Let's rewind quickly to this spring. The AST greenhouse in Glide was just finished two months ago and students are already producing some phenomenal hanging baskets. In fact, it takes a good portion of both my Ag 1 and Ag 2 classes to disbud and water every other day. Students are definitely getting tired of the monotonous work that has no end. After school one day, as I am trying to finish reorganizing the interlocking petunias in the house, ideas of how to make time spent in the greenhouse more meaningful and relevant to students are reeling through my mind. I know it's time to increase buy-in before I start losing student interest. How can I shift gears from the routine ‘Hows' into the exciting ‘Why's and What If's?' Lessons thus far definitely had Science and Math ties, but lacked the pizzazz and inquiry to make students start thinking on their feet. Time to restructure.
With the CASE Plant Science class coming this summer, I knew it was necessary to take my greenhouse classes to the next level. Three phone calls, twelve emails and four months later, I became one of 18 CASE Plant Science students sitting in Strand Hall during what we all thought was the hottest day of the year, July 6, 2010. (In fact, it might be the hottest week...We would soon find out!) What we don't know; however, is how our outlook on STEM integration, (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), assessment, certification and the professional development CASE offers for teachers across classes, would change over the next two weeks. My computer was out and outlook ready for what promises to be a great restructuring of my current methods and lessons for students. Let the course begin...
So Dan just finished giving the welcoming address on behalf of CASE and The Council, with Greg and Jonathan chiming in for the College of Ag. Sara lined us out on parking and our fine dining options while Betsy stayed true to form and handed out some great take homes, including my favorite color-changing pencils! Our lead teachers, Liz and Carl, both from Minnesota, walked us through the construction of our Agriscience Notebooks and sent us to our dorms with homework on Day 1: 5:15 pm. Yes, rigor was enforced from the gate and we would soon find out how the CASE curriculum would fit into 18 very different Ag programs.
Sitting in our luxurious Weatherford lounge that evening, we perused through the content on our CASE disc, completing an information scavenger hunt to familiarize ourselves with specific components of the curriculum. Within each lesson we found ties to SAE, FFA and Life Knowledge components that provided the groundwork for several Career Development Events. All lessons are tied to AFNR, National Science Education, Mathematics and English Standards and grounded upon basic concepts on a day to day schedule based upon a 175 day school year. What so many people commented on from the get go was the ‘proof on paper' the structure of each lesson provided for administration and the strength of academic concepts that were easily seen in student learning. One area that truly caught my attention was the Critical Thinking and Application Extensions. In my own classroom, I have definitely noticed a difference in learning modalities and student strengths and have often tried to create alternative assignments to best fit student needs and potential. As I was ‘scavenging' , it was apparent that both ends of the spectrum can easily being taught given the provided individual student applications! Finally, before we packed up our binders and headed out for dinner and the first of many social celebrations, we reviewed the Essential Questions and how they would play into tomorrow's assignment.
Day 2: (Which actually equated to about Day 7) So much for lined up tables and an all eyes on the front of the classroom format. Teacher-led instruction was out the window into another 93 degree morning and student-directed instruction was in full swing. From the second day forward, activities, projects and problems played out both in and outside of the classroom. My newest lab partners, Jenna and Nicole, dubbed "The Arizona Kid and Half a Dime" by Curtis were great fun to pitch ideas with on how each of the lessons could be applied in various settings. Our relationship with Vernier's LabQuests also became one of great intrigue. Soil formation, polyurethane spray and organic matter were the topics of our first lesson. From here forward, we utilized numerous materials to demonstrate how we as instructors can set labs and supplies up for student use within the room, how to present critical background information and signify the difference between activities, projects and problems (APP).
Throughout the next two weeks, the APPs would provide great structure to the uniqueness of the CASE curriculum. Perhaps the strength, in my mind, of the labs and student-directed instruction also lies in the utilization of the LabQuests and its probes. For those of you that have played on a LabQuest using CASE curriculum in one of Dan, Marlene or Vernier's CASE presentations, it's pretty apparent that this curriculum is science-oriented and chalked full of technology. We can now measure CO2 levels, temperature and light spectrums directly into visual representations that students can relate to while completing labs and sparking critical thinking. I know as we sat there examining the respiration of our peas and the environmental factors associated with the use of greenhouses, many new questions came out in conversation. New experiments and applications of the LabQuest were thrown around while we consulted with our Southern and Eastern Oregon friends on their data. Without a doubt, the scientific component of CASE could go rounds with what students are learning in standalone science classes. In fact, the context in which each APPs are set up provides a greater level of understanding based upon students tying learning to everyday living. Go figure. Isn't that what we're all after??
By day four, with what was somewhat limited knowledge of CASE, the discoveries so far definitely have made the Institute worthwhile. What surprises me; however, is while the lessons include great content, I have oddly missed the greater importance of this curriculum, Professional Development. As featured in several OSU Ag Ed classes, we should always examine what it is we are wanting students to take home and remember next year, versus memorize for a final. Life lessons of a sort. Proper pedagogy. Speaking for myself, I can look at a lesson downloaded off of the internet and think, "That's really cool! I want to teach that in class! But where do I ‘throw' it in and how do I make it more than a high energy stage act with a senseless plot? Are students going to be able to relate this to their life now and/or in the future? Do we know it will be the double Rs, we've heard time and time again?" Day in and out, we were provided important background information to maximize our ability to make these connections with students. Labs need to give students some latitude on discovery while accomplishing their purposes, open-ended in a sense. Ample room to explore made our experiments more creative and interesting both on a teacher and student level.
Perhaps one of the greatest advantages to the PD provided was the fact we were being taught by two Ag teachers that had used the curriculum in their classroom and could provide some insight to make it usable under different circumstances. Dr. Jansen also answered numerous questions regarding soil sampling, Lab-Aids, and using the curriculum in general. Every Ag teacher in the room contributed to the learning atmosphere with questions and scenarios to ramp up instruction. Yes, even the computer application of Inspiration and Mendelian Genetics was utilized in labs with us. In fact, Thanks to Tracy and Kristin, Curtis and Paul are well on their way to being misassigned to teach a computer applications course! We all learned new tricks!
While powering through the two-week stretch, it was apparent that when school is back in session in August, for those of us starting before Labor Day, we will have an extremely versatile toolbox in our program. The CASE Institute and curriculum definitely provides for program strength and necessity as budgets grow tighter, core requirements stricter and elective programs are being closed across the country. Students will have the opportunity for CASE certification and, ultimately, college credit through completion of meaningful instruction in Plant Science. The resources provided throughout the Institute definitely provides a much needed look into the everyday preparations necessary on a Day to Day basis, allowing students to grasp principles and content. Great connections to other Ag teachers both here in Oregon and spanning to the East coast have given me a great network to bounce questions off of and look for various ways to continue improving instruction. All-in-all, the CASE Institute was the most beneficial two-weeks worth of PD I have spent since grad school. The opportunity to spend time with my colleagues was untouchable and definitely rivals with the camaraderie of Summer Conference. Eventually, I have plans to implement CASE Intro to Ag, Animal Science, Biotechnology and Food Science courses into our local Program of Study, providing the highest quality of Ag Education, in my mind, for students here in Glide. I feel that CASE will be a huge asset to our program, state and to all Agricultural programs across the United States within the immediate future!