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If you've wandered the pages of Communities of Practice this past week, it seems pretty quiet.  I have no concrete data to support this observation, but (with the exception of a slew of great Ag Mechanics posts in the past day or two) it's seemed uncommonly slow around here.  This would suggest that something may have been keeping us all busy this past few days.


Must have been the weather.  Or FFA Week.


For us, FFA Week comes in the midst of preparation and competition of our leadership CDEs and three weeks before State Convention.  Of course, we could celebrate FFA Week in the fall right before National Convention, or the spring in between the 18 CDEs scattered through there, let alone the end of the year banquet.  So sure, why not February.


The great thing about FFA Week is that there are no rules, at least how we approach it.  We see it as a great way for our members to take ownership, and work to involve as many students as possible in the planning.  Our officers tend to take a step back and let others make it happen with the guiding principle that leadership is an action, not a position.  The downside to such a plan is that when you rely on that many students some things don't get done, or don't happen the way they were planned.  The great thing is when things do happen, and happen well.  Students take ownership, work hard, and are rewarded by the success of their planning.  Such responsibility is the strongest lesson and most valuable experience we can give to our students in the time we have them.  Planning an assembly, organizing a crew to decorate, preparing activities for lunch, or speaking to the assembled student body can't be measured by technical skill assessments or standardized tests, even when they will be personal development that influences their lives.  FFA Week is one of those things they can truly do that with.


The last couple years we've wanted to make sure our FFA Week was sending the right message.  It seems that at times we struggle with what FFA is; on one hand we celebrate the traditions of agriculture and while explaining how much more is involved.  In the past, we'd have our annual assembly, beginning with a couple snazzily dressed members in official dress addressing the crowd and explaining how diverse FFA is and has much more to it than cows, sows, and plows, emphasizing career-related competitive events and leadership.  And as soon as that was done, we'd proceed with what I'd describe as redneck games:  hay stacking, roping, buttered corn toss, etc.  Fun activities to be sure, but which part do you think the audience remembered:  the verbage or the visuals?  Clearly our messages didn't match.  Last year we decided to change it up by having a giant relay race that involved ten different stations, with each station involving one of Oregon's top ten agricultural commodities (disclaimer:  totally stole this idea from another chapter that had done this before).  The goal:  have a team-oriented challenge that still recognized the importance of agriculture.  The best of both worlds!


Hopefully your FFA Week was a great time celebrating some fantastic students and an esteemed organization.  FFA Week can truly be your own; it isn't some contest with rules and a format - how it looks is up to you and your students, and even when it happens is not etched in stone.  FFA is something that can - and  really should - be celebrated year round.  Make FFA something your students take ownership in.


Challenge:  comment on how your students take ownership in your chapter and make you proud!

Bleed Blue and Gold

Posted by Jessica Fernandes Feb 24, 2011

FFA week has always been a favorite of mine and my students!! You have to be just as excited if not more than the kids so go and buy blue and gold gear!! At our school we strive to involve as many kids as possible in the festivities by making the activities welcoming and accessible. We also give lots of points for participation. Our week goes like this:


Tuesday - T-shirt Tuesday (students wear their ag shirts and they get 2pts) (We have t-shirt tuesdays every tuesday but normally they are only 1pt)

Wednesday -  After school - Say the FFA motto, memorized get 2 FFA pts and put into a drawing for $20 cash)

Thursday - Wear any ag shirt (conference or otherwise) 2pts & Monthly FFA mtg 2 pts

Friday - Wear blue and gold (2pts), Take a yearbook picture at lunch (2pts) and go ice skating (2pts)


This year we included our whole school staff by picking 8 FFA Facts printing them and attaching them to candy bars. We then put them in the staff boxes and asked the staff to share the fact with their students. If students wanted they could write down the fact get the teachers signature and on Friday every signature is worth an FFA point.




