By Beth Dehoff
For many teachers, efforts to address academic standards and work to provide positive ffa experiences are worlds apart. One goal is for the classroom; the other, for the chapter. However, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that ffa and classroom activities both support academic standards – and with a little planning, you can show the academic benefits of many of your ffa activities.
“Educators need to remember that FFA can be very useful when addressing standards,” says Jon Simonsen, assistant professor and director of undergraduate studies in the University of Missouri’s department of agricultural education. Simonsen was a high school agriculture educator for 10 years before joining the university. “Often, educators provide initial instruction in the classroom component, and then the information comes to life through FFA and SAE.”
Upon reflection, it’s clear that FFA activities closely tie with standards in a variety of ways. “Every state has different standards, but more and more states are moving to accountability,” says David Frazier, who was a high school agriculture educator for 15 years and is currently assistant professor of agricultural education at Tennessee Tech University. FFA can help strengthen academic programs and improve accountability.
At Tennessee Tech, Frazier is working with state officials to officially examine how career development activities in FFA marry with classroom competencies and state academic standards. “The cool thing is that we’re not only teaching state standards within agriculture, we also use the same kinds of standards that might be used in a math class or english class,” Frazier says. “in a farm business competition, I’m integrating economics, business and math into my class and my chapter activities. It takes a bit of effort to link up those state standards to your own program, but once you do that, you can show how both your classroom and your chapter activities are accountable to academic standards. You can get to the point where we’re competing based on the competencies you’re teaching, like an academic science team. When we can show that, we can justify our programs while engaging and teaching kids at the same time.”
Agricultural food and natural resources (AFNR) content standards
AFNR content standards line up classroom and chapter activities with learning standards. "AFNR standards might be addressed anytime the students are working with an agricultural content area through ffa,” says Simonsen. “this may work, for example, if students develop an awareness booth for a county fair on natural resources or nitrates in water. The information they share demonstrates the content captured in afnr standards – and many state standards, as well.”
“The common core mission statement (at corestandards.org), which discusses making standards relevant to the real world, could be a statement about FFA career development,” says Frazier. “in career development activities, students take what they’ve learned in the classroom and in FFA, and then they go out and test their knowledge. We see if they’ve learned what we want them to learn, and they get the chance to compete. In the real world, you have to know how to compete.”
Race to the top/no child left behind
“As money gets tighter, we need to be more and more accountable for what we’re teaching,” Frazier says. “good teachers are teaching new skills. Recently I had a team that won an ag contest with their computer programming system. That addressed new standards and gave them real-world ag business experience.” Frazier encourages teachers to take a hard look at their current curriculum and figure out what needs updated. “Are we still filling out job applications by hand?” he asks, challenging teachers to continually update and change with technology and emerging standards.
Frazier also points out that many existing FFA activities meet standards, suggesting that teachers examine every activity for how it can be linked to standards in a variety of academic areas. “You’re not just working with a judging team, you’re developing competencies. Take credit for it!” he says.
Working to marry your current FFA activities to academic standards, and to develop new curriculum and activities to increase accountability, isn’t easy, but both Frazier and Simonsen assure teachers that it’s well worth the effort. “It takes some strategic thought on behalf of the educator, but by doing this, it builds a case for the academic value of ffa in the minds of administrators and school districts,” Simonsen says. Standards can hold the key to both your program’s growth and your students’ education.