Perspectives: Learning Lab

By Cynthia Chotkowski, animal science teacher and Storrs Regional FFA advisor, E.O. Smith High School, Storrs, Conn.

Did someone say “learning lab”? With the ever-increasing demand for students to have community service hours, the National FFA Convention & Expo is a perfect learning lab! Service learning ideas are “in your face” at Teachers’ World and throughout the convention, inspiring students to ask questions and to talk to people who have completed a variety of projects. Participants can engage in Habitat For Humanity house building, gleaning, even simply raking leaves. This is the best way for students to learn to do for others, to become givers rather than takers. My students have taken advantage of two great opportunities--the No Texting While Driving and the No Bullying programs--as a result of participating in convention service-learning events. Both programs attracted students that otherwise would not have been involved in our chapter.

Did someone say “diversity”? There are traditional supervised agricultural experience ideas featured in the proficiency, Stars, and other recognition programs; however, students will find the agriscience fair inspires a host of SAE ideas that go beyond the cornerstone of production agriculture, employing STEM and Common Core standards. Students meet and interact with their peers from all facets of life. They get the chance to employ their 21st-century skills as they interact with fellow members of differing ethnicities, religious affiliation and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Did someone say “career preparedness”? School administrators and politicians may have recently coined the phrase, but we’ve been putting it into action since the founding of agricultural education and FFA. The National FFA Convention & Expo has more than 230,000 square feet of career inspiration. Tie this in with the educational career tours and you have a winner! Students can also take advantage of free workshops on anything from biotech to animal management systems to genetics, all available at convenient times. FFA CDE tours are offered free of charge to peek interest and involvement in the agriculture career pathways as well. It’s great to point out that CDEs capture all of the key pieces of higher order thinking to your administrator, should you convince them to attend the convention and expo with your students. What a great way to prove to him/her that the time spent away from the classroom really does address academic standards, introduces students to real agriculture careers and sets them on a path for their future.

Take all of these opportunities, put kids in a new learning environment and they start asking questions. Inquiry-based learning without even trying. That is what the National FFA Convention & Expo is all about.