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.

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Region I
Janna Volkers
Columbia High School
Nampa, ID

During her animal nutrition unit, Volkers struggled to find a way to engage her students. She decided to give them a hands-on learning opportunity by having them raise their own chickens.

“As a starting point, we obtained 18 day-old chicks. Each group was assigned four chicks of a breed they selected. We mixed several feeds in order to provide one group a feed with 8% protein and a second group would have 24% protein,” explained Volkers.

Using corn meal from the grocery store, pre-packaged chick starter and pre-packaged game-bird starter, students used a Pearson’s Square to determine the proper ration for the chicks’ nutritional requirements. Each day, students weighed their chick.  Throughout the six to eight week experiment, students will need to mixed feed several times, weighed their chick daily, and documented their growth with charts, graphs and photos. This activity appeals to many different learning styles and truly helps students grasp the subject.

“As a result of this lab, students were able to actually see the importance of feeding animals and why we are able to butcher animals now so much sooner than years ago,” said Volkers. “I believe all students enjoyed this lab while learning math, statistics, history, animal care and nutrition.”

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Region II
Lee Weis
Ell-Saline High School
Brookville, KS

Lee Weis

Weis currently teaches at Ell-Saline High School in Brookville, Kan.  He feels it is important to integrate core subjects into his teaching and for students to understand what the United States has contributed to the food industry.  Because of these reasons, he developed a lesson about foods developed in America.

“This unit on American Ethnic Foods allowed me to incorporate social studies into my classroom and was a perfect first unit to cover with my students in food science,” said Weis.

He began by researching the history of food and surveying what students eat.  He discussed opinions and theories about what people eat and the reasoning behind it with his students.  Weis then introduced foods that are indigenous to America.  Students were able to learn about regional differences and where food originated.  They studied BBQ, Cajun and Tex-Mex in depth.  The lesson on BBQ gives students an opportunity to develop their own sauce and compete against one another for bragging rights.  After the Cajun lesson, they prepare four different dishes.  When the units are completed, students must submit a reflection paper on what they learned and what they liked best.

“This unit allows students to learn about many cultures and have fun doing it,” said Weis. 

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Region III

Natasha Mortenson
Morris Area High School
Morris, MN
Ellen Thompson
Sauk Centre High School
Sauk Centre, MN

Natasha Mortenson & Ellen Thompson

After eight years of teaching in the same region and sharing ideas, Mortenson and Thompson teamed up to create a handbook full of teaching strategies. These enthusiastic teachers enjoy finding new and engaging methods to teach their students, while having fun and maintaining a productive classroom, and were excited to share their ideas with others.

“The handbook contains over 40 activities that any teacher could use in almost any discipline to engage students in the learning process. The ideas in the handbook have been used and tested in our classrooms with specific detail and examples for others to use as a guide,” explained Mortenson and Thompson.

While the handbook is available online, Mortenson and Thompson have been very proactive about sharing their handbook with others. They have presented workshops at the Minnesota Association of Agricultural Educators Summer Conference, the 2008 NAAE Convention and a meeting for the teacher induction program.

“Ag teachers are very busy people. They need easy to use, minds-on techniques to implement into their lessons. That is exactly what this handbook is,” said Mortenson and Thompson.

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Region IV
James McCormack
Oran High School
Oran, MO

James McCormack

McCormack currently teaches agriculture at Oran High School in Oran, Mo. When designing projects for his agricultural mechanics students, he likes to give them the opportunity to use several tools and skills to create something that is useful and appeals to their personal interest. The Metal Horse project was developed by McCormack to give student the opportunity to learn several skills in a single project. They are able to practice the proper use of a metal cutting band saw, drill press, bench grinder, portable grinder to cut angle iron, square tubing and rectangular tubing. Students also rely on their knowledge learned earlier in the year to make correct measurements and use the arc welder.

The project works great to wrap-up shop instruction or lead to a discussion on animal confirmation. It is also inexpensive and can be related to student interest. While some students may be interested in cutting, measuring and welding, others may enjoy being creative or really like horses. McCormack finds the project easy to grade because students are given a list of parts and a description of what the measurements should be. After students have all the pieces cut, they are able to put them together any way they wish, just as long as the finished product resembles a horse.

“The Metal Horse is a great project for students because it requires students to use several tools and skills, applies to their interests and allows for creativity,” said McCormack.

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Region V
Kathleen Weaver
David Hinson Middle School
Daytona Beach, FL

Kathi Weaver

Weaver currently teaches at David Hinson Middle School in Daytona Beach, Fla.  She challenges students by introducing inquiry based learning, a style of teaching where the students ask the questions.  Using an activity called the George Washington Carver Milk Jug Hydroponics Challenge, she teaches students about the alternative plant propagation technique.

“My job is to guide students towards the answers to their questions by asking them questions, rather than giving them the answer,” said Weaver.

She starts by renewing students’ knowledge of early agricultural inventions and the work of George Washington Carver.  Students work in groups with the materials provided to build a soil-less radish growth unit.  They are expected to complete a lab record sheet, documenting their thoughts, questions, predictions, data, conclusions and recommendations during the seven day project.  Upon completion the class graphs the results and discusses the activity.

“This kind of activity gives teachers the opportunity to stretch their wings to facilitate student learning through the development of information processing and problem solving skills,” said Weaver.

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Region VI
Debra Seibert
Manheim Central High School
Manheim, PA

Debra Seibert

After trying several traditional spring bedding crops in the greenhouse, Seibert and her students decided to try something new to be better able to compete with the local greenhouses. Seibert got the idea of growing heirloom tomato plants from Landis Valley Museum where they save and sell seeds that date to colonial times.  After the students visited the museum, they started researching heirloom plants and choose twelve varieties. This past spring, they grew more than 35 varieties and marketed more than 4,000 plants to gardeners who lived in a 2-hour radius of Manheim.

With a grant from the local school district foundation, Seibert purchased a tent, banner and website software to use with the heirloom tomato sales. They received a lot of publicity when a reporter from the New York Times wrote about their sale, and have become a favorite with gardening clubs and enthusiasts. Seiberts’ agricultural business class designed a marketing plan for the plant sale and collaborated with the honors agricultural science class to create value added products related to the heirloom plants. These include variety information on the website, a booklet explaining integrated pest management procedures, as well as a harvested tomato contest at the local fair.

Students have gained hands-on experience in greenhouse management and sales and marketing through class and leadership positions in organizing the sale. Not only are students gaining valuable industry experience, but are also applying their knowledge from other areas like math, nutrition, English and art.

“Students assume leadership roles as we begin selecting varieties in December, ordering greenhouse supplies, planting the seeds in March, transplanting all spring, and marketing the plants at the sales in May,” said Seibert. “Students that normally do not volunteer for activities are now taking on team leadership roles due to their hands-on involvement with the project.

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