Ideas Unlimited Awards

For years teachers have been exchanging classroom and teaching ideas. This is what keeps the agricultural education programs alive and teachers enthusiastic. The NAAE Ideas Unlimited Award recognizes teachers for developing and sharing innovative ideas with their colleges nationwide.

All Ideas Unlimited award winner photos from 2012 NAAE Convention
(For news releases, see individual entries below)


Region I Trent Van Leuven, ID
Region II Tanner Thompson, OK
Region III Jim Melby, WI
Region IV Zach Crew, MO
Region V Robert Bollier, SC
Region VI Sally Shomo, VA

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Region I
Trent Van Leuven
Rocky Mountain High School
Meridian, Idaho

news release

Clyde McBride photo

As an agriculture teacher, Van Leuven has the unique opportunity to teach animal science in a very hands-on setting. As Van Leuven has developed his curriculum for the course, he began to realize some areas were more challenging for his students. To give them a more hands on, visual way to understand primal carcass cuts, ruminant digestion, artificial insemination and cattle body structure, Van Leuven has constructed a mobile cow skeleton to use in his classroom.

“It has been an exceptional teaching tool,” said Van Leuven. “From the moment I wheel the cow into the classroom, the students’ interest is engaged.”

With the addition of the mobile cow skeleton in the animal science classroom, students are offered the chance to see every aspect of the animal. They are able to ask better questions and fully understand the entire life of a cow.

The skeleton serves many different purposes. The parts that unhook easily allow students to carefully examine the structure of the cow, as well as note any of the common cattle deformities. Students are also able to investigate the function of hooks and pins during the calving process. Students can use the swiveling head to explore the axis and atlas joints, essential to the process of slaughtering beef animals.

Thanks to VanLeuven’s mobile cow skeleton, students can now experience animal science, rather than just read about it.

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Region II
Tanner Thompson
Prague Public Schools
Prague, Oklahoma

news release

Lee Weis

Thompson values interactive learning, and creates that environment in his classroom through group projects. He believes collaboration is an excellent opportunity to practice skills like working on a deadline, staying organized, and being patient, but recognizes that there is a maturity gap separating his older students from his younger students. Thompson developed a program-wide activity called Big/Little in order to combat the disconnect between his older and younger FFA members.

“The results can be seen at local events where there is one large group rather than a handful segregated by grades,” said Thomspon. “Younger members seem to get excited to be around the older ones, and the older members enjoy having a greater level of participation.”

Thompson introduced the program to his juniors and seniors and assigned them the task of planning and implementing all aspects of the program, since they would be the big brothers and sisters. The students chose to have the program last a week at the beginning of the school year, with each day having its own activity. Throughout the entire week, the Littles were not aware of who their Bigs were.

The Bigs wrote letters, baked, created homemade items, and purchased FFA-themed presents for each of the Littles during the week. At the end of the week, the Littles were invited to an afterschool party where the Bigs were revealed, and each student was given a t-shirt to commemorate the event.

“After reviewing the effects of the Big/Little program, as the instructor, I could not be more pleased with the outcome,” said Thompson. “It was a voluntary program and ended up with 20 Littles and 13 Bigs. The unequal numbers represent our growing younger membership and was addressed by giving some bigs twins instead of the original idea of one big for one little.”

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Region III
Jim Melby
Winneconne High School
Winneconne, Wisconsin

news release

Natasha Mortenson & Ellen Thompson

Melby understands the importance of technology in the classroom. While shopping for a new FFA laptop with fellow agriculture teacher, Matt Reinders of Loyal, Wis., they began brainstorming different ways to incorporate the new technology into their programs. Realizing the laptops they purchased were equipped with webcams, they began to discuss using Skype as a presentation tool in their classrooms. Together, Melby and Reinders developed a project for their eighth grade students to teach each other, from schools over 100 miles apart.

“The students are always quite used to presenting to their own class, but when we added in the webcam and the other students, it really grabbed their attention,” said Melby. “This is great for them because it is a realistic representation of the future of meetings.”

