are aligned with state standards in English, Science, Social Studies and Math.

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Each year, there’s a summer bus tour to a different part of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Beef Council is the largest sponsor of the “On the Road with Ag in the classroom.” This three day professional development opportunity for teachers helps improve ag literacy by giving teachers a chance to tour farms and ranches and other agricultural sites and companies. During the tour, teachers discover more about agriculture within the state and how to incorporate it into their classrooms. There’s also a one day Ag in the Classroom Conference in the summer. I’ve been a part of Ag in the Classroom for many years, and I’ve been on the bus tours and spoken at some of the summer conferences. Both the tours and the summer institutes are very beneficial.

There are many lessons available for teachers. If you need more information about beans, bees, and beef, there are lessons for those topics. Do you need to know more about hogs, horses, or hay? There are lessons available. Do you know how to measure a horse in “hands”? There’s a lesson for that. The lessons provide needed information and have activities to accompany them.

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img_3500-heritage-horseAg in the Classroom partners with many ag resources and companies. Twice a year, the Pork Commission gives six $500.00 grants to teachers. The application is easy to fill out. The Noble Center and the Wheat Commission, contribute to the Ag in the Classroom program, too, along with many more ag companies and individuals too numerous to mention here.

Although there are many topics to teach in schools, I feel that learning about agriculture is important, too. One year, I received a map of Oklahoma commodities. It showed which ag products were produced or grown in different Oklahoma counties. I hung it on a wall in a hallway, and the children were fascinated by it. They found that some counties raised more beef while others counties raised more wheat or peanuts. There was always a crowd around the map as children learned more about Oklahoma’s ag products.

Yes, ag is important. We can’t live without it.

So Happy Farmer’s Day!

And, thanks, Ag in the Classroom, for what you do to help all of us learn more about agriculture.

Look up this link:     www.agclassroom.org/ok/

The Importance of Author Visits

I got my real teacher education in an Alt Ed classroom.  The Oklahoma program, before it was watered down by politics, mandated arts education and life skills as part of the core curriculum.

A good grant writer and matching funds helped me bring workshops to my school, including a poet, a cartoonist, and a found-objects sculptor.  Volunteers and friends made other experiences possible.  Dan, who’d served three tours of duty as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, taught my kids to cook.  Mila, who owned a quilt shop, taught them to sew.

How valuable was this hands-on education?  One of my students is a professional chef with his own restaurant.  Another became a math teacher. What I learned was that all students have gifts if we make the effort to uncover them, and that outside experts are invaluable in helping your students develop their gifts.

When a new superintendent farmed the Alt Ed program out to another district in the county, I moved to the high school English department.  Fortunately for me, many of my friends were writers.

My students were fortunate because the board of the local education foundation was made up of readers and book lovers. That year I wrote my first author-visit grant.  The board loved my idea, a visit from Anna Myers and an all-school read of her historical fiction novel Tulsa Burning.

The next author was storyteller Tim Tingle.  The all-school read was his Walking the Choctaw Road.

The third year, when I asked students whom to invite, they wanted Anna back.  We read Assassin. I moved to the elementary school. There we had visits from picture book author Tammi Sauer and nonfiction author Kay Jackson.

When I moved to another district, it was the principal at our school who recognized the importance of school visits.  She raised funds for books and authors, including Tammi Sauer, Barbara Lowell, and members of the Doodle and Peck team, including Sandra Lawson and Una Belle Townsend.

After visits from authors and illustrators, we saw the results.  Kids read more.  They chose favorite authors and would read everything their favorite wrote.  They started asking for particular books. They wrote more.   Some students started calling themselves writers. The artists showed off their illustrations.

Getting to know writers and realizing they are real people helps students see writing as a real choice. I know, because it is what my sixth-grade teacher, an author named Healion Toaz, showed me.

The importance of outside experts can’t be overestimated, whether they are poets, authors, farmers, or cooks.  They give students options they didn’t know they had.  As for kidlit experts, Oklahoma has some of the best in the country, and they are available to inspire your students.

How to Partner with Authors in the Classroom

Many teachers and librarians are intimidated to approach authors. As an author myself, I’m here to tell you that authors don’t bite. In fact, we are actively looking for ways to partner with schools, libraries and classrooms to get students excited about reading (and writing!). You may be avoiding author partnerships because you think authors are just too darn expensive. Not true! Many authors are willing to partner with schools for free, especially when it comes to digital visits via Skype or Google Hangouts.

There are many benefits of connecting with an author in your classroom or library. When students are able to interact with real authors, it…

  • Demystifies the writing process
  • Opens a world of possibilities for students
  • Empowers students to create their own stories
  • Creates a personal connection to the author’s work
  • Generates excitement about reading that translates to other titles

Here are a few of my favorite ways to connect:

1. Skype and Google Hangouts

skypemorocco.jpgOne of the best parts of digital author visits, is that many authors (including me) offer them for free! In addition, they allow you to connect with authors anywhere in the world. It’s a fast and easy way to show students that authors are ordinary people, just like them. The visits can take any form you like, from a 30-minute Q&A (my favorite), to career day talks to lessons focused on a specific topic. To find authors who offer free Skypes or Google Hangouts:

2. #KidsNeedMentors

#KidsNeedMentors is an awesome program that pairs educators across the U.S. with authors. Each educator/author team will then collaborate throughout the year. Each collaboration is different and depends on the individual educator’s needs. For more info, hop on Twitter and contact one of the founders: @Jarrett_Lerner, @KCreadsALOT, @KPStars5.

3. Connect via Twitter

Not on Twitter yet? It’s a great way for educators to connect with authors. Here are some of the cool things you can find and do on Twitter.

  • Win free books
    • #kidsneedbooks, #bookgiveaway, #MGgiveaway
  • Participate in Twitter chats with educators & authors
    • #MGBookChat
  • Follow authors and other educators to see what they’re doing
  • Learn about new ways to connect
  • Enter ongoing contests

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4. Give Flipgrid a Try

Flipgrid is an awesome tool that allows educators to host their own pages featuring student videos and commentary. In addition, they can invite authors to contribute by posting videos about their books, reading their first chapter, etc. For an awesome example of an educator who has successfully partnered with authors on Flipgrid, check out https://flipgrid.com/authorconnection by @MissNikkiIn5th.

Need more reasons to seek out author partnerships for your classroom or library? Read this article from The Guardian entitled, “School visits by authors boost children’s writing confidence”: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2010/nov/09/author-school-visit-writing-confidence

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

IMG_4560KIM VENTRELLA is the author of the middle grade novels Skeleton Tree (2017) and Bone Hollow (2019, Scholastic Press), and she is a contributor to the upcoming New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark anthology (2020, HarperCollins). Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Kim has held a variety of interesting jobs, including children’s librarian, scare actor, Peace Corps volunteer, French instructor and overnight staff person at a women’s shelter, but her favorite job title is author. She lives in Oklahoma City with her dog and co-writer, Hera. Find out more at https://kimventrella.com/ or follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram: @KimVentrella.