‘Hands-on’ learning

By Lisa McMahan, The Observer July 27, 2011 08:42 pm

GIVING NEW MEANING TO “HANDS ON,’’ a session on ruminant nutrition taught teachers at OSU’s Summer Agricultural Institute about cows’ digestive systems using cannulated cows. English Language Development teacher Kevin Harper works with kindergarten through third-grade students at Sam Boardman Elementary School and, like many of the other teachers at last week’s program, plans to use some of the program’s content in helping his students develop language skills.  LISA McMAHAN / The Observer
GIVING NEW MEANING TO “HANDS ON,’’ a session on ruminant nutrition taught teachers at OSU’s Summer Agricultural Institute about cows’ digestive systems using cannulated cows. English Language Development teacher Kevin Harper works with kindergarten through third-grade students at Sam Boardman Elementary School and, like many of the other teachers at last week’s program, plans to use some of the program’s content in helping his students develop language skills. LISA McMAHAN / The Observer

Teachers acquire knowledge about farming, ranching through Summer Agriculture Institute

Fifteen Oregon teachers became the students at last week’s Summer Agricultural Institute.

The program is a weeklong educational opportunity for K-12 teachers who have little or no agricultural background. They receive three graduate-level credits from OSU for a reduced price along with hands-on instruction on incorporating agriculture into their classroom curriculum.

The “hands on” part became a reality in the program’s sessions, particularly in Wednesday’s ruminant nutrition course at the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center in Union. 

Associate Professor Chad Mueller and EOARC Superintendent Tim DelCurto, who both work in OSU’s Department of Animal Science, walked the teachers through a short explanation of ruminant digestive systems, answering questions about the beef and dairy industries and even fast food companies’ marketing tactics.

Mueller and DelCurto joked that the next part of the session was the one that made the difference between earning an A and earning a B in the course: Teachers reached a gloved hand inside a cow’s stomach via a cannula on its side, exploring its rumin and learning about pre-gastric fermentation.

Afterward, they examined samples of rumin microbial populations under a microscope to get a closer look at the contents of the cow’s stomach.

The teachers spent the rest of the week visiting other farms, ranches and agricultural organizations and wrote lesson plans to present at the end of the week.

“This is an opportunity for the agricultural community to put out more information,” Jana Dick, project coordinator, said.  “We go to facilities and ranches and farms that are typical of the east side of the state.”

The institute has one session in Corvallis and one in Union and La Grande every summer. The program reaches out to teachers who want to learn more about agriculture. This year’s participants included teachers who instruct students of all ages in many different subjects, not just science.

Art teacher Andra Tom teaches at LaCreole Middle School in Dallas and looks forward to adding some of the technical and scientific aspects of the program to her own curriculum.

“I had very little to no agricultural experience,” Tom said.

She was excited about Katherine Jensen’s “Agriculture in Art” session and had plans to incorporate what she learned in her paper-making and visual-journaling units.

“It’s all been really interesting and I’m looking forward to that (session), but sticking my hand in a cow today was pretty dang exciting,” Tom said.

Many of the teachers work in communities where agriculture is an important part of students’ lives, but the teachers come from all over Oregon.

“I’ve got teachers from Corvallis, Salem, Keizer, Eugene, Tillamook and Klamath Falls,” Dick said. “We regularly get teachers from Portland.”

Stacie Phillips teaches sixth, seventh and eighth-grade science at Butte Creek Elementary School in Silver Falls and took the course to better communicate with her students.

“I have like no agricultural experience and my students do,” Phillips said.

She plans to introduce agriculture as a theme to motivate her students and she’s planning dissection and genetics units.

Phillips is also considering digging a soil pit after associate professor Gary Kiemnec’s demonstration at EOARC.

His presentation covered soil water-holding capacity and water tables, as well as different careers in soil science. Kiemnec also suggested lesson plans the teachers could adopt for their classrooms.

“A good question to ask is, ‘Where did this soil come from?’” Kiemnec said, pointing to the different layers of soil in the pit where he stood.

The teachers stayed at Cove Ascension School, but Thursday evening they split up and spread out to get some one-on-one agricultural exposure through farm family visits.

The teachers stay with families and learn about their lives and their careers.

“We’ve had a teacher that climbed on the combine,” Dick said of one farm family visit. “It’s exciting for them.”

Dick said picking up the teachers the morning after is like seeing kids on Christmas morning, eager to share their experiences and hear other teachers’ tales.

English Language Development teacher Kevin Harper works with students from kindergarten to third grade at Sam Boardman Elementary School and signed up for the Summer Agricultural Institute for some of the same reasons the other teachers did.

“I wanted something to do this summer — I just wanted to learn,” he said. “SAI provided a valuable way to do that.”

He thinks the week will give him more content to make language familiar for his students.

“I think they’re relatively familiar with agriculture,” he said. “It’s certainly appropriate, meaningful content for my students.”

The program is not only valuable for teachers, Dick said.

“Agriculture is important to all of us — I think it’s so important for all of us to understand where our food comes from,” she said. “There are still a lot of people out there who still think their food comes from Safeway.”