Students were assigned the task of creating their own interpretation of the FFA emblem. Students worked in groups to research and develop their projects. Using Skype, students presented their projects to both their own class and the remote class. Not only did the project bring more technology into the classroom, but it engaged the students and allowed them to venture out of their comfort zones.

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Region IV
Zach Crew
Slater School
Slater, Missouri

news release

Crew understands that most agriscience students come from a non-farm background and wants to help them make the connection from their food to the farm. He also understands the difficulty in procuring live animals for demonstrations of common farm practices, one of those being castration. Crew has found an alternative method to this common practice with the mock scrotum.

“From finding the animals and a producer that is willing to let you show students this process to teaching students the proper safety techniques and procedures of this common practice, it could be a nightmare for a teacher to actually do a live castration in class and this is where my mock scrotum comes into play,” said Crew.

Students learn basic animal health management in Crew’s Advanced Animal Science class, including vaccinations, newborn care, and ear notching. The castration lesson is part of this unit. Students identify the parts of the scrotum and practice castration without the mess and more importantly, possible harm to an animal if conducted improperly. Two small Styrofoam balls are threaded together with a piece of string, creating the testacies and spermatic cord. Water balloons are then stretched over each Styrofoam ball creating the inner sack (tunica vaginalis). The mock testacies are then inserted into a regular balloon creating the scrotum. Liquid Jell-O is added into the balloon to represent blood and fluids within the scrotum, and refrigerated to let the Jell-O set. Finally, Crew demonstrates the castration process to his students and then lets each of them practice on their own mock scrotum.

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Region V
Robert Bollier
Cheraw High School
Cheraw, South Carolina

news release

Bollier understands that there are a variety of learning styles in the classroom. He believes as a teacher it is his duty to get the content across to all learners. Bollier has developed a collection of agriscience experiments that incorporate visual, kinesthetic, and auditory activities to meet students’ learning needs.

Bollier has titled his collection of agriscience experiments “From the Kitchen Cabinet.” All of these experiments are inexpensive and easy to replicate because they use products that are found in most any kitchen. Starting with common household products allows his students to focus on the concept being taught because they are familiar with the materials being used in the experiment.


“Using these experiments, the educator is able to better prepare students for other science courses they will be taking,” said Bollier. “They also allow the students to fulfill writing requirements throughout the school system as well.”

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Region VI
Sally Shomo
Beverley Manor Middle School
Staunton, Virginia

news release

Shomo understands the importance of incorporating more than academic concepts into her lessons. She believes character and citizenship stem from volunteerism. During National FFA Week in February, Shomo and her students collected old flags and put together a flag retirement ceremony for the community.

“One of the FFA’s strategies (found within the FFA Mission) is to ‘build character and promote citizenship, volunteerism, and patriotism,’” said Shomo. “Often we just expect this strategy to manifest itself and do not teach or emphasize it in our activities.”

Students took a retired postal box and repurposed it into an American flag disposal container by redecorating it. The container was then installed at the local Ruritan Center. The students mapped out a timeline of when to collect the flags with the end goal being a flag retirement ceremony. Few citizens have ever participated in a flag retirement ceremony, so upon looking for information and correct procedures, students and Shomo were led to the Woodmen of the World Organization, who are one of the handful of organizations who have a flag donation and retirement program. With the WWO’s help and additional research, the students put together a patriotic service.

A total of 98 flags were collected for the ceremony, and were properly striped before the ceremony. This process involves the union (blue field) being cut away from the stripes first. After that, starting at the bottom of the flag, each stripe is removed one at a time.

Veterans, school faculty, and parents were invited to the flag retirement ceremony. Students took turns removing stripes, sharing each’s meaning (For example, the first stripe is for the 13 original colonies and the second stripe is for purity), and dropping the stripe into the ceremonial fire. The veterans in the audience were asked to retire the union of the flag, which is considered an honor. After the initial flag was retired, audience members were invited to retire a stripe of their own. The students also put together a patriotic program after the retirement, which included the posting of the colors and a video about flag history that had interviews of local citizens about why people think the flag is important.

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