Since I write from the sunny state of CA I feel as though I should share a few things that are different in CA that some of you may not know.  In CA every student is automatically a member of the FFA. The chapters are responsible for paying the dues of every students once they are enrolled in the class. Also, the grant money we receive requires us to hold them responsible for all three circles: classwork, ffa and sae. Most teachers use a grading rubric of 60%, 20%, 20% respectively. In my chapter students are required to get 40 FFA points each semester and 50 hours each semester. For FFA chapter activities are worth 1pt, section 2pts, region 3pts and state 5pts. We offer over 200pts each semester in a variety of different activities. We go above and beyond to make sure that students who are involved in other activities such as sports, church, family, etc can meet their obligations by offering two 20pt opportunities each semester such as canned food drives 20 cans = 20 pts or sell 20 turkey raffle tickets = 20 pts. that allow students to reach their grade requirement and not feel conflicted by their other commitments.


Having been an active FFA member when I was in high school I "bleed blue and gold" and want to share this organization with every kid I meet! FFA had a profound impact on my life and it is awesome to see even the smallest experience make as profound of an impact on them.


I put a challenge to you to "bleed blue and gold"&  love that corduroy and everything else will work itself out!

Students at our school proudly wear their "I support FFA" buttons and enjoy answering questions about FFA and agriculture from people that normally do not stop to talk. It is a great opportunity to promote agriculture and our FFA programs. The front showcase in our high school is displayed with agriculture career, scholarship, career pathway, CDE, and SAE information. We also highlight the achievements of our students.

FFA week was somewhat short for us in Delaware this year. Monday was our traditional holiday for President's Day and on Tuesday, a snowy weather forcast forced the majority of our schools to close. We still made the best of it at my high school, and plan to extend the festivities into next Monday. Normally, we do the same things year after year. Tuesday - spirit day (blue/gold day) Wednesday- camouflage/plaid day Thursday- FFA Trivia Day Friday - FFA Gear Day. This year we changed Thursday to AG Career Day- dress up as your favorite agriculture career professional. It was quite successful. We had a number of students and even faculty members participate. It is so nice to see support amongst a group. I, of course, was dressed in my best FFA advisor wear today and plan to sport my favorite FFA sweatshirt and jeans tomorrow. This week offers a great opportunity to promote agriculture and our FFA programs. I hope you all had a fun and exciting FFA Week too!

Matt Eddy

The Power of Blue

Posted by Matt Eddy Feb 24, 2011

Happy National FFA week.


Our State Wrestling finals were recently moved forward one week, so FFA week doesn't get shadowed by that any longer.  So my perspective on National FFA week is slowly changing, now that we get a full week to celebrate.  (To say wrestling is big in Iowa is an understatement -- Mt. Everest is a slight hill type of thing).


We had some of the typical things this week and my students were pretty excited.  Our breakfast for the staff was probably the biggest deal and I am now glad that's over.  Biscuits and Gravy -- a perennial favorite at this school, and we had a nice turn out.

2011 Sub-Districts 15.JPGStaff Breakfast 12.JPG


Several National FFA week revelations:

  • My school resource officers (police-folks stationed at school) were in FFA or from small town next to my hometown.  Crazy.

  • Kids always come hungry to school -- or maybe their just growing.  My extra biscuits and gravy were gone very quickly.  Students were still asking about it the hour before lunch....

  • Horticulture Labs conducted the day of our faculty breakfast are not always the best idea.

  • Some Sub-District FFA contests advanced to Districts making some freshman very excited; some didn't, making some seniors disappointed.

  • I channeled 'IRV' for the first time in my life while scoring a CDE contest.  Is it old age that makes me cranky or just a disturbance in the FFA Force?

  • When I want to go to school early, my (personal) kids decide they are sleepy instead of waking meup.  Waking up staring eye-to-eye with an excited 4 year old on Saturday morning at 5 am is a love/hate relationship.  But THURSDAY morning sleep-in's the day of the faculty breakfast are just as annoying.

  • Had several former students/members stop me the last couple weeks to say how much they enjoyed reading about our program.  Kinda makes you feel good about all the time spent in the trenches.


Enjoy the week and I hope the power of Big Blue becomes evident in your dealings; this week or any other.

