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This is an article from the March 2017 edition of NAAE’s News & Views Newsletter. To read News & Views in its entirety, please visit this link.


Ambassador logo - Copy.pngAs agriculture teachers, we already have a perfect environment to foster inquiry and critical thinking. We also know that in our hands-on programs, we can reinforce the science concepts students are learning in their core classes. The National Agriscience Teacher Ambassador Academy (NATAA) is a NAAE program designed to help teachers like you enhance these parts of your teaching strategy.


Over the last 10 years, the NATAA has cultivated teachers’ ability to enhance the agriscience and inquiry-based learning in agricultural education. Each year, the NATAA selects a small group of agriculture teachers from across the nation. These participants spend a week strengthening their skills in inquiry-based instruction and enhancing the science already present in agriculture.



Agriculture teachers in the academy are able to experience inquiry-based instruction through role-playing exercises as both teacher and student while they complete various laboratory experiments. As the participants learn to use these new approaches in their classrooms, they are able to have a better understanding of classroom dynamics and how to better implement inquiry in their instruction.


For Jessica Grundy, agriculture teacher at Wayne High School in Utah, the NATAA was a refreshing professional development experience that has helped her program flourish.


“NATAA was by far the best training I have ever attended,” she said. “The rigor, inquiry learning and management strategies benefited my program greatly. With the concepts from NATAA I was able to incorporate new strategies in my classroom and move my program to the next level. NATAA is a rejuvenating program that allowed me to network with some amazing educators from across the country. The best part is that you become part of a bigger family system, who is there to help you become your best, so your students are given the best.”




There are three primary goals for the National Agriscience Teacher Ambassador Academy:

  • Provide teachers with educational resources and inquiry-based teaching skills to implement science-based activities in the classroom for environmental science, food science, sustainability and ag biological sciences.
  • Share lesson plans, laboratory exercises and teaching strategies in order to improve the resources available to teaching agriscience.
  • Train and influence the next generation and future employees who will advance agricultural sciences to the next level



Kurt VanDeWalle, agriculture teacher at Fillmore Central High School, in Nebraska, is another NATAA participant whose agriculture program was profoundly impacted by the extensive inquiry training he received.


“NATAA provides teachers not only the tools and theory that supports agriscience inquiry-based learning, but also devotes time to put the tools to use and time to discuss the theory. This combination provides teachers the capabilities to incorporate inquiry-based learning across their current agriscience curriculum, which can rejuvenate both the teacher and the curriculum. For me, the classroom and student management practices taught at NATAA established more structure and consistency in my program. Teachers who complete the training are ready to be more efficient and effective, no matter their teaching level prior to NATAA.”




Following their training, the teachers who participate in the National Agriscience Teacher Ambassador Academy are considered ambassadors. Ambassadors put their new skills to work by presenting workshops to other agriscience teachers. These happen at both National FFA Convention and NAAE Convention and at local, state, and regional conferences.


Are you interested in participating in the academy? The application for the 2017 program is now available. This year’s academy is tentatively scheduled for the week of July 17-21. Follow this link for more information and to apply. The application deadline is March 30.


For additional information about the National Agriscience Teacher Ambassador Academy, please contact Alissa Smith at 1-800-509-0204 or .

This is an article from the March 2017 edition of NAAE’s News & Views Newsletter. To read News & Views in its entirety, please visit this link.


HeadShot.jpgWes York
Agriculture Teacher at Caldwell County High School
Princeton, KY
2016 NAAE Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher Award Winner


Test Scores. Proficiency. Standards. Performance. Testing. Testing. Testing…


As much as we may hate to admit it, test scores are a huge part of justifying our agriculture programs. In a world of budget cuts and funding shortages for education, it is worth our time to take standardized assessments seriously. For Wes York and his co-teacher Magen Woods, test scores have helped prove the value of their agriculture program to their students, administrators and community. York and Woods are agriculture teachers at Caldwell County High School in Princeton, Ky.


“Our agriculture students score consistently above school and state averages on the ACT and on state End of Course examinations,” said York.


When administrators, who may not be in our classrooms on a daily basis, see on paper that agriculture students are more successful it warrants the need for agricultural education.


