In July 2019, FFA advisors were invited to attend Microsoft’s global Hackathon, an annual event held at the company’s Redmond, Wash., campus that encourages collaboration, creativity and experimentation. The event has a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) focus, and it includes a professional development event called Teachers Hack for Good.
During the two-week event, FFA advisors had the opportunity to form teams and present their ideas for ag-related “hacks,” or problems they wanted to solve, to Microsoft employees who then chose which projects they wanted to assist with.
“Our goal is for the lessons and applications uncovered during Teachers Hack for Good to be available to FFA advisors and ag educators across the world and implemented into curriculums,” says Blaze Currie, team leader in the program and events division at FFA. “Many of these projects, or hacks, provide excellent opportunities for FFA members to get more familiar with science and technology, enhance their digital skills and explore the ag careers of the future.”
Three teams represented FFA, with each team working toward a different goal. For example, Tim Taylor, advisor for the Okmulgee FFA in Oklahoma, partnered with two other ag instructors to make a Microsoft FarmBeats Student Kit safe to use outdoors, by adding materials like Legos, tape and a solar panel. Taylor’s team also imported topographical data into Microsoft’s popular video game Minecraft to digitally re-create a farm. He says he hopes this newfound ability gives students the opportunity to see farms, ranches and other agricultural systems from all over the world.
OP McCubbins, former FFA advisor and current assistant professor in Texas A&M University’s Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications department, worked with his teammate to create a hack to combat food waste. They devised a pressure-sensing glove called The World’s Best Produce Picker, which would harvest various garden crops without causing damage.
“Eventually, we hope to see students building this glove and installing pressure sensors in the fingertips, then reviewing data to understand the amount of pressure it takes to successfully pick different fruits and vegetables,” McCubbins says.
Renay Treat, FFA advisor at Don Tyson School of Innovation in Springdale, Ark., collaborated with three fellow ag instructors to hack a leaf-monitoring system that helps determine plant health as well as the amount of nitrogen plants need to thrive.
“I’m really excited to get my students working on their own hacks so they can learn more about precision agriculture,” Treat says. “Teachers Hack for Good inspired me, and I know my ag students and FFA members are going to be amazed at the things I can now share with them.”
Interested in learning more about Teachers Hack for Good? Follow and explore #TeachersHackForGood on social media to see related photos, videos and more. Be on the lookout for lessons and presentations based on the event at the 92nd National FFA Convention & Expo from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3, 2019.