Construction update

Posted by Jan Marie Traynor Feb 23, 2011

When we first started these blogs I talked about our ongoing construction - I figured it was time for an update. The short story is that it has been a long cold winter and that as slowed the progress. On the plus side the money runs out June 30th so they absolutely have to finish by then. This week the upper footings are going in so it is starting to look like a building. We also got word that sometime in the next two weeks they will begin drilling the 12 geothermal wells. The wells will each go down 500 feet - yes I said 500 feet and there are 12 of them. They will use a special drill rig that will stand 45 feet tall when extended and will block completely one of the three access roads onto the campus. They tell me it only makes 90 decibels at the well site which is 20 feet from my classroom but I will believe it when we hear it. It will take 3 weeks to drill all the wells. After that a 90 foot crane will arrive to erect the steel. The whole process has really been a lesson for our students -  a construction lesson, a geology lesson, an environmental lesson, and also a lesson in patience and perseverance.

Kellie Claflin

Pizzas, Dogs and Dairy

Posted by Kellie Claflin Feb 20, 2011

Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. Teddy Roosevelt



It's so hard for me to believe that I've been student teaching for 4 weeks already! As time has progressed I've realized how true the above quote is. I go to school each day and while it certainly is challenging - I absolutely love it! There is nothing else that I can imagine myself doing, which is a great feeling.



The first three weeks of student teaching I started each day at the middle school and was able to teach for two weeks. From animal science, ag careers and food science I had an absolute blast. I never realized how much I would enjoy teaching middle school. They have so much energy! Their energy does come in useful, especially when making homemade butter and ice cream.


Not that the high schoolers don't have energy. They do! But it just shows itself in different ways. For instance, my horticulture class' new favorite game is "let's ask Ms. Claflin as many questions as we can to distract her". I'm pretty good about staying on task, but still trying to figure out the perfect way to handle the questions. Some of my favorites from this week...

  • "Ms. Claflin, you have a ring on your finger, are you married?" (apparently didn't notice that the ring was on my middle finger of my right hand)
  • "Ms. Claflin, do you think winter is over yet?" (My response - "It's Wisconsin, you should know better than to think winter is over in February")
  • "Ms. Claflin, when I'm older than you can I call you by your first name?" ("Um, I know my math isn't that great, but even if that was possible, you still have to call me Ms. Claflin")


Every day is different and has it's own sort of excitement, which is one of my favorite things about ag education! Which leads me to the title of this blog post (and my highlights of the week)...



After school on Monday, the FFA chapter set up shop in the cafeteria to make take and bake pizzas as a fundraiser. It was my first true FFA event and was a great way to see the members in action! It was amazing to see the FFA members from seventh graders to seniors work together to make over 500 pizzas, which received great reviews!



In addition to the horticulture class that I am intern teaching, I also started teaching vet science two weeks ago. On Thursday and Friday, students in vet science brought in five dogs to complete physical exams on. Not only did it bring some extra excitement into class, but also was a great way for the students to get hands-on experience with the material they learned in class.



I started observing the food science class this week which was great as they were finishing up their dairy unit. They made ice cream, cheese and yogurt this week and it was great to see to see the students' reactions to their creations and how they apply their knowledge of science to their food.



I'm just living the life.

Okay -- not really.  But it could have been close...


Putting the finishing touches on a really hectic week.  Why are the ones with the least amount of teaching the most amount of work?


We participated in the 2011 Iowa Beef Expo (which is finishing up this weekend) Livestock judging contest.  I think the kids had a good time - pictures below.  We hosted the reasons out at the high school and I KNOW those kids had fun.  It looked to the untrained eye like a herd of schizophrenics robbed an RCC Western Store and were settled around our commons talking to themselves and gesturing wildly....

2011 Beef Expo 42.JPG

2011 Beef Expo 1.JPG


Horticulture had several labs, and Project Cupid went over well.  The kids arranged vases of dozen roses to sell to the staff members at the school at a fantastic savings.  Just tryin' to help out during these tough economic times.

Project Cupid 2011 16.JPG

Project Cupid 2011 5.JPG


Fetal Pig dissection in Animal science - CASE happened last week.  WE have moved into the circulatory system this week after looking at all the systems during that lab.

4.3.2 Fetal Pig 2011 03.JPG



PT Conferences were held, Monday and tonight and the only benefit to missing the State Wrestling tournament today and tomorrow is that we have no school on Friday.


Last thought for the day: Let the race be run, but when it's done -- let's all remember to have some fun. (I don't know --- seriously, I could fall outta my chair at any moment)


My 16 ton is about done this week --- hope yours is too.

