A Middle School Perspective
Agriscience Teacher/ FFA Advisor
Northern Burlington County Regional Middle School
Columbus, New Jersey
Incorporating Core Curriculum into a Middle School Agriculture Class
As a middle school teacher, Robin Mclean offers a different perspective on incorporating core academics into her classroom curriculum. By working closely with other instructors and using the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education, Mclean has the opportunity to show younger students that agriculture is about more than just farming.
Mclean teaches middle school in the Northern Burlington County Regional School District, in New Jersey, a district in a historic farming community. The middle school has roughly 740 students, of whom she sees about 300 during the course of the school year. She teaches 7th grade Introduction to Agriscience, 8th grade Introduction to Agriscience, and new for 2012-13, the CASE Introduction to Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources to 8th graders.
Mclean incorporates reading and writing skills into agriculture class by having students complete a monthly agricultural article review where they must find a news article relevant to agriculture and tell the who, what, when and where of the article, as well as write about its relevance and why they selected it. Each grade level she instructs has a geography based project about agriculture production where they address some of the social studies standards. Math partners naturally with many of the labs she does.
Since her agriculture classes are considered electives by her school, Mclean doesn’t have the opportunity to partner directly with educators in core curriculum areas, but does use them as a resource when planning her lessons. For example, when conducting germination labs, she consults with the math teacher to see where students currently stand on understanding converting fractions to percentages and creating bar graphs. Then she checks with the language arts teacher to be sure that the writing concepts she incorporates follow the methods and strategies of what is being taught in those core content classes.
“A student came into class mid-way through a course last year and asked "Why do we have to go to any of our other classes when we do it all here in Ag?" said Mclean. “The greatest opportunity in teaching middle school agriculture is that it helps students to see the diversity of the industry and realize that it is more than farming.”
Agriculture classes help students with an interest in business, math, science or even art see that that there is a career path for them. The opportunity to be exposed to these classes in middle school also guides them as they plan out their high school experience.
Mclean, who taught high school for more than five years, says this is the biggest difference between educating middle school and high school students is that middle school students need a lot of assistance with organization and developing a sense of responsibility. As she teaches, she incorporates more life and study skills into her lesson plans like recording assignments, advising on how to take notes, etc.
When it comes to assessment, there isn’t a test or exam for core academic skills separate from agriscience course content. A quiz might have math problems on it relevant to the unit they just covered or have short answer questions that call for answering in complete sentences. A lab write-up might include data tables, which incorporates math, and conclusion questions for language arts. Rubrics for projects also include a component for proper use of grammar, spelling and other language arts skills.
“I don't see myself as "just" an agricultural educator,” said McLean. “I see myself as a teacher who needs to help students be prepared for life; a life where they will have to use math, apply language arts skills, understand social studies, and be able to engage in scientific practices. Core academics are integral to what I do. I don't know how not to include them in my daily instruction.”
By approaching her lesson planning and teaching with a different perspective, Mclean is influencing and showing students how core content and agriculture come together in the real world.
Robin Mclean is a regular contributor on Communitites of Practice and can be contacted by email at email@example.com. Connect with her on Twitter @rcmclean.