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Agriscience: The World is Our Classroom

The following blog is part of a series intended to share experiences of U.S. agricultural educators with a global audience. Click here for more information about the Ag Educators Corner blog series on Agrilinks. This post was written by Krista Pontius and submitted by the InnovATE Project.

Agriscience research: the notion of engaging in scientific approaches to address the pressing problems of the 21st century in food, fiber and natural resources in a systematic way. Our challenge as educators is to determine how we can help our students learn the skills to do this successfully and to enjoy it!

When first-year students arrive in the agriscience department at Greenwood High School in rural Millerstown, Pennsylvania, one of the first challenges they face is the Agriscience Fair. Through this event, I have witnessed many students turn a mild interest into a spark of passion.

The Agriscience Fair, an opportunity facilitated by the National FFA Organization, encourages students to apply agricultural scientific principles and emerging technologies to agricultural issues. In the U.S., the Agriscience Fair is a competitive event for middle and high school students. Participation begins at the local level with the opportunity to progress to state and national levels.

At Greenwood, the Agriscience Fair is incorporated into two different agriscience elective classes as individual student projects. First, students identify a research question and work through the steps of the scientific method. Students have several opportunities to share their results with the agriculture community, such as at state-level agricultural events like the Pennsylvania Farm Show and the Pennsylvania FFA Agriscience Fair. Public display of their work and hearing from our community members is a critical component!

Over the past fifteen years, the Agriscience Fair has exploded in popularity. I believe that the recent popularity of agriscience is because the agriculture community knows that we can make a difference on a local and global scale. Whether we are working to make food more nutritious or increasing crop yields, agriculture scientists are at the forefront of feeding our growing world by improving food production. As educators, we have the opportunity to instigate curiosity and interest in science.

Agriscience: Best of Show at PA Farm Show.

To get students started on their research projects, I charge them with developing a scientific question which would solve a problem in our local or the global community. The Topic Selection Wizard on Science Buddies is a great website that helps students think about potential research subjects. When students present me with an idea, the first question that I always ask is, “Why does it matter?”

After students have selected a topic, we then rely on National FFA resources to guide students through the research process. Whether students have aspirations of competing at the national level, or simply answering a question, the National FFA Agriscience Resource Page will be useful in completion of the process.

How can the Agriscience Fair spark passion in students? After years of teaching, I have watched many of my students turn agriscience research into a career. For example, let’s talk about Katie Osborne, a senior at Wake Forest University who has aspirations of becoming a research veterinarian. Katie always knew that she loved animals, but she never thought about research until it was a required class project as a freshman. This project quickly grew into a passion, which now is becoming a career.

Another former student, Jill Tengeres’ interest was piqued by an agriscience research project focusing on wildlife. After graduating from the University of Maine, she began accepting research assignments around the world. She is currently in the Galapagos Islands working on a seabird research project.

Reflecting on my 20-year teaching career, one of my proudest moments is when I think of Clay Delancey. Clay is a farm boy who rarely left Perry County, PA. After Clay starting participating in the Agriscience Fair, he decided to apply to Penn State. While getting his undergraduate degree, he was given numerous opportunities to participate on research assignments. Following his graduation from Penn State, he realized that research is his passion. Clay is currently at Ball State University, getting a Master of Science degree in biology.

The world is our classroom. By using the Agriscience Fair as a class project, I am able to keep the classroom student-centered and I am able to develop curriculum around student interests, fostering intrinsic motivation and stimulating passion to learn. I’ve always felt that creating lifelong learners is the best contribution that I can make to my students and society as a whole.

Krista Pontius is currently in her 20th year of teaching agriscience at Greenwood High School in central Pennsylvania.

This blog series on Agricultural Education is curated by the PSU Global Teach Ag! Initiative and the Innovation for Agricultural Training and Education (InnovATE) project. To learn more, visit http://aese.psu.edu/teachag/global. Questions or ideas to collaborate? Email teachag@psu.edu.