Distribution of educational materials to schools visiting Sunrock Farm from Greater Cincinnati
This project has involved creating and distributing a book for classes visiting Sunrock Farm on educational field trips. I piloted the book with various acquaintances in late winter 2012, such as a farm staff member/ Cincinnati Public Schools classroom aide, who provided feedback from kindergarten teachers with whom she worked. In spring 2012 I conducted a more extensive pilot implementation of the book with visiting teachers, children, and classes, which included my in-person readings to a number of classrooms before their visit. Feedback from these experiences, as well as from farm staff and other acquaintances, informed the second version of the book, which I started creating in summer 2012.
I started constructing the book during fall 2012 and finished it in spring 2013. Implementing an educational intervention (the book, A Day at Sunrock Farm) helped with the formative evaluation for that intervention, as well as for the program in general. This idea resonates with Design-Based Research (DBR). Overall, DBR is a way of implementing, evaluating, and improving an educational intervention as well as deriving research findings from that process. Collins, Joseph, and Bielaczyc (2004) say, “Design experiments…start with planned procedures and materials, which are not completely defined, and which are revised depending on their success in practice” (p. 20).
Knowing the book was incomplete and could be improved I chose to implement it in order to facilitate its development process. This implementation provided me with valuable information to improve the second version of the book, which I would not have “discovered” had the book stayed in the development stage and had not been used by teachers, children, farm staff, and myself. Modifications to the second version of the book that came from this process included the following:
• I added:
o A large animal (a horse)
o Two pages about lunch to facilitate farm waste disposal, bring up ideas of recycling and composting, and emphasize the food – farm connection
o Sheep shearing to make the book’s seasonality stronger
o A typeface that was more “fun” (Maiandra GD instead of Times New Roman)
o Speech bubbles for readers to more clearly see who text is attributed to
o “Did you Know” sidebars that were more tightly around the food-farm connection and human-related farm processes (e.g. about people eating eggs and farmers gathering eggs every day instead of about roosters)
• I took out:
o Activities that children would not do on the trip (e.g. pig feeding)
o All “non-spring” activities and products, such as harvesting tomatoes
o Meat from the market basket
While “evaluating the book’s effectiveness” it would have been problematic for me to tell teachers, farm staff, and even myself what to look for in visiting children since this process was really about finding that out. I thought, going into the project, and as articulated in my spring 2011 goals, that the book’s primary purpose would be to reduce novelty surrounding the farm tour and make the tour run “smoother”. Results that emerged from the trial process pointed to the book as being more effective at preparing teachers than preparing children, by introducing them to farm vocabulary and content, showing them what would be expected of children, and therefore helping them integrate and facilitate the experience for children. The trial process also pointed to other, slightly distinct effects that the book could have with visiting children.
A teacher from a Cincinnati Public School Kindergarten class to whom I gave a tour, referenced the book to her class throughout the tour, saying, “Remember, we read about this?” She also asked children if they remembered that a farmer had to milk a goat for her to make milk, which was part of the “Did You Know?” This teacher told me she learned something new from book (that goats don’t have teeth in top front part of their mouth). Most interestingly, this teacher also integrated farm words and literacy concepts on the day of the tour. When I asked the children a question whose answer was the word, “wheat”, she gave them a hint by saying, “It has a long ee sound.” She also did this with the word, “hoe” and long “o” sound. Similarly, when I asked the group a question for which the answer was “mammal”, the teacher stated that they had just learned this, and re-phrased the question by telling them “that they are one of these.” I wondered if this teacher was able to do this since she had been familiarized with farm vocabulary through the book. If so, and if this could be true for other teachers, knowing farm vocabulary from the book could potentially help them integrate curricular concepts from the classroom, by re-phrasing the farmer’s questions (assuming the farmer allows her) on the day of the farm tour in a way that is appropriate to her students.
Reading the book to classes of children, in particular, helped me to realize other “effects” the book could have, both preparatory and otherwise. For example, the book opened up conversations with children about the importance of farms and food production and gave them a chance to talk about what they were growing in their garden, and, for one child, to make a connection to his grandfather’s chickens in Puerto Rico. It also provided an opportunity to discuss the idea that children would see bugs on the farm and discuss the unique hand washing process at Sunrock.
Perhaps most importantly, all aspects of this project helped to emphasize the importance of communication between teachers, chaperones, farm staff, and potentially, children, as emphasized through the examples above. Trying to open a conversation between farm staff and teachers in particular became the heart of the project in a way I did not originally anticipate. Whereas my original goal was for children to be prepared for their trip in order to “get more out of it” it emerged that creating a dialogue with teachers is an equally important part, and pre-requisite, to this, due to their importance in mediating the trip experience. Not only did I revise the materials and realize other uptake and program “success variables” based on the trialing process, but my own ability to seek feedback and successfully connect with teachers improved throughout the trial.
I started to learn just from getting the book out to the first school and trying to get feedback. For example, I realized that it is easy to talk to teachers about the book on the day of the tour because the farm is in the forefront of their minds even though it is a busy day. Perhaps I could get feedback after the fact, but I shouldn’t miss this chance, so I tried to be the “farmer” for schools to whom I sent the book in the future. I wished I could have gotten more of teachers’ reflections on the book beyond “we loved it,” especially suggestions for improvement, so I included a written evaluation and modified my approach to teacher conversations.
By discussing the evaluation method with coworkers I gained perspective that helped me seek feedback. For example, one coworker advised me to ask teachers specific questions and emphasized the importance of teachers being prepared to give feedback. Overall I realized the importance of personal connections to getting feedback, such as calling teachers, sending letters, approaching teachers at the farm, and working through people I knew, as well as those people themselves. I thought about how to leave my conversations open to criticism and feedback, asking, for example, “What would you suggest to improve the book?” instead of “What did you think of the book?”
Overall, I realized the importance of getting feedback from anyone and everyone, though carefully contextualizing that feedback and reflecting it against my original goals, as well as being open to changing goals. For example, when a farm staff member/ teacher suggested seek-and-find activities to facilitate children’s awareness of animals such as spiders on the farm, I saw how this idea lined up with my original goals (awareness of the natural world), but also thought about ways that it caused the book to be less focused. None of these ideas would have emerged without implementing the book.
Design research even has an inherently participatory nature. Collins, Joseph, and Bielaczyc (2004) say, “In design experiments there is an effort to involve different participants in the design, in order to bring their different expertise into producing and analyzing the design” (p. 21). This project included input from university affiliates, farm staff, teachers, children, friends, family, acquaintances, and combinations thereof. The greatest sources of feedback came from people who I knew well or at least interact(ed) with repeatedly so a conversation about the book could truly develop. With the remaining project funds I plan to give copies of the book (second version) to libraries of schools that typically visit Sunrock Farm and alert visiting teachers of its availability upon booking a trip.
Educator and Student
Sunrock Farm and the University of Wisconsin–Madison
1717 Camelot Dr.
Madison, WI 53705
Office Phone: 8595165624