Spreading agriculture literacy a teacher at a time
By Janet Kubat Willette
Date Modified: 04/05/2012 1:58 PM
WINONA, Minn. — Agricultural literacy may not be a state education standard, but it is a vehicle by which other standards can be met.
Sue Knott is out to teach teachers how to incorporate agriculture into their science, math or English curriculum and meet state standards at the
Knott, a Lakefield native and former Watertown-Mayer FFA adviser and agricultural education instructor, began working for Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom in November as an education specialist.
Her position is funded through the Legislature, which last year allocated an additional $100,000 to the Minnesota Agriculture in the
Classroom program, said Al Withers, program director. The money will pay for Knott's position, travel and additional resources that will be used as Knott promotes the program among teachers.
At a March 19 presentation at St. Mary's University of Minnesota in Winona, Knott gave each of the 17 students in the Science Methods for
Elementary Education majors class a folder filled with information available from Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom. There was an Ag Mag and an Ag Mag Jr. Both include non-fiction reading, which meet state standards. An interactive online version is also available.
The Food for Thought materials are a nine-lesson geography curriculum, she said, and a timeline of agricultural events for students in Minnesota studies. All the items can be found at the Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom website.
In a year and a half, the 17 students in that St. Mary's classroom will be in their own classroom, said associate professor Karen Sorvaag, who teaches the science methods class Knott visited. Having access to free resources as they build their lesson plans is important, she said.
Knott's presentation was helpful, Sorvaag said. It reinforced many of the themes she tries to instill in her students. Also, most students in the class aren't from a farm and don't have a direct link to agriculture.
"It was a really nice opportunity for my students," she said.
Jenna Putz agreed.
Putz is an elementary education major at St. Mary's with a minor in Spanish and a middle school endorsement in social studies.
"Sue not only taught us how to incorporate agriculture in the regular school classroom, but she also taught us tips for classroom management and hands-on classrooms," Putz said. "I will definitely be able to use those tips to write lesson plans in my teaching methods courses."
One tip was a simple taste test as everyone walked in the door. Students sampled a pumpkin seed and soybean seed and place a sticker dot on the one they preferred. Pumpkin won. Having an introductory activity like that is a good way for students to focus as they enter a new classroom, Knott said.
It's also a way to introduce agriculture. She said pumpkins are more than 9,000 years old and soybeans are grown all over Minnesota, referencing a
Food for Thought map from Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom.
Knott's first priority as the state's education specialist is to reach new and beginning teachers. Last week's presentation was her fourth. She's
reaching out to all the teacher training programs in the state and hopes to make annual presentations at each school to reach teachers before they
enter their classrooms.
Putz said she will use Knott's information to teach her future students how agriculture is a part of everyday lives, how important it is and how they can help sustain limited resources.
Knott is reaching out to existing teachers through a new monthly e-newsletter. She is available as a teacher in-service speaker or to give continuing education presentations. Now, she's making contacts with principals and curriculum directors across the state to inform them that's
she is a resource.
Another of her duties is to develop additional resources for teachers to use in the classroom. Many states have agriculture in the classroom
programs and their curriculum is online. Knott's job is to review that curriculum and see if it can be used in Minnesota to meet the state's education standards.
She learns from others in agriculture in the classroom programs. She spent several days in Utah, shadowing program leaders there. Utah has the best ag in the classroom program in the nation, Withers said.
The Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom program is important for all of agriculture, he said, because of the growing disconnect between consumers
and those in agriculture. Knott will help teachers understand how to incorporate ag in the classroom resources into their curriculum.
Knott is getting good reviews for her presentations.
"Sue's presentation was top notch," Putz said. "She did a great job of teaching my fellow classmates and I how simple, important and fun it is to
teach agriculture in the classroom."
Knott said she's excited to continue talking about integrating agriculture into other subjects.
"I think that anyone involved in agriculture needs to be an advocate," she said.