LINCOLN, NEB. – Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC), a program of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation, headed back to school this fall with reimagined learning. During these unprecedented times, the program’s free resources promote socially distanced, hands-on activities suitable for the classroom or at-home learning.

Teachers, parents, and students are invited to explore lessons and activities that thoughtfully engage PreK-12th grade students with their source of food, fiber, and fuel. Each lesson is aligned to Nebraska State Education Standards for science, social studies, math, or language arts.

“This new approach equips teachers and parents with free programs for use online and offline. AITC has a long history of creating resources tied to state education standards, and the new resources provide the same quality content with delivery updated to meet the needs of today,” said Megahn Schafer, executive director.

More than 154 virtual classroom visits have been scheduled since the beginning of the school year. AITC education specialists provide live, grade-specific lessons to students via Zoom with socially distanced, hands-on activities. Lesson topics range from learning the life cycle of an apple tree for kindergarteners to learning about the futures market and careers in agriculture for fifth graders.

“Just because schools can’t have visitors doesn’t mean the classrooms have to miss out on enhanced learning experiences,” said Courtney Shreve, director of outreach education. “We utilize technology to offer virtual classroom visits, virtual field trips to farms, and pre-recorded lessons with hands-on activities and games.”

This school year has been anything but easy for students and teachers. Sanitation procedures and virtual learning platforms have created new classroom challenges. In an effort to remove the stress of planning engaging virtual learning opportunities, AITC developed worksheets, interactive cards, posters, and supply kits to accompany virtual classroom visits. These activity supplies are provided and mailed at no cost to the school to provide students much-needed breaks from the computer screen.

“My students were very engaged in the activity sections of the presentation. They loved the Beef Jeopardy game, and they liked being able to view the interactive map of Nebraska,” said Jennifer Reed, teacher at Wildwood Elementary in Ralston. “My students are on Zoom from 8:00 – 2:00. This gave them a chance to experience something new while learning about Nebraska agriculture.”

Teacher engagement is another priority for AITC. Since colleges and universities have moved to more of an online learning approach, AITC offers workshops virtually to keep students connected and learning how to incorporate agriculture into their lessons.

This semester, AITC has led seven interactive, discussion-based workshops with current and future teachers. Virtual workshops have been presented at Doane University, University of Nebraska-Kearney, Wayne State College, York College, and the Nebraska Get Connected After-School conference, with more planned in the coming months.

“This year due to COVID-19, AITC staff was willing to shift to presenting virtually and was able to adapt the approach well, while still modeling how to apply quality teaching of agricultural concepts to students,” said Dr. Ben Vilkas, Wayne State College assistant professor. “I continue to look forward to our partnership, as it is really helpful to show teachers the value of adding agriculture to the curriculum.”

Connecting Chapters is another program reimagined with the safety of students and teachers in mind. With a new approach, 74 FFA chapters will participate in a hands-on, virtual training that will equip high school FFA members to connect with elementary students and peers to increase agricultural literacy in their communities. 

“This training allowed us to learn the why and how to do agricultural literacy with our elementary students, even in a virtual environment. I really appreciated the opportunity students had to get to practice teaching a lesson before they do it in the classroom,” said Tony Jensen, Freeman FFA advisor. “This experience was valuable and will make our presentations more engaging and exciting because our students are confident in their abilities.”

In late September, AITC introduced its newest resource: Mapping Our Food. Mapping Our Food is a standard-aligned educational resource for first-grade classrooms that highlights 10 Nebraska-grown products and the farmers who raise them. Every elementary school in Nebraska received the resource free of charge. The kit includes letters from youth farmers, posters featuring food items, and a map with stickers to track the locations of Nebraska farmers and ranchers who grow the food. A teacher’s guide featuring connections to state standards, worksheets, and hands-on activities completes the kit.

“The United States has one of the world’s safest supply of food, and our food system relies on trusting the people involved along the way,” said Shreve. “Mapping Our Food encourages first-grade students to begin the conversation about where food comes from, which includes real people right here in Nebraska!”

While events have been cancelled, the work of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation has not. With new shopping patterns and supply chain interruptions, agriculture has been in the spotlight. Now more than ever, is a time to connect with people to highlight the many contributions and opportunities of our state’s number one industry – agriculture!

Agriculture in the Classroom® is a program coordinated by the National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization and supported by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In Nebraska, the Agriculture in the Classroom is managed by the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation whose mission is to engage youth, educators, and the general public to promote an understanding of the vital importance of agriculture in the lives of all Nebraskans. For more information about the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation, visit www.nefbfoundation.org