Resource Conservation - Environmental Stewardship in the "Maryland Ag in the Classroom" Curriculum Guide
In the Chesapeake Bay region, the agricultural community is becoming increasingly concerned with issues related to resource conservation and environmental stewardship in the wake of recent studies indicating agriculture’s role as a leading contributor to the decline in health of the bay. Public awareness regarding the effects of agriculture on the bay has been slow in developing, and there have been few organized, comprehensive education programs for Maryland public schools that address these problems in a balanced way.
The Maryland Education Center for Agriculture, Science and Technology (MECAST) and the Chesapeake Audubon Society (CAS) have been working collaboratively since September of 1995 to add resource conservation components to the Maryland “Ag in the Classroom” (AITC) Curriculum Guide.
Results to Date
The consortium produced the Sustainable Agriculture Curriculum Guide Outline, detailing priority areas for educating students about sustainable agriculture.
Teachers attending the 1996 and 1997 annual workshops were introduced to a network of field sites throughout Maryland which offers agriculture education programming and field trip opportunities to school systems.
CAS is developing a comprehensive catalogue of agriculture education field sites throughout Maryland listing program information and other information relevant to teachers.
1.Develop environmental stewardship and resource conservation education components for the “Maryland Ag in the Classroom” curriculum guide.
2.Integrate information on agricultural practice and human lifestyle components to address critical issues in sustainability.
3.Implement “Ag in the Classroom” summer inservice workshops for teachers with added conservation components.
4.Develop and implement teacher inservice workshops on a regional basis with field and classroom components.
5.Initiate regional follow-up activities, tracking and support for teachers.
6.Develop a network of farms and field sites to add hands-on components to “Ag in the Classroom” curricula incorporating stewardship/conservation.
7.Establish inservice opportunities throughout the state for the staff of environmental education centers, farms and other field sites.
8.Provide a model partnership for replication throughout the Chesapeake watershed, incorporating environmental and agricultural interests.
Activities to Date
Research has shown that student performance improves when lessons are taught using an integrated, hands-on approach. With this interdisciplinary approach, students and teachers become much more excited and “learning” is assured in addition to “teaching.” MECAST and CAS have directed attention towards improving the delivery of hands-on, activities-based educational experiences for students within the AITC program.
Through the theme of sustainable agriculture children can learn practical skills in science, math, social studies, writing and the arts. Through exploration of lifestyle choices related to agriculture, nutrition and economic sustainability, they are also prepared to confront social and environmental problems in their own communities.
The work has been centered around two sets of activities. First, MECAST and CAS have made revisions to existing AITC curricula. In a combined effort, agriculture education professionals throughout Maryland performed a comprehensive review of existing educational materials related to agricultural resource conservation. Outstanding materials selected for content and quality were revised and incorporated into the AITC program. New materials were also developed that address critical issues in sustainability through the theme of agriculture. These lessons carry a strong message of environmental stewardship through a series of hands-on activities and field curricula. Materials are currently being piloted at the secondary level.
MECAST and CAS have developed teach-er training initiatives to improve the quality of agriculture education in Maryland. Based on the annual AITC summer inservice workshop format, MECAST and CAS have hosted regional inservice workshops to provide local, more intensive opportunities for teachers.
Presentations from Cooperative Extension, Farm Bureau, and Natural Resource Conservation Service staff introduced educational materials and support available through their organizations. Participants also experienced opportunities for hands-on learning during field days at local conservation learning centers to enhance their classroom teaching. Resource lists containing supplementary teaching materials and field site information offered additional opportunities for educators to use the theme of agriculture both in and out of the classroom in their teaching.
Our partnership represents a diversity of agricultural interests, ranging from organic gardening and horticulture to Best Management Practices and low-impact conventional farming, including local and state non-profits as well as government agencies. The members are dedicated to reducing the impact of agriculture on the environment while maintaining viable economic benefits for the farming community.
The “Ag in the Classroom” workshops held each summer by MECAST have been attended by over 500 teachers since the program began. Educators participating in these programs come away with classroom curricula, hands-on teaching materials, resource guides, lists of field site opportunities, supplementary teaching information, and educational support from the local agricultural community.
Teachers who attend the “Ag in the Classroom” inservice workshops are given the tools they need to educate students about agriculture and it’s relationship to the environment. We believe our effort to incorporate resource conservation components into the “Ag in the Classroom” program will improve children’s knowledge of farming systems and their impact on the health of the Bay.
Reported December 1997.