Good afternoon fellow bloggers,


Sorry for the delay in blogging but the time just seems to get away from me. Today I would like to talk about how important it is to get your program out in the public light, in the newspaper, on banners or by word of mouth - you've got to get the word out!! We all do soooooooo much in our classrooms, our after school programs and our extra or co-curricular activities. We care soooooooo much about the kids and providing them with every opportunity possible but on average we are very modest and do not see the benefits of publicizing all the good we really do.


The Buena Park High School Agriculture Program went from practically being shut down five years ago to being revived and thriving with two full-time agriculture teachers. The second one added this year in 2010 - which is during one of the worst budget crisis within the last fifty years.  We send every activity to the newspapers, we regularly publish items on our school marquee, we are constantly passing out recruitment brochures and flyers about things going on - just making every effort to get the word out!!!


The next piece of the puzzle is to put it in an NAAE application or the application at the state level.  Much of our success has come from our 2009 designation as the NAAE Outstanding Agriculture Program. People began to believe what we had been selling all along! This program is good for kids!! So whether it be the program applications or the teacher applications, fill them out!! Get over your modest self and brag!! Career Technical Education has always had its rocky road we have to promote our programs and our abilities to maintain POSITIVE VISIBILITY!! How can you ask for support when you don't tell people your here???


So the next time it is time to fill out an award application don't put it off, don't say I don't know what to say....right everything down, think about the great things you have done and get the recognition due to you and your program!! In the end all good press gets great results!!


If you would like to see our Outstanding Program Application or some of the things we do check out our website at


Also, attached is our recruitment brochure. Have a happy valentines day and president's holidays.


Jessica Fernandes

Snow Days

Posted by Jan Marie Traynor Feb 9, 2011

I like snow days almost as much as my students - as long as they are spaced out about 1 every three weeks or so and always on a different day of the week. So what did we get this year? Snow every Tuesday and Wednesday for 4 weeks. Talk about a disaster for planning! I have some classes that only meet on Tuesday or only meet on Wednesday so they missed (depending on whether we had a delayed start, early dismissal or outright closure) 3 out of our first 4 classes for this semester. Fortunately we have a pretty substantial online presence and the students know to log in regularly and, in between shoveling snow, I had lots of time to record and upload audio lectures for all my classes. Its not the same as having a face to face class but it beats no class at all.


This week is our first snow-free week and we are all excited to get back into a routine. Tried something different with my Soils lecture Monday - I am on a mission to lecture less. Pretty tough when colleges define classes as "lecture" or "lab" but I am determined to blur the edges a bit and get more interactivity into the lecture. During all those snow days I found some great You Tube videos on polarity (especially the polarity of water) so in lecture when I announced that they were to break into small groups to watch you tube videos they all cheered - yes even my jaded college students like it when we do something different. After they watched each video, we discussed what they learned, made the connections to water in soils and water management in general. Class ran late by 15 minutes and no one noticed! The videos only took up a total of 16 minutes of class time for both - the rest was student centered discussion. That's a great session! Several also asked if I could share the you tube links so that they can review them and I posted them in the online class. And I am grateful to the teachers with more time than me who made the excellent videos available.


Next week its on to model Building in Landscape Design - great winter activity and terrific reinforcement and aid in teaching students to understand what they are drawing in 2-D has 3-D implications. Plus its fun! Maybe not as much fun as getting your students to walk around with orange pig ears taped to their head but still fun!

I’ve never been afraid to have students take notes, listen to lectures, or learn facts.  But that doesn’t mean my classroom is one-dimensional.  Being a firm believer in engaging students in as many ways as possible (and having had to write a paper or two on brain-based learning in college) I change it up as creatively as I can, whether through painful originality or blatant thievery.




So is this post about creative teaching?  Nope.  It’s about the things my students have had to do this week in order to step outside their boxes – and maybe for my entertainment.




Example 1:  My agricultural biology class has moved to seventh period (we have seven periods a day – no blocks for us).  While I thought coming back from lunch 5th period jacked up on Mountain Dew was rough for 31 sophomores last term, the end of the day has created a whole new set of challenges.  The worst one being their self-determination that learning ends at 2:23, despite the fact that schools continues until 3:12pm.  Therefore, a little ‘motivation’ was in order Monday as they were taken outside, divided into four groups, and then given the task of creating a dance that demonstrates the four steps of mitosis.




