News & Media

More Than Just Farming

10/02/2018 Lancaster Farming By Alex Geli

More Than Just Farming
Schools integrate STEM courses into traditional agricultural curricula

Putting food on the table, as it turns out, requires more math, science and technology than one might think.

In other words, agriculture, according to Lauren Beal, isn’t “simply farming.”

Beal is the supervisor of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — at the Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13. She’s targeting misconceptions surrounding agriculture by helping local schools infuse STEM learning into their agriculture curriculum.

It’s part of a relatively new initiative in Lancaster County and statewide to open students’ eyes to the diverse pathways that could lead to a job in the agriculture industry — one of several industries in Pennsylvania suffering from a labor shortage.

“Agriculture is just a great lens for STEM learning,” Beal said. “It’s giving kids real-world context to learn Pennsylvania curriculum and content. It’s just a natural connection.”

Filling a need

According to a report released in June by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, ag production accounts for more than $135 billion in total economic activity and nearly 580,000 jobs across the Commonwealth. The industry feeds more than 52 million people in the Northeast.

In-demand jobs here include farm managers, mechanics, truck drivers, sales representatives, conservationists and veterinarians.

Regardless of the job, the report says, one thing remains constant: Technology is transforming the way people work.

“These impacts are seen in self-driving tractors and equipment, machines that package items faster than the human eye can process, sensors in the field that control the application of fertilizer to crops, anaerobic digesters that generate electricity on the farm, and drones that map land contours providing new resources for crop and water management,” the report says.

Education, therefore, must adapt with new technology, the report says.

The intersection of STEM and ag

Doug Masser, who heads the agriculture department at Pequea Valley High School, takes those words to heart.

He teaches four classes — horticulture, power technology, advanced scientific research and agricultural biology. Pequea Valley, Masser said, is one of the first school districts in Pennsylvania to offer an agricultural biology course, which, along with traditional biology, is a required class for sophomores.

Ag and science teachers align their curriculums so both biology courses mirror each other.

When biology tackles photosynthesis, for instance, agricultural biology could delve into plant anatomy, Masser said.

The high school is also one-to-one, meaning every student is provided a laptop. This allows Masser to incorporate technology and more flexible labs to foster critical thinking, he said.

“We’ve helped our students really understand what agriculture does and how they can protect resources around us,” Masser said. “Agriculture is so much more than the production ag that they think of right away.”

Array of opportunities

Promoting that idea has become an integral part of education here.

Beal said all Lancaster County school districts have created units based on agriculture and STEM. That’s in addition to most districts offering FFA programs.

According to the Lancaster Agriculture Council, nine public high schools, plus the Lancaster County Career & Technology Center, have a national FFA chapter.

Beal said the IU provides field trip opportunities to promote hands-on learning, thanks to a state math and science partnership grant the IU has received over the past five years. The center also offers summer professional development opportunities for teachers.

Similar opportunities exist elsewhere in the community.

The Lancaster County STEM Alliance, for example, sponsored a hands-on externship at New Holland North America for teachers, school administrators and community leaders to tour the 341-acre campus in New Holland and receive on-the-job training.

The Pennsylvania Farm Show hosts a “Farm City Day” every year for students in grades two through five to learn more about the relationship science, math and other subjects have with agriculture.

Beal said the IU sponsors an “Ag Careers Day,” highlighting agriculture STEM careers, also at the farm show.

Read More