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Oklahoma Agriculture in the Classroom


Featured Teacher - June

Dusti McCartney, Willard 5th and 6th Grade Center, Ada
2019 AITC Teacher of the Year, Middle School Finalist

Dusti McCartney
How did you first learn about the Ag in the Classroom Program?
Dusti: I have often heard the phrase "Mother knows best," and in the case of how much I would love and use Ag in the Classroom if I would just give it a chance, she was 100% correct. I reluctantly signed up for a road trip at my mothers prompting while I was still in college. That summer we boarded a bus full of people truly excited about agriculture and I learned so much! We visited the tall-grass prairie, cattle ranches, and attempted to knit; however, I was still not convinced that this was more than a "fill in" activity to be used in my classroom.

Sixth grade language arts was not where I imagined my teaching career beginning, but it is where fate led me. I began implementing Ag in the Classroom activities into my curriculum as extended learning activities when I needed a way to reteach and discovered that this program truly reached my students in a very personal way. They loved making potato stamps and analyzing the difference in the different ways products are presented to them. They continually asked for more.

At this point I knew I needed to seek out additional training to bring this program further into my curriculum. Ag in the Classroom presented a professional development at my school site that year and I was so excited to have new lessons and a great game to play in my classroom. Each year I applied to attend the road trip and attended the Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom summer conference and began adding more and more lessons into my curriculum. The need for agriculture education was making its presence know more than ever.
How do you incorporate AITC into your curriculum?
Dusti: One of my favorite Ag in the Classroom lessons, "Pollinator Habitats," taught me how easy and effective it is to use agriculture curriculum in multiple subject areas. With this one lesson, I was able to use the literature and comprehension portion in my reading classroom, the reliable resources lesson in my English lessons, and the habitat building element in my science curriculum. Having the ability to take a lesson from one class and easily carry it from one subject to the next makes Ag in the Classroom a perfect fit for my classroom.

In my reading classes we often use the introductory literature from Ag in the Classroom lessons. These nonfiction pieces are the perfect blend of educational and engaging. Students enjoy reading about topics that are relevant and this makes the dreaded chore on nonfiction seem less daunting. Often times I find that I can pair Ag in the Classroom nonfiction texts with the fiction that we are studying. For instance, while reading Hatchet, we used literature from the lessons "Fish in a Bottle" and "Oklahoma Forests" to learn more about the environment in which the main character found himself stranded. Nonfiction Ag in the Classroom literature is a perfect addition to the reading classroom. This year, we also participated in National Read an Ag Book Day, and my students loved it so much, that we celebrated agriculture books the next day, too!

Dusti McCartney

Carried on easily from reading into English, Ag in the Classroom lessons provide exceptional opportunities for a variety of writing tasks. While reading Hatchet, students, using the information "Oklahoma Forests" and their own research on Canadian Forests, complete a compare and contrast activity. The opportunity to use Ag in the Classroom in an English classroom adds engaging content and allows authentic learning to occur.

Science is easily the most effective place to do many of the Ag in the Classroom lesson hands on activities. Students are always ready for interactive segment of the lesson and are quickly engaged in learning. During the Hatchet unit, students designed habitats to resemble that from the book after looking at the "Fish in a Bottle" lesson example. Science and Ag in the Classroom complement each other perfectly when planning out a unit.

What do the parents think about you teaching AITC lessons?
Dusti: One of my favorite parts of Ag in the Classroom is how willing students are to share what they have learned with outside parties. For instance, in November, we had the local fire department visit for a party and my students had a great time educating them about our "Case of the Missing Pumpkin" pumpkins that were rotting in our windows. Students also love to go home and share what they are learning with their parents, which is very unusual for 6th grade students. As a result, parents become very excited about this program and seek out ways to aid in the implementation. All that is required is that I ask and parents are willing to come and help with activities, or send materials to make projects possible. I often get calls and emails from parents discussing how they continued a lesson at home, or researched more information with a curious child.

Dusti McCartney

Nothing makes me happier than running into a former student and the first thing they update me on is how their plant that they started in my classroom is growing at their house, or how many bees they have seen in their bee house. The accessibility and adaptability of each Ag in the Classroom lesson makes it easy to implement, allowing students to take what they have learned and continue it outside of the classroom environment ensuring that the impact of the lessons are retained.

