Kids learn about crops while educators learn about learning | State & Regional







In their new commodity curriculum, 4-H students and Ag in the classroom students learn how many things are made out of corn.


Photo courtesy Sarah Marten


Kids are learning about pumpkins, corn and cattle in a new 4-H and Ag in the Classroom program. The program is also helping educators learn more about learning.

A pilot project, which started in Tazewell County, is a University of Illinois program which has spread to several counties, teaching hundreds of students about important commodities in the state.

At the same time, it is helping University of Illinois researchers understand how young people learn.

The Ag Leadership Education and Commodity curriculum is led by Amy Leman, assistant professor in agricultural leadership, education & communications and was written by two university students, Hannah Spangler and Emma Robbins.

Pumpkins were chosen as one of three commodities in the program since Illinois has ideal soil to grow them and they are an important crop in the state, said Sara Marten, 4-H youth development Extension educator. Students in her region, which includes Christian, Jersey, Macoupin and Montgomery counties, benefited from the program that was also supported by the Dudley Smith Research Farm in Christian County in central Illinois.

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In the lessons about cattle, lessons included how cattle’s stomachs differ from humans’. Students learned about the fermentation process including experiments with yeast, Leman said.

In the corn portion of the study, Spangler said students were surprised with how many products are made from corn, including lipstick and packing pellets. Some hands-on activities used packing peanuts, said Spangler.

Spangler, who hails from west central Illinois near Macomb, said her previous experience on the family farm and working with Ag in the Classroom helped her design the program and train county 4-H leaders who will teach it.

The research study portion is focused on learning itself, which meshes well with the 4-H model of learning by doing.

It is based on David Kolb’s model of Experiential Learning, which has continued to evolve since he introduced it in 1984. This study looks at activities, reflection and application of the knowledge, Leman said.

Well-designed lessons are helpful to 4-H leaders who may not have a degree in education but want to make sure 4-Hers have fun, learn materials and retain the knowledge, said Leman, a former State 4-H youth development specialist.

The study divides students into three groups. One group did activities related to the commodity lessons, wrote in reflection journals and further applied the knowledge they learned. A second group did the same activity and answered verbal questions from the teachers as their reflection piece and the third group just did the activity, Leman said

Students completed pre- and post- tests which will give educators and researchers further insight into how youth best lean and will be used in developing further materials, Leman said.

Hundreds of students were involved in the study which ended at the end of the school semester. Reflection journals are still being collected so it will take time to collect and analyze the information.

“We will analyze the data this summer,” Leman said.

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