Towards a Sustainable Agriculture: An Updated Curriculum for High School Classes

2006 Annual Report for LNC03-227

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2003: $83,671.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Douglas Maxwell
University of Wisconsin

Towards a Sustainable Agriculture: An Updated Curriculum for High School Classes


A web-based curriculum on sustainable agriculture was developed for use in Iowa and Wisconsin high school agriculture programs. This curriculum is based in part on Wisconsin’s sustainable agriculture curriculum published in 1991 but also incorporates new material and references other sustainable agriculture resources now available. The first parts of the curriculum were made available on the web in late spring of 2005. During 2006 the fourth module addressing sustainable horticulture was added to the site and work was started on a fifth module focusing on organic agriculture. The curriculum website is at

Objectives/Performance Targets


High school teachers in Wisconsin and Iowa will become more knowledgeable about sustainable agriculture.

Teachers in Wisconsin and Iowa who are interested in alternative approaches to agriculture will use the curriculum in their classes.

High school students in those classes will become aware of principles of sustainable agriculture and of examples in their area.

High school students in those classes will become aware of their role in the food system.

Intermediate- and long-term:

Some students will become involved in projects related to sustainable agriculture.

The knowledge and awareness gained through the curriculum may influence the actions of some students as college students, working adults, and consumers.

20% of high school agriculture teachers in Wisconsin and Iowa will use at least portions of the curriculum in their teaching.

Teachers will incorporate sustainable agriculture concepts and materials into the rest of their agriculture curriculum.

Communities where the curriculum is taught will become more accepting of sustainable agriculture practitioners.

The curriculum will be adapted for use in other states.

The curriculum will be expanded to include additional modules.


  • Assembled a group of ten project advisors and partners, and an advisory committee of six teachers and four farmers from Wisconsin and Iowa.

    Met with the advisory committee in January 2004 to outline the overall structure and contents of the curriculum.

    Presented a 90 minute workshop previewing the curriculum and selected learning activities at seven teacher in-service meetings in Wisconsin in October 2004. Approximately 200 teachers participated in the workshops. The teachers provided feedback on the activities they tried.
    Published four modules on the web (“Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture;” “Corn, Beans, and Burgers: field crops in sustainable agriculture;” “Flesh, Fish, and Fowl: animals in sustainable agriculture;” and “Apples, Beets, and Zinnias: sustainable horticulture”). The curriculum website is

    Presented workshops on the curriculum at the Wisconsin Association of Agricultural Educators annual conference in June 2006 and at the National SARE Conference in August 2006.

    Received curriculum evaluation based on classroom use from six agriculture teachers.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

We relied on two approaches to assessing impact of the curriculum.

First, in order to gauge overall use of the curriculum, we installed a “site visit tracking” program on the website in May, 2006. The initial tracking program we used, StatCounter, was flagged by a number of computer anti-virus programs as a potential security hazard, so in August we switched to Google Analytics to track our website use.

Since we installed a web tracker, the site has received between 150 and 200 visitors a month. The number of page views per month ranges from a low of 730 in December 2006 to a little over 1,000 page views in November 2006. About one quarter of the site visitors are returning visitors; the rest appear to be new (although if returning users have removed the cookie from their computers they will be counted as new). The pattern of use is heaviest on weekdays, with very little use on Saturday. Most visitors appear to be located in the Midwest, though there are visitors from all over the US and scattered around the world.

In order to get some qualitative feedback, we placed a questionnaire on the website for teachers to provide feedback on the curriculum. This method of seeking feedback was completely unsuccessful. Although the questionnaire has been on the site since spring 2006, we have not received a single completed questionnaire. So with the help of Dr. Gary Lake from the Department of Life Sciences Communication, Curriculum and Instruction, we worked with a group of agriculture teachers who were taking a continuing education class in curriculum development in the spring of 2006. As part of their coursework, the teachers agreed to test portions of the Toward a Sustainable Agriculture Curriculum in their classrooms and provide feedback.

Two of the teachers provided detailed written comments on the parts of the curriculum they tested; the others provided general comments. All of them agreed the material was useful and challenged their students. All the teachers complained about the difficulty of navigating between parts of the curriculum and problems with printing materials. As a result, we improved the navigation and attempted to address the printing problem, though the latter remains something of a challenge. All the teachers found the case studies useful.

Both the teachers who provided detailed feedback read the background information for the lessons they used in class, and in fact, one created a student hand-out from the background information. However, though they did not explicitly say so, it appeared from their comments that some of the other teachers skipped the background explanation and simply printed out case studies and activities to use in class. This behavior poses something of a challenge for the curriculum design. While it is possible to design free-standing activities, it is difficult to convey broader connections and concepts of sustainability in a stand-alone activity.


Diane Mayerfeld

[email protected]
Outreach Specialist
University of Wisconsin Extension - CIAS
1450 Linden Dr.
Madison, WI 53706
Office Phone: 6082628188