What impact has AITC had on your classroom?
Dusti: The 2016-2017 school year was a game changer for me. For the first time ever I had a classroom of kids that the majority needed something extra before they could even begin to think about learning the state standards. They needed to know how to get what they needed most and for many of them that was food. I began to diligently study Ag in the Classroom and use the lessons as a priority in my curriculum. We read, studied, researched, analyzed, and ate our way through whichever commodity was in season. We grew tomatoes and herbs. We became agriculturally invested. We looked at jobs while studying nonfiction. We practiced inferencing with pumpkins and guessing which would rot first. I had the opportunity to attend a retreat at the Noble Research Institute and returned with new lessons to share. We began to learn all the amazing things that bees do for agriculture and the students watched videos and discussed what could be done about the wild hog problem. Agriculture became what my class and I needed to reach not only our state standards, but also what we needed to learn important life skills.

Dusti McCartney

After this life altering year, I realized that Ag in the Classroom would forever be a priority in my classroom. I began with fervor to seek out learning opportunities. In the summer I attend the Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom road trip, was afforded the amazing opportunity through Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom to attend the National Ag in the Classroom conference, had a humbling opportunity to teach a session at the Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom summer conference, and attended breakout Ag in the Classroom sessions at OEIP and EngageOK.

I also sat down with our school counselor and we had a conversation about the possibility of my teaching science during the 2017-2018 school year so that I could implement more Ag in the Classroom and as a result had science added to my schedule. This went over so well that in the 2018—2019 school year I was given an additional science class to make room for the requests for students to be in my class. Ag in the Classroom is now paramount in my classes. Students are invested more than ever in their lessons because they are so relevant to their lives.

How have the AITC lessons impacted your students lives?
Dusti: In hushed voices from across my classroom I hear a group of students discussing the incubator running in the back corner. One young man is so excited because it is almost time for them to hatch and he can't wait for the nuggets to be ready. Another is arguing that they do not come out as nuggets, that they have to be cooked first. I watch in amazement as they send a classmate to ask me if they can borrow an iPad to look something up. I readily hand one over and watch them eagerly seek out the answer to their argument. No, they are not completing the assigned vocabulary, but they are actively learning and I am more than okay with this.

Ag in the Classroom makes not only a daily, but a lifelong impact on my students. They are amazed at how much agriculture plays a part in their lives each and every day. We start the year out looking at population growth and then compare it to agriculture land depreciation. Students are mesmerized by the counters and check them frequently. They learn about global agriculture and learn and share their knowledge. Journey 2050 provides a gateway game that they can play while learning. At this point students have bought into agriculture and its importance and we begin to look closer to home.

In my classroom, agriculture is not only introduced through traditional planned classroom instruction and inquiry, but also through presentation and research. Often, before I present a lesson, I lay the foundation by bringing items into the classroom that cause the students to begin observing and questioning practices. For example, before the lesson "Crickets on the Hearth," I began by placing an aquarium of crickets in the classroom on Monday. Students hypothesized each day as to what we would be doing on Friday for our "AGtivity." They discussed, without prompting from me, what impact crickets could have on agriculture. They researched possibilities and came up with a variety of ideas, from the crickets eating the crops, to cricket fighting (which is apparently popular in China). By Friday, when the lesson began, they had a solid foundation with which to begin the lesson. After we finished with the crickets, we added in rollie pollies and compared and contrasted their roles and how such small things could play roles in agriculture.
What final thoughts do you have for other teachers about the AITC curriculum?
Dusti: Interdisciplinary learning is a given with any Ag in the Classroom lesson. The curriculum flows easily from subject to subject and I find it very simple and effective to link the subjects that I teach together. I often find that students return from other subjects and are able to link what they have learned to a previous Ag in the Classroom lesson that has been covered in my classroom. Social Studies classes frequently link with what we have been learning in science. Students love learning about the crops and farming methods of different geographical regions and being able to identify, discuss, and share what they know. Agriculture has such a wide variety of topics and issues that it is a matter that fits easily into any subject matter being taught in the classroom. Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom has made me a better teacher, and is a program that I am enthusiastically looking forward to continue using in my classroom for many years to come.