Crops Feed the World
By KAREN SCHWALLER
AMES – While Iowa farm land has been around for centuries, the American family has changed.
Studies show families are becoming two, three or more generations removed from the farm, giving children less opportunity to experience it.
“Young people in Iowa are surrounded by 30.5 million acres of farm land, yet they know very little about what is actually going on in fields and how crops are used,” said Maya Hayslett, crop sciences youth education specialist at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in Ames.
That knowledge prompted Hayslett to research and design a new online course for youth called Crops Feed the World, created to expand what young people know about crops growing in Iowa fields.
“We decided on an online course because that’s where the kids are,” she said.
The course, which was just recently released, has been about a year in the making. Hayslett put most of the content together, with the help of education experts and extension specialists, who reviewed the material to ensure its accuracy and currency.
The six-lesson course is designed to highlight and teach about the world of crop sciences and crop production to youth in grades four and five, as well as youth who have not had direct experience with agriculture.
“The lessons explore the prevalence of agriculture in our daily lives, the many responsibilities of farmers and the intricate biology of plant and soil health,” said Hayslett.
She added the course is unique in the way that it incorporates video lessons in several modules of the course. Those videos, part of the “Crops For Kids” video series, are featured on the Agriculture and Natural Resources YouTube channel, and can be viewed as part of the lesson or as supplements to the course.
Each lesson has four parts, including lesson plans for educators, directions for hands-on activities, an online module – a self-contained lesson on a particular topic designed as a voice-over interactive Power Point, providing all information needed to learn the subject – and a segment that tells them what they can do next to learn more, including career information as it relates to the topic at hand and resources to learn more about specific ag-related careers.
The six lessons are intended for both youth and instructors, and cover many facets of crop management; from corn and soybean production, to agronomy and soils and crop management.
Lessons are available now for youth in grades four and five. Level two lessons will soon be available for youth in grades sixth through eight. In time, level three lessons will be added for youth in grades nine through 12.
“Each level includes six individual lessons that can be used separately as stand-alone lessons or together for a total of six contact hours,” said Hayslett. “Youth may progress through the levels at their own pace and as quickly as they like.”
Trials have been successful with youth who have already participated. Lessons are about an hour in length if directions are followed, with 20 to 30 minutes of hands-on activity, 20 minutes of actual instruction, and 10 minutes of follow-up on how youth can learn more.
Current lessons deal with crop growth and the basics of soil science relate to crop production.
Hayslett said the first lesson topic is It Starts with a Seed, “and it’s all about the structure of the seed, how seeds grow, early plant growth, germination and development.”
She added that the stand-alone lessons would work well for various environments, including after-school lessons, in-home school lessons or activities at an event.
“As a 4-H club project (for example), activities could be done with the club as a whole or by an individual club member,” said Hayslett.
The long-term goals are to help more youth and adults understand crops and their impact on Iowa, and to help further the development and placement of youth in ag-related careers.
“The goals of having lessons out are to help kids interested in crop sciences have resources to learn more,” Hayslett said. “And they could also be used in any classroom to help youth appreciate more of what crop production is and why it’s important in Iowa.”
The next six-part intermediate series being developed is called Crop Protection, and will focus on topics such as insects, diseases and weeds.
Hayslett said much of the content and hands-on activities in the course is based on previous 4-H project publications, such as crop protection manuals. She has been updating that information to put in the courses.
Funding for the new online course comes from the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) and 4-H Youth Development. Hayslett presented this course concept at the statewide 4-H Youth Educator meeting, hoping it could be a resource for youth interested in a crop sciences project area; just one way to use the online course.
She added the lessons are appropriate for multiple purposes – those who like learning in a group, and for individualized learning as well.
Crops Feed the World is available in the 4-H section of ISU Extension and Outreach Moodle Courses at moodle.extension.iastate.edu/. Participants will need to create an account if they don’t already have one.
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