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Serving: MN

Ag in the Classroom outreach grows despite pandemic

Rawpixel/Getty Images school children holding plants in hands
AG LITERACY: Learners of all ages are the key audience of Minnesota Ag in the Classroom. MAITC is a public-private partnership between the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation. Ag in the Classroom provides free curriculum, educational resources, grants, outreach and professional development opportunities to increase ag literacy through K-12 education.
Forced to move to online learning, Minnesota Ag in the Classroom has attracted a greater audience, even some outstate.

The pandemic has forced everyone to get creative to remain connected in work, play and education.

The Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom (MAITC) program has innovated and pivoted, too, to continue its mission of raising awareness of agriculture’s importance and to promote ag literacy.

“The MAITC team has learned many lessons from the past program year and will use those to focus on what we do well — meeting the needs of educators with curriculum and training, and engaging students,” says Ann Marie Ward, MAITC Foundation executive director.

Ann Marie Ward
MAITC LEADERSHIP: Ann Marie Ward, director of the Minnesota Ag in the Classroom Foundation, has provided leadership for the organization since November 2019. She is based in Bemidji, Minn., and has experience in Extension and with 4-H. (Ann Marie Ward)

With schools closed due to COVID-19, MAITC programs and events moved to online formats, with students learning via virtual farm tours and a YouTube channel about Minnesota agriculture, and teachers attending virtual in-service trainings and webinars.

Most recently, MAITC launched a new website just for its flagship publication, AgMag (mnagmag.org), for students and K-12 educators. And this week, MAITC is hosting its first Minnesota Farm and Food Book Week. Starting today and continuing through Friday, students and teachers can join via Zoom to hear special guests read agriculture-themed books. Guest readers include Minnesota ag commissioner Thom Petersen and assistant ag commissioner Patrice Bailey; Princess Kay of the Milky Way Brenna Connelly; and Heather Brown, WCCO morning news anchor. Sign up for the Zoom link at bit.ly/ffbookweek

Latest offerings

When asked for an update on MAITC programming, Ward shared information on the newest offerings:

Virtual field trips.These are just a click away and are good for both live classroom or home use. They are accessible at the MN Ag in the Classroom YouTube Channel. During Farm to School Month in October 2020, MAITC worked with Midwest Dairy and provided five virtual field trip experiences. More than 7,000 individuals have viewed these to date, including a classroom in New York.

“MAITC is working to continue this highly requested experience to a consistent monthly offering, funding pending,” Ward says. “The is a great resource for classroom and distance learning use.

Farm Camp Minnesota. MAITC is restructuring a previous version of farm camp offered in part of the state. This new initiative, operated as a pilot program, will have teachers using MAITC curriculum in the classroom one week prior to taking the class on a virtual farm tour.

“This will allow for a class to prep before the virtual tour and then be able to have a deeper one-on-one discussion with the farmer,” Ward says Afterward, discussion also will highlight potential ag careers. The farm camp pilot will be tailored to middle and high school students.

Courtesy of mnagmag.orgMinnesota Ag Mag for the Classroom

TOTALLY ONLINE: Minnesota Ag in the Classroom’s flagship publication, AgMag, is now available on its own website, mnagmag.org.

Summer teacher tours.  In 2020, these tours also went virtual. More than 100 educators “toured” a logging site, bison ranch, school garden, row crops and beehives last summer.  Educators from 40 counties — 36% metro and 64% from greater Minnesota — participated.

“The positive feedback from educators was overwhelming, and the level of engagement was remarkable, proving to all involved that virtual learning environments have impact,” Ward says.

More resources

Additional MAITC resources continue to be popular and have evolved per teacher requests. Those include:

Minnesota AgMag series. The student AgMag Series is viewed as the premiere student publication in the national network of state programs. Through the years, AgMag and AgMag Jr served upper and lower grade levels with multiple issues published each school year. Per educator request, grade specific AgMags for K-2 were developed. By February 2020, resource requests for these three grades increased 25% over the previous year, Ward says. This school year, grade-specific AgMags for grades 3 and 4 became available, and grades 5 and 6 are in development. These resources are available to anyone online at mnagmag.org.

“Regardless if learners are working in a classroom or at their kitchen table, the new grade-specific AgMag and complementary website will engage and enlighten the users with its highly interactive design and freshly developed content,” Ward says.

Food mapping project. The Food for Thought Geography Mapping Project, unique to the Minnesota program, is used as a staple in many geography classes statewide. MAITC is updating all Food for Thought lessons, maps, and resources using the latest census data. The curriculum package includes a full-color student desk map showing major commodities, and a companion teacher guide with lessons and a series of agriculture-related maps.

Facebook for teachers. MAITC specialists annually reach approximately 1,000 pre-service and in-service teachers via workshops and hands-on activities related to agriculture, food and natural resources. The MAITC team is piloting brief professional development webinars through Facebook, and plans to grow the video library for the further benefit of educators. The MAITC Facebook page provides a plethora of resource use ideas, videos, trainings, tours and networking. “With over 400 pieces of standards-based curriculum, this social media platform provides an opportunity to showcase the extensive resources of MAITC that can be incorporated in the current ever-changing environment of education,” Ward notes.

Regional ag curriculum specialists. The MAITC Foundation board created liaison-type positions to help spread information and resources to local schools and communities. Even during a pandemic, Ag in the Classroom connected with 143,000-plus students statewide in 2020, up 16,000 from the previous year. The board plans to expand this outreach program.

“Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom is excited about the year ahead,” Ward concludes. “Our data shows we are connected to teachers in 85 of the 87 counties in Minnesota. This is the year Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom will blanket the state and grow deeper roots. We look forward to [ongoing] support and encouragement as we raise awareness of the importance of agriculture.”

For more information about the MAITC program, contact education specialist Keri Sidle at [email protected].

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