By Deb Buehler
An increasing focus on academic achievement in career and technical education is stretching agriculture educators to integrate more science, math, social studies and language arts into course instruction. As a result, agriculture educators are collaborating with core content teachers to improve academic rigor and relevance.
Tim Ray, an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at Dallas High School in central Oregon, was one of several who participated in a National Research Center for the Association of Career and Technical Education study focused on integrating math into horticulture instruction. For Ray, it just made sense; core concepts need to be integrated in a contextual way.
“Students don’t even realize they are applying math in hands-on experiences. Now I help them make the connection between what we are learning and the academic content they’ve already seen in math or science class,” Ray said.
Ray works in partnership with a math teacher and has served in the math Professional Learning Community (PLC) in his school. Through his work on the PLC, he was able to seek further ways to integrate math into agriculture and shop classes. In shop classes students are measuring, adding fractions and making things square. “It is a teachable moment,” Ray explains. “If we build a trailer that isn’t square, it won’t go down the road straight.”
Agriculture is housed in the science department at Dallas High School so Ray works closely with science teachers, too. “Next year we will delve into the CASE curriculum to expose students to physics in shop classes,” Ray said. “We are trying to incorporate the academic core curriculum areas as much as possible.”
Texas Takes Another Approach
“Our state standards have recently been rewritten,” said Ron Whitson, Texas Ag Ed Program Director with the Texas Education Agency. “As a result, we’ve created a new course called Mathematics Applications in Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.”
Texas has instituted the “4 By 4” graduation expectation whereby all high school students must complete four years of math, science, English and social studies. The expectation was limiting agriculture classes students could take while still meeting the requirement. The new course brings together math that was already being taught in a variety of agriculture classes. The course will reinforce algebra I and II, calculus and trigonometry embedded in agriculture content while enabling students to meet a math requirement.
“We also have some courses that will count as a fourth science credit,” Whitson said. “But the math course is unique in that it is based on pulling together all of the mathematics content and showing students how to utilize skills they’ve already learned.”
It hasn’t been determined whether agriculture or math teachers will be teaching the course, but a professional development component will be a requirement. Whitson anticipated that an online course will be made available as an intensive professional development opportunity. The content itself isn’t new; it is bringing together concepts that deal with agribusiness such as figuring livestock weight gain over time or calculating seed rates for a crop or estimating greenhouse capacity.
Collaboration may be the best way to ensure that agriculture programs remain relevant because agriculture classes enable students to see direct applications for what they are learning in core content areas.
“Collaboration is going to be huge in terms of education budgets,” adds Ray. “We will be able to maximize equipment and resources within the whole school during these tight economic times.”
Ray noted “Everyone wants the students to be successful in life. In ag classes our students are also learning important life skills such as respect, showing up on time, cleaning up after yourself – values that are relevant in any area of adult life.” Students are learning to be accountable just as educators hold themselves accountable.
“By doing what we say we are going to do, our students have elevated themselves and the ag program so that the rest of the school is receptive and supportive,” Ray concludes. “Core curriculum educators realize that we are all working to make the student body better.”