Learning garden

Agri-theme gardens. Dirt made my bacon cheeseburger. Kids grow corn, soy, oats and alfalfa. Deals a little with confinement livestock operations.

Teachers and parents turned to online platforms as school doors closed due to the spread of COVID-19, and agricultural programs were quick to step up with web-based lessons.

As kids were transitioning to home schooling, South Dakota Ag in the Classroom launched a new at-home learning incentive for its South Dakota Road Trip program. It’s a passport where kids can check off their virtual visits for each of the 22 towns featured on the web program that teaches about each town’s history and an aspect of agriculture in the area.

The South Dakota Road Trip webpage has gotten more hits since kids became home-bound.

“It’s online and it’s readily available, right out there for kids to get on and use,” said Marsh Kucker, education specialist with Ground Works Midwest who developed the curriculum.

As students in the Sioux Falls School District began their first day of at-home learning March 24, Kucker was pleased to see that 15 kids had logged on to the site already that morning. The site also had hits from Minneapolis suburbs.

“I think they’re out there searching for distance learning,” Kucker said.

Ground Works Midwest took the helm of Ag in the Classroom in 2017. Teachers in 116 South Dakota schools use the program, but it’s open to anyone at www.sdroadtrip.org. Schools in Pennsylvania, California and Finland have used the program.

South Dakota Road Trip lessons are geared toward fourth graders, who in South Dakota are required to study state history. More programs are in the works. Some geared toward older students take ag topics to the next level of understanding and add a technology focus. Fourth graders learn the basics of agriculture, such as terminology. Other lessons build on that base knowledge.

“We need to give this to kids in bite-size pieces,” Kucker said.

This fall, her goal is to have ready a new program focused on sustainability, and lessons that involve precision agriculture are in the works as well. She’s been working with Poet ethanol and South Dakota Soybean to put together programs that cover precision agriculture and natural resources. They can tie in with science concepts already in teachers’ lesson plans.

Earlier this year, teachers did lessons in Mobridge and Hot Springs about the water cycle and talked about what farmers and ranchers do to conserve water. Another lesson gets into what soil is made of and what farmers do to protect it. Talk about precision ag fits in with computer coding work students are learning.

The program follows STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) principles and satisfies state educational standards. The goal is to make it a turnkey, easy-to-incorporate program for teachers, said Tim Olsen, executive director of Ground Works Midwest.

Teachers can pick and choose pieces of the program that fit with their lesson plans.

“We’re finding with the demand of teachers’ time to meet standards, they are looking for ciriculum that they can use to fulfill those standards,” Olsen said.

Ground Works Midwest also teaches kids about agriculture through gardening. Teaching gardens are set up at several schools around Sioux Falls and some surrounding communities. There are theme gardens such as “dirt made my cheeseburger,” that grow corn, soybeans, oats and alfalfa and can be used to demonstrate what cattle eat.

Another garden theme is the “story of corn” where three kinds of corn grow side by side – teosinte, an open pollinated variety and a corn hybrid. Kids learn about genetics.

Janelle is editor of the Tri-State Neighbor, covering South Dakota, southwestern Minnesota, northwestern Iowa and northeastern Nebraska. Reach her at jatyeo@tristateneighbor.com or follow on Twitter @JLNeighbor