Yep, picture that in your mind a minute.




The beauty of having these 31 particular sophomores is that I had 29 of them in Intro to Agricultural Science their freshmen year, so there is a fair amount of connection/relationship developed at this point.   Otherwise this might have been a train wreck.  As it was, fairly well choreographed.  Two and a half stars.



Example 2:  Like I mentioned, the new semester has just begun.  For the Intro to Ag Science final the week before last, I told them it would be comprehensive and even open-note.  What they didn’t know is that their final would be the task of creating a TV-show presentation that summarized everything we’d done during the term and include why each was important to learn about for the future.  The result?  A couple groups did game shows (quite well), another was a news broadcast, but the gems of the day were “The Young and the Restless present Ag” (complete with theme music and Timmy in a tractor accident) and a sock puppet show.  Melodrama and smelly feet all in one day.  Three stars.




Example 3:  Veterinary Science is currently in their surgical procedures unit.  This includes suturing and some rehabilitated bananas (thank you, Ideas Unlimited!) as well as some of the procedures down in production agriculture, such as castration, docking, etc.  I decided to throw in ear notching for pigs as well.  To apply the learning, students cut out a set of pig’s ears and had to notch them according to the litter and individual numbers they received.




While this may sound pretty vanilla at this point some of you may predict the cherry coming on top.   Upon completion of their ears students had to take the ears to their heads, then go around the room and identify one another on a note card.  One this was done they sorted themselves by litter.




To summarize, juniors and seniors running around with orange pig ears taped to their heads.  I love my job.




Four stars.

Matt Eddy

Preg Check 2011

Posted by Matt Eddy Feb 4, 2011

After several rescheduling's due to Vet Schedules, winter snow storms, a small solar flair - we finally got to check the ALC cows for pregnancy for the Iowa State Fair in early August 2011.

ALC 2011 Preg Check 16.JPG


Having a student managed herd is pretty cool -- but is also pretty crazy.  If you think about what you do already, put on managing 23 cows / calves, but instead of you working it -- delegate all the responsibility to a class of 20 students.  My cell phone gets a workout, I tell you.  I also recall now why my dad got perturbed when I would just say the 'cows were fine'.  I have reaped what I have sown 20 fold.  Each text message after chores is a variation of that all encompassing, yet non-descript description of the cows condition.  SIGH  -  I guess that's why I pull down the big bucks (Sarcasm)

ALC 2011 Preg Check 43.JPG


We had a really good day.  The kids are becoming more proficient operating the PALCO all-in-one tub and frankly, it's a godsend.  Student safety was always my biggest worry, since most aren't that comfortable or knowledgeable about cattle handling yet, and the one thing that this tub almost alleviates.

ALC 2011 Preg Check 73.JPG


My special thanks goes to the elementary school around the corner who let us come in to warm up for lunch.  The 8 degree weather with a small breeze made for a slightly chilly day.  Some of my students got a real kick out of seeing their old teachers and it looked like the feeling was mutual.

ALC 2011 Preg Check 33.JPG


Report card was pretty good.  11 pregnant, 11 open, and 1 too close to call right now.  The kids will get another chance to palpate in May as we determine some due-dates and prepare for the impending parturition at the State Fair.  I will say that 3 cows were open last year, turned up open this year and have probably seen their last State Fair from the Animal Learning Center perspective.  So I don't count them against the kids' total.  50-60% is a realistic figure, but we sure would like to see it improve.  I guess maybe a B for effort.  But with A+ kids, we may give them another shot.

ALC 2011 Preg Check 50.JPG


Thanks are in order for some folks who make this learning opportunity available: Iowa State Fair and Emily Brewer-ISF Ag Ed Coordinator; SE Polk Advisory Committee, including Don Timmins, Chair; the Southeast Polk School Board; and our administration who's support, initiative, and excitement over this experiential learning opportunity is clearly shown.

ALC 2011 Preg Check 68.JPG

Catch you on the next drive; and next time - bring some warmer boots -- ME


Find more at twitter - @AgEd4ME or on Facebook at Southeast Polk FFA

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