Hybrid course aims to reach more teachers
DENTON, Md. — The Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation recently launched an innovative new course to help elementary school teachers better incorporate agriculture into their lessons.
The eight-week course, “Infusing Agriculture in the Elementary Classroom,” consists of two in-person sessions and six online modules that include reading assignments, videos of guest speakers, group discussion and lesson plan writing.
With these resources, the teachers are encouraged to use ag-related concepts in all their subjects, from language arts to math and science to social studies.
“My whole goal was to get them planning for agriculture throughout the whole school year,” said Shannon Brown, course instructor and the foundation’s elementary eduction director.
The class of 23 teachers met in the first in-person session at the Caroline Culinary Center on Oct. 26. The full day session gave the class activities to take to their own classrooms and the groups visited the Wye Grist Mill and Adkins Arboretum.
“They were all smiles and arms full when they finished and that’s how we wanted it to be,” Brown said.
The class will come together again in for its second in-person class on Nov. 16 and the course concludes Dec. 13, totaling 45 credit hours. Teachers who complete the course receive three credits toward their Continuing Professional Development needs though the Maryland State Department of Education.
George Mayo, recently retired foundation executive director, said the idea for a hybrid course grew out of seeing online instruction efforts in Utah’s Agriculture in the Classroom program about eight years ago, but he’s not aware or any other state combining online and in-person instruction to educating teachers about agriculture at the level the foundation is doing.
“I know how valuable that face-to-face interaction is,” Mayo said. “That’s why I thought the hybrid idea would be good for Maryland.”
Partnering with Goucher College about year ago to develop the online component put the idea on a path to reality, Mayo said.
“Pieces just started to fall into place,” Mayo said. “It has been eight years. I can’t tell you how exciting it is.”
Mayo said with success in the hybrid course, the foundation in the future could offer multiple courses at different times of the school year along with a summer option for teachers.
“I see it as a big growth area,” he said.
The new course takes off on the popular summer workshop began in 1990 by longtime agriculture teacher Bob Keenan.
After initially moving around the state, the five-day workshop settled in Westminster, Md., for several years and mainly attracted teachers from central Maryland.
“It was just such an engaging opportunity for the teachers so we wanted to investigate sort of a hybrid option,” Brown said.
In the new class, Brown said about half of the teachers are from the Eastern Shore, which was one of the goals of the program; attracting teachers reluctant to commit to the 5-day in-person workshop.
Brown added there’s wide range of agricultural understanding among the teachers and she hopes that will add to their experience in the class.
“It’s nice to have that broad spectrum because a teacher is a teacher’s best friend,” Brown said. “Teaching is a career where sharing is not something we shy away from.”
The class includes access to an Ag Resource Tracker that teachers and Brown continually update with items that can enhance classroom activities with youth. Mayo said many resources are available from other states that, with some changes, can be applied to Maryland agriculture.
“There are a ton of creative people out there and we don’t have to always reinvent the wheel,” Mayo said.
The resource tracker also includes an online discussion area where class members can share thoughts on reading assignments and how they use posted materials in the classroom.
Before departing the culinary center for the first round of field trips on Oct. 26, teachers shared their interest in taking the course.
Stacy Piet, a teacher in Baltimore County Public Schools, said she found out about the course while looking over the educational exhibits at the Maryland State Fair.
“I thought that this would be a good idea,” she said. “We’re doing a lesson on food so I was at the right place at the right time.”
Karen Winchester-del Rio, a teacher at Riverview Elementary in Halethorpe, Md., said she grew up on a farm in Nebraska and with a high population of students from South America at her school, using agriculture in lessons will help engage them.
“I wanted more ways to connect the curriculum to their lives,” she said. “We need more hands-on activities to engage our students.”
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