Technology has been the vehicle of agricultural progress since the crude wood and stone tools of Neolithic agrarians were replaced with copper, tin, bronze, and eventually steel implements. The precision agriculture practices and biotechnology of today are certainly only the precursors of marvels yet to come. And as the farmer who has embraced technological opportunities has been the driver setting the direction and leading the change, we as educators have also done so, steering agricultural education in newer directions using emerging technology.
And, odd as it may seem, today it is often the student who introduces the teacher to new tools.
Chances are your students were texting on their cell phones and listening to their iPods before they walked into your classroom today. And at some point during the day, they will log on to their MySpace or Facebook page, Google something or watch the latest viral video on YouTube. Students today are tech savvy, to say the least, and you can capitalize on their ability and willingness to send and receive information via the newer mediums. Ask them for help!
First, you need to have the right tools in the classroom: Internet connection, LCD projector (for YouTube, podcasts, etc.) and computer speakers. You may need to reserve a school computer lab or sign up for a laptop cart in advance of a Web activity, but once you’ve got these materials, you are ready to go. Following are just a few of the educational avenues you can explore.
- Interactive Web Activities – Numerous interactive Web activities are available and, often, they will get students talking about what is going on in class with their peers and even their parents. Sites you might want to explore to see how these work range from “The Dirt on Soil” to “Dog Breed Selection” to “Virtual Farm Tours” to Merriam Webster’s visual dictionary games like “Structure of a Flower”.
- YouTube – YouTube features short videos that can be used to introduce a topic, summarize an idea, or challenge students to see what might be wrong with the information presented. Examples to check out include Chicken Hatcheries, Agriculture Careers and Soil Texture. Since some school districts do not allow YouTube directly on school computers, you might visit http://naae.ca.uky.edu:8080/clearspace_community/message/1359#1359 where there are resources you can explore to download files on a non-filtered computer then bring them to class on an external drive.
- Pictures – Teachers love using digital cameras to create bulletin boards, enhance PowerPoint presentations and enrich worksheets. And students just love to see themselves in pictures! Animoto marries your digital pictures to a program which can easily create a short video montage of class activities, supervised agricultural experiences and more. You can also download Windows Photo Story 3 to create similar projects. These are great resources to share with your FFA chapter reporters to create an end-of-year review. Students can also document various out-of-school projects with cell phone photos, too.
- Wikis – These simple-to-create mini websites allow a teacher to give students a cyber place to explore a topic or to work on an assignment. Students are used to participating in conversations online. So creating a class wiki on a free site and adding a discussion forum to engage students about class content is the perfect way to connect with them outside of the classroom. Additionally, you can grant students permission to edit pages, and it can become a class project. "Wiki," the Hawaiian word for “fast,” offers a quick way to engage students at a home or library computer with a class-related project. FFA and other school activities can have their own Wiki pages.
- Puzzlemaker – Create crosswords, cryptograms or other puzzles to use in class, or have students create them as a topic summary by using the free resources at http://puzzlemaker.discoveryeducation.com/index.asp.
- Audio Podcasts – Did you know that plugging earphones into the microphone jack can allow a computer to record voices? I didn’t, and I’ll admit I am just learning about how to use podcasts as a teaching tool. However, Heidi Martin from Massaponax High School in Virginia recorded the FFA Creed with her students, and I use it in my class.
- Video Podcasts – You can download podcasts to a school computer (http://www.apple.com/itunes/overview/) – no iPods necessary. For example, subscribe to FFA Today for weekly news on agricultural careers and FFA happenings. On a personal note, subscribing to podcasts such as “60 Second Science,” “Discovery Channel,” “CNN Student News” and “MTV Headline News” helps keep me current, so I can relate to topics my students are hearing about.
Some of the greatest teachers in my quest to integrate technology in my classroom have been my students. They taught me how to make YouTube playlists to organize the videos I use in class, demonstrated for me how to use Windows Photo Story 3, and often come in telling me about a website they visited that might be good to use for a lesson. It’s important to be willing to remain teachable and sometimes turn over the driver’s seat.
Just as our students are networking with their peers for the “latest,” it is important for us as educators to network with each other as well. If you have not taken advantage of the National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE) Communities of Practice, I encourage you to get active today. This community allows us to share our successes and resources. Additionally, several areas or websites I mentioned have lessons posted for them on the Communities of Practice site, and there are even more websites, Web quests and technology tools to use for engaging your students. By directing you here, I may be sharing the best advice of all.
How will you respond to the options newer technology provides? Tell your peers about your experiences engaging your students through technology—and ways your students have engaged you—then share your results on NAAE’s Communities of Practice.