When Texas Corn Producers invited area teachers to tour an ethanol plant in Plainview, Texas, Plainview ISD teacher, Leigh Pate, Ed.D., eagerly took advantage of the opportunity.
Pate was zealous to provide input regarding curriculum TCP wanted to offer classrooms. After a tour of the ethanol facility and a brief conversation, Pate and TCP recognized their common passion — both yearned to educate youth about agriculture.
This shared dedication led to a partnership that changed the way science is taught in some Texas elementary classrooms. At the time, Pate was working on her doctoral degree and completing her dissertation on agricultural elementary curriculum that is Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills approved. Pate said the timing of the ethanol plant tour cold not have been better.
“I talked to the two guys there with TCP, and they asked me if I would like to be a consultant,” Pate said. “I said, ‘Of course!’ That is exactly what I wanted to do.”
Perfecting the Curriculum
With the help of some elementary teachers in the area, Pate was able to modify the curriculum created by Kansas Corn to suit Texas standards. In the final stages of the editing process, TCP hired Hannah Dast, an alumna of the Texas Tech University agricultural communications program, as their education director. Dast said she is glad she was able to step into the position when she did.
“Between Leigh Pate, a few others and I, we all worked together to complete the formatting, grammar and consistency of the curriculum,” Dast said. “I got to come in at the end, and really help get [the curriculum] wrapped up and get it out.”
TCP’s “Corn in the Classroom” curriculum was released March 16, 2020, and is an experience-based curriculum and includes numerous hands-on activities. The curriculum provides lessons for Kindergarten through fifth grade students including the life cycle of corn – from seed to harvest.
Spreading the Word
To display these activities and demonstrate how they should be taught, Dast organized several teacher workshops. To her disappointment, all but one were moved to virtual platforms due to COVID-19. Despite the challenges this presented, the team was able to proceed and introduce the curriculum to teachers across seven regions in Texas. Pate attends each of these workshops to demonstrate the activities included in the curriculum.
“I had 15 to 30 [teachers] attend each workshop virtually,” Pate said. “I love the workshops; they are so much fun. I like being able to present to teachers and show them new things and get them excited.”
After each workshop, Dast mails every teacher the supplies they need to teach the curriculum, including a paper copy of the curriculum. Teachers are impressed by this gesture. Bobby Barron, a fifth grade science teacher at Denver City ISD, said he loved getting a box of supplies from TCP to support the new agriculture curriculum.
“The fact that they took the time to mail everyone that attended the workshop a box, is amazing,” Barron said. “The lessons are all very inclusive. It’s got everything in it.”
A Look Inside the Classroom
Brandi Keeter, a third through fifth grade science teacher at Throckmorton ISD, said she started teaching the curriculum in the 2020 spring semester, and her students are eager to learn every day. Each of her classes have planted corn in their on-campus greenhouse facilities.
“It’s a goal of ours to harvest the corn and put it in the cafeteria so our kids can eat it,” Keeter said. “The kids are excited because they are getting their hands on it. Each of them has their very own plant.”
Keeter said the curriculum also helped create a unique culture among the students and their families.
“Some of the parents I never talked to, have texted and said their child came home telling them they got to plant corn at school,” Keeter said. “The parents can’t believe their kiddos are getting to plant at school and see the outcome of how a plant actually grows and is harvested.”
The Future of the Curriculum
Dast said TCP has big plans for the curriculum’s future. In order to reach more students, they are in the process of translating the curriculum to Spanish with the help of the Texas Tech’s Spanish department. Dast hopes this curriculum will be finalized and into the hands of teachers by the end of March 2021.
“Corn in the Classroom” is taught in schools across seven regions in Texas. Dast said it is their goal to eventually provide curriculum to classrooms across all 20 regions in the state.
“Right now, we are not able to do workshops in every region,” Dast said, “but if in some way we are able to reach teachers in all 20, that would be really great for us.”
Dast said eventually they would like to have an ambassador program where a teacher in each region across Texas connects with TCP and acts as a representative for other teachers in their region. She believes this teacher-to-teacher interaction will help maximize their time and resources. Dast said they are not currently looking to increase the amount of content in the curriculum, but they are constantly brainstorming for the future.
“Our focus has been getting [the curriculum] out as wide as we can,” Dast said, “and when we’ve accomplished that, we’ll work on getting it deeper.”
A Greater Purpose
Dast said approximately 225 teachers are now using the curriculum in their classrooms, reaching roughly 5,000 students. These students are learning lessons they can apply to their futures.
“Our goal is to give students a base knowledge of agriculture that can grow with them,” Dast said, “so that by the time they are consumers, they can make the best decisions for themselves, their families and their communities.”
The curriculum is available to all teachers under the education tab of the TCP website at texascorn.org.