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Agriscience: Sustaining the Future of Our Profession

May 2, 2008

By Thoron, Andrew C Myers, Brian E

Sustainable agricultural practice refers to the ability of a farm to produce food indefinitely, without causing irreversible damage to ecosystem health. According to Feenstra (1997) “sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals-environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity”. Reflecting on the Sustainable Agriculture-Sustainable Education topic we can gleam some principles from our industry partners. Using the industry’s definition of sustainable agriculture as a guide, we may define sustainable agricultural education as “the ability to produce agriculturists indefinitely, without causing irreversible damage to our core values.” Using this framework for sustainable agriculture and the National Research Agenda 2007-2010 (Osborne, n.d.) as a guide, sustainable agricultural education involves three main goals- curricula adapted to the needs of our students, enhanced program delivery through integration of industry concepts, and assessments which address both student and district needs.

How can we increase (quantity and quality) our development of agriculturists? Local control and shared input from teachers across the nation can provide valuable insight into this issue. A common thread has emerged through the years in successful programs which are able to produce agriculturists indefinitely. The integration of agriscience into the curriculum is an important consideration. Since the mid-1980′s agricultural education has been in the process of incorporating science into the agricultural education curriculum. Research supports this integration which also indicates teachers are supportive of agriscience education and the transition from purely production to a more consumption focus. Numerous states allow agricultural education courses to satisfy science requirements for high school graduation and college admission. As a profession we now must ask ourselves, are we integrating science into our agricultural curriculum or are we teaching agriculture as an integrated science?

At first glance the previous sentence may be confusing. Integration of science into the curriculum means taking specific science concepts and then finding an agricultural application. Teaching our students about photosynthesis or the components of the water cycle are examples. This approach considers what science concepts are to be taught first, then finds agricultural principles to illustrate those science concepts. Conversely, the development and implementation of an agricultural curriculum that teaches agriculture as the integrated science – the science where biology, chemistry, and physics all come together – would highlight the science which already exists as the foundation of agricultural practices. This approach begins with the practices and then works to explain the scientific principles behind it – why it works. Discovering what genotypes are tied to efficient milk production in dairy cattle is an example. It is this second approach that will lead to agricultural education sustainability.

Effective use of technical agriculture and partnerships with industry help shape the programs which develop students who have a scientific way of thinking. Development of science process skills and students having the ability to think critically when faced with a problem are important attributes of the next generation of learners. Gardner (2006) writes, in his book titled Five Minds of the Future, about the need for learners who can think critically and recognize changes when they need to be made. He goes onto state our educational system as a whole does not do enough to promote this type of learner. It is in this gap that agriscience education can stand to support not only our industry of agriculture but be an active and productive member of the educational system.

Agriscience education has a unique ability to develop this critical thinking type of student. This requires curricula adapted to the needs (current and future) of our students, integration of industry concepts, and assessments addressing both student and district needs. Continual focus on sustainable agriscience education requires inquiry based learning leading to students developing much of their own thoughts about science through laboratory activities. These laboratory activities may occur in the land laboratory, greenhouse, garden, mechanics laboratory, computer simulations, or many other locations.

Agriscience education is a leading component in the progress toward sustainability due to these facts and the growing demand for science based agricultural careers. According to the USDA Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service (CSREES) most recent report in 1999, 32% of all agricultural jobs will require scientific degrees in food science and engineering. The need for formal education be formal education may be a 6-month certificate program, an associate’s degree, or an advanced degree. With job opportunities abundant and industry facing the effects of the baby boom generation retirement, Agriscience educators must heed the call of preparing the next generation of agriculturalist.

Educational curricula receive their strength from the teachers in the classrooms. No organization, state, or national persuasion can change agricultural education as effectively as the classroom teacher. The teacher-led push toward sustainable agriscience education focuses on two goals – reflecting on where we teach and how we teach.

To be sustainable in a changing future, agriscience education must better utilize laboratory facilities which promote critical thinking skills. Perhaps, for some educators at the local level this means reinventing the “shop” into a learning laboratory which contains computers, experiment stations, and scientific equipment. More simply, mechanics laboratory facilities should be better utilized to effectively teach physical science principles in agriculture. Partnering with industry to bring in industry equipment and to train students with updated modules is one way to sustain agriscience education.

Secondly, being honest with ourselves as teachers by reflecting on our teaching methods and philosophies we present to our students. As a profession we must continually ask ourselves if we are really teaching agriscience as the integrated science or have we just renamed our curriculum and placed it in a new package. It is astounding to recognize that students in our classrooms today will be working with technology in their future careers that has yet to be invented. Are we preparing students for these future jobs? Do our students leave our programs with the knowledge and skills to adapt to this new reality or are they equipped with an antiquated skill set?

The key to the sustainability of agricultural education is through agriscience education which can effectively teach students how to think and how to construct their knowledge. Employers seek students who can solve problems and work with others, and agriscience education is the best vehicle to attain those goals.

Looking Back

An interesting activity that goes hand in hand with producing this magazine, is reflecting on information past and present. In case you have access to past issues, here are a few articles you might want to look up….

1932, January, Volume 4, No. 7

* Suggested activities for developing Supervised Practice Problems common to a group of beginning students, Don M. Orr

* Suggestions on Farm Shop Management, Carl G. Howard

1942, January, Volume 14, No. 7

* A farm shop clean-up plan, Roy A. Olney

* Evaluation from the point of view of a teacher, L. J. Hayden

1952, January, Volume 24, No. 7

* A study of the occupational status of state farmer degree members in Kansas, Frank R. Carpenter

* Vocational education and the individual, Raymond M. Clark

1962, January, Volume 34, No. 7

* A new Farm Mechanics contest, Carl S. Thomas

* “Operation Concrete,” Clayton R. Olsen and Ray Husen

1972, January, Volume 44, No. 7

* Change needed in Agricultural Mechanics curricula, Wiley B. Lewis and Ralph J. Woodin.

* National Agricultural Mechanics Contest-A reality in the making, Thomas A. Hoerner

Interesting to see the similarities and the changes in these five decades. Take time to visit the past-and see how it compares to today!

Agriscience education is a leading component in the progress toward sustainability due to these facts and the growing demand for science based agricultural careers.

References:

Feenstra, G. (1997). What is sustainable agriculture? Retrieved December 1,2007, from UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, University of California, Davis, CA. Web site: http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/concept.htm

Gardner, H. (2006). Five minds for the future. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School.

Goecker, A. D., Gilmore, J., & Whatley, C. (1999). Employment opportunities for college graduates in the food and agricultural sciences: Agriculture, natural resources,

and veterinary sciences, 2000-2005. Retrieved December 6, 2007, Website: http://faeis.ahnrit.vt.edu/hep/employ/employ00-05.html

Osborne, E. W. (Ed.) (n.d.) National research agenda: Agricultural education and communication, 2007-2010. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida, Department of Agricultural Education. Andrew C. Thoron

Graduate Teaching/Research

Assistant

Department of Agricultural

Education and Communication

University of Florida

Brian E. Myers

Assistant Professor

Department of Agricultural

Education and Communication

University of Florida




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