One big classroom: learning opportunities at the FFA National Convention and Expo

By Beth A. DeHoff

Students and teachers heading off to the National FFA Convention & Expo do not get a break from classes. They just move their classroom to a large convention center, sharing their experiences with hundreds of other students.

“When students visit with other agriculturists from across the nation at the convention and expo, gathering new information and sharing their own agriculture experiences, it allows them to reach many of the academic standards and be exposed to career pathways that might not be available to them in their own communities,” says Nathan Torrance, agricultural educator and advisor for Cheyenne FFA in Oklahoma.

“FFA members learn in a variety of settings at the convention and expo,”,says Christine White, director of the educational programs division for FFA. “The featured speakers in the main convention arena challenge students to take action and make a difference,” she says. “Convention workshops provide students an opportunity to learn new leadership concepts, explore agricultural careers and develop 21st century skills.” Career development events also provide a forum for many students to demonstrate knowledge and skills, while the agriscience fair offers the opportunity for students to conduct with the sciences through the research that is presented by members in each of the career pathways.

Even the expo, featuring a number of businesses and industry representatives, offers a unique education. “The expo offers opportunities for members and advisors to connect with industry leaders to learn more about the careers available in agriculture,” White says. “It truly demonstrates the depth of agriculture today.” Many of the expo booths also emphasize the importance and availability of advanced education.

“Everything at the convention and expo conveys the importance of math, science and being able to speak and communicate effectively,” says Torrance. “It’s always a joy to watch students get excited about math, science and language arts. They don’t necessarily see that they are learning all this, but all of agriculture is based on those three main cores.”

It’s easy to see the educational foundation of the convention and expo once there, but how can advisors communicate these advantages to their administrators and community? “Advisors can use information on the FFA website and in the convention guidebook that shows alignment of convention events and activities to the pathways and standards,” White says. “Advisors also should demonstrate the additional learning experiences they will create to accompany the activities the students experience at convention. Members learn and experience a lot by being at convention, but that learning becomes more meaningful and long-lasting when advisors provide students with an opportunity to reflect on what they’ve learned.”

Torrance agrees. “I require all the students to present back home to classmates, civic groups and faculty about their trip, what they learned and why it was valuable,” he says. “I also challenge each student to get 52 signatures, from the 50 states, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. I have them find out three interesting facts about each person who gives them a signature. Also, we take time, when we get back to the hotel each day, to journal about what each student learned, the most interesting fact of the day and the most exciting thing they did that day.”

Students and their parents, school administrators and community can understand the rich learning opportunities available from the FFA National Convention & Expo. “Too often, we forget that many valuable experiences are gained outside of the classroom,” Torrance says. “The FFA convention and expo experience is valuable to students as a way to be exposed to many new facets of agriculture that exist all over the country and beyond.”