SHERIDAN — Wyoming Agriculture In the Classroom has completed a new curriculum for their Wyoming Stewardship Project to be launched by the end of October. The curriculum is geared toward second- to fifth-graders and is divided into three sections of agriculture, mining and energy and outdoor recreation and tourism based on the three major industrial sectors of the Wyoming economy.
The three units take between three and four weeks each to complete. The new curriculum has a particular emphasis on developing students’ critical thinking skills, with higher-order thinking skills sidebars called “HOT-boxes” throughout the book suggesting topics for analysis, synthesis of concepts and group discussion.
The curriculum also emphasizes place-based learning, which helps raise awareness of local connections to agriculture and industry.
WAIC Developmental Director Rindy West said that the second- to fifth-grade range is ideal since students have not yet settled into career paths.
They may consider careers in agriculture if they’re afforded the opportunity to learn about how it affects their lives.
“Students ride the same buses every day past the same cows, the same farms, but they still might not be aware of how they affect their lives,” WAIC Executive Director Jessie Dafoe said.
To develop the new curriculum, WAIC reached out to organizations across the state in the three major industries as well as teachers to solicit their feedback and suggestions.
West also said that the Wyoming Department of Education played a large role in ensuring the curriculum materials were standards-aligned.
The new curriculum comes as part of the organization’s effort to shift to more of a “teach the teachers” model. To that end, WAIC launched a summer program to train teachers to implement the curriculum and has taught nearly 200 teachers so far.
In addition to hard copies of the curriculum, educators inside and outside of Wyoming can access electronic versions of the curriculum online for free.
The organization has set a goal to educate 11,400 students annually by the end of 2020. Last year, the organization educated 997 students through its stewardship project.
West said the organization will have to continue hiring more staff to help teachers implement the lessons in the classroom.
Dafoe said that even the most basic education can make a difference in students’ later stewardship of the state’s lands.
“Even students just knowing the difference between private and public lands, even just learning what a land trust is, can make a big difference,” Dafoe said.
The organization has partnered with AgTerra for a global information systems project where students can work with current technologies and apply them to real areas and industries. AgTerra donated its “Map it Fast” software for the organization to use in its educational efforts. Students using the software mapped the city of Rawlins to such an extent that the Rawlins Chamber of Commerce expressed interest in using their work to promote businesses in the area, according to Dafoe.
The organization also runs an annual bookmark contest, where students create a bookmark-sized informative postcard with original art. To select the final winners, the organization uses both a committee of its own members and a “people’s choice” vote by students, educators and businesses.
Students who create the winning bookmarks travel to Cheyenne and have a chance to meet the governor. The organization has received 2,306 entries for the bookmark contest this year.
“It’s a great peer-to-peer teaching experience for students to share what they’ve learned with one another,” Dafoe said.
During the 2017-2018 school year, 3,325 students engaged with Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom materials.
The organization’s leaders hope that agriculture education today will create leaders who are prepared to deal with future issues that affect food, environment and industry.
“We don’t know what all of our problems will be in 20 years, but we know we can create stewards today,” Dafoe said. “They will encounter challenges that we don’t even know about right now, but they will have an understanding of how industries fit together with one another and their homes.”