Sustainable Inquiry Research and Education Network (SIREN)

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2009: $156,336.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Pauline Nickel
SW Research & Outreach Center

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: flax, oats, rye, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: crop rotation, cover crops, intercropping, conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research, workshop, youth education, technical assistance
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, biodiversity, habitat enhancement, soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: economic threshold
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: green manures, soil analysis, organic matter, soil physics, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: leadership development, public participation, public policy, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    The Sustainable Inquiry and Education Network (SIREN) will integrate inquiry teaching strategies into sustainable projects designed by established producers and experienced scientists, building a research and education network of K-12 teachers, classrooms, schools, community education programs, and university outreach and engagement activities. Project coordinator is Pauline Nickel, head of the Southwest Research and Outreach Center. Short term outcomes include a web-based resource for agriculture and science educators in southern Minnesota and beyond. Intermediate term outcomes include better understanding among science and vocational agriculture teachers of the sustainable farming system and of the inquiry process as a teaching tool, and teachers, producers, and university scientists engaged in interactive problem-solving. Long term outcomes would be successfully integrating sustainable agriculture into the science curriculum and connecting sustainable agriculture producers with future farmers(and other careers) in the region, as well as current producers and community members. Outputs include a curriculum resource for teachers, research reports for producers and the community, expanding the audience for sustainable agriculture concepts. Producers will help to define research questions and integrate sustainable agriculture practices (e.g. water quality) into organic and conventional systems in our region. Context: High use of chemical weed control and fertilizers by 90% of the region's producers impacts soil and water quality; economically and environmentally sustainable farming enhances quality of life and recreation options. Research-based information on sustainability is critical. Approach: SIREN is guided by an Advisory Council of conventional and organic farmer, researchers and educators. Teacher workshops follow the well tested Improving Teacher Quality model. Evaluation: will assess educator and student outcome; their research results will be shared with other teacher, with area producers at Field Days and other events, and community education forums.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Project Outcomes
    This project is designed to achieve two long-term outcomes:
    1)Participating teachers will teach more sustainable agriculture science content because they understand concepts, acquire new classroom tools and resources, and will be able to embed the science of sustainable agriculture as part of their broader grade level science curriculum.
    2) Sustainable agriculture producers will be connected to high schools in their region, enhancing the science teaching in the schools and giving current producers an avenue toward integration with future farmers, related businesses, and consumers.

    We have one very specific short-term outcome: to design, establish and maintain a SIREN web site as a dynamic resource for agriculture and science educators in southern Minnesota and beyond our region.

    We expect to see three intermediate outcomes:
    1)Science and vocational agriculture teachers understand sustainable farming systems.
    2)Science and vocational agriculture teachers understand the inquiry process.
    3)Increased interactive problem-solving among classroom teachers, producers, and university scientists.

    Context and Rationale
    The Sustainable Inquiry Research and Education Network (SIREN) will use sustainable agriculture as the vehicle for learning as project participants work with teachers in southwest Minnesota to enhance their teaching skills by modeling pedagogy, inquiry teaching methods, and best practices. Teachers will take new skills and information back to their classrooms to address research questions related to sustainable agriculture production that have significance to teaching about systems and science at secondary schools throughout southwest Minnesota. Teachers will receive support throughout the school year as they work with their students, and their students will have opportunities to communicate their findings to a wider audience in their communities and beyond. The SIREN project is guided by an Advisory Council, a stakeholder group comprised of sustainable agriculture producers, both conventional and organic; UMN researchers and faculty.; and area educators.

    Project evaluation will assess if educators and students have met the required criteria developed in the teacher workshops. A SIREN web site will be developed to provide educators ongoing access to interactive resources and information-sharing and support continuous professional development for sustainable agricultural education and training far beyond the grant period.

    This project was designed to bring together producers, scientists, and education specialists working with vocational agriculture and science teachers in our region to:
    1) Explain and understand key concepts in sustainable agriculture systems.
    2) Design useful and instructive research questions that can be explored in the high school classroom.
    3) Implement the research projects with support from project scientists and educators.
    4) Share results with other teachers through the SIREN site, with area producers through Field Days and other Southwest Research and Outreach Center and Extension events and publications, and with the broader community through student presentations of their work in community education forums. Sustainability is key to any innovations that will be recommended as part of the research presentations.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.