College and career readiness is a huge part of education right now in Kentucky. York’s program was ranked in the top 10 statewide agriculture programs for college and career readiness. In 2015, his program administered 69 Kentucky Occupational Skill Standards Assessments (KOSSA) to juniors and seniors. York’s students scored exceptionally well on their tests, placing them higher than the state average in college and career readiness. The same success was repeated in 2016, with 33 students passing the KOSSA exam.york1.jpg


“Our yearly success on the state assessment and the transparency of how we conduct our department, along with our honesty has developed a successful line of communication between the agriculture department, our principal, and our assessment coordinator,” said York.


York’s program uses both Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education and Murray State University’s Racer Academy curriculum to align their content with state and national standards; yet another way to validate the program to the school and community. Although agriculture is not a core subject area, the agriculture curriculum and classroom instruction at Caldwell County provides students with hands-on application of the core content areas in which they are tested.


“In Kentucky, the Professional Growth Evaluation System includes teacher readiness and lesson planning, which involves teachers uploading lesson plans that tie together core content and national agriculture standards,” added York. “This process allows administrators to easily notice the connection of agricultural content to core content subject areas through real-world experiences and skill development.”



Apply it to your program


For agriculture teachers looking to use standardized test scores to promote their programs, York says to stress the importance of career readiness and how agricultural standards reflect career standards. Make sure students and parents are aware of how they can benefit from doing well on standardized tests (i.e. college credits, dual credit courses, etc.). Knowing that everyone can benefit from the test will make the entire process a more worthwhile experience.


York was selected as the 2016 NAAE Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher for Region IV. The NAAE Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher award program recognizes NAAE members who are at the pinnacle of their profession—those who are conducting the highest quality agricultural education programs. The award recognizes leadership in civic, community, agriculture/agribusiness and professional activities. Outstanding agricultural educators are innovators and catalysts for student success in agricultural education. For more information about this award, and to see other regional award winners, follow this link.


The Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher Award is sponsored by Caterpillar, Inc. and Tractor Supply Company as a special project of the National FFA Foundation.



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This is an article from the March 2017 edition of NAAE’s News & Views Newsletter. To read News & Views in its entirety, please visit this link.


As I drive up to the barn and look out across the pasture, I can see the old cow path. It is has been worn over time and very little grass grows there. The soil has been compacted by the cows as they walk to the barn each day. The cows hear my truck and come walking towards the barn, each cow walks in a single file line on the old cow path. They have a huge pasture with lush grass they could walk through, but they do not. It may be the fact that they chose the path of least resistance. This has become their daily routine.


After 13 years of teaching, I was acting a lot like the cows. I would show up to teach my students each day. I would get new students each year, but my lessons were starting to look much the same as the previous year. This was most definitely the path of least resistance. I had fallen into the trap of walking down the same old cow path each day.  The excitement was waning and I was beginning to think that maybe it was time to try my hand at something else.


Then one day, I received an email blast from NAAE about a professional development opportunity that they said would change the way you teach forever. My first reaction was, oh great, another wasted day of my life where I sit and listen to someone who has not taught in ten years tell me how to teach. So I just moved on to the next email, but for some reason I came back to that email -- I figured what could it hurt to check it out. 


As I read about the National Agriscience Teacher Ambassador Academy (NATAA), it sounded different. First, it was completely free. Second, I would get to spend a week in Maryland. Third, it was just for teachers. I was starting to get excited like the cows do when they see me dump the feed bucket, so I filled out the application and sent it in. Then I waited, and waited, and waited…….the email finally came. I took a deep breath and opened it. The email started off with the word CONGRATULATIONS. I was super excited.


When I arrived in Maryland at the DuPont Farm, you could feel the excitement in the air. We were told this would be the toughest week of professional development we had ever been to. We were expected to give 100% all the time. The week flew by as we found out what it meant to inquire into topics and how to force our students to inquire, instead of just taking notes and reciting information. I have to admit, I was very much out of my comfort zone. I wanted a right and wrong answer, but there was not always one.


Our challenge at the end of the week was to return home and help our students become the problem solvers of tomorrow. We were to make them ask the tough questions and seek new information. It was a whole new way of teaching and learning.


After returning home I was super excited to start teaching, but I had to wait another month for school to start. When it did, I was ready to go. I started each class off with the chewing gum lab. The students were not nearly as excited as I was. In fact, one of them said, "Would you just tell us the answer?"


I did not let this discourage me, and I kept trying.  Now several years later, inquiry has become a way of life in my classroom. My students explore, seek, question, and some days we never do find the right answer, but know what questions to ask next time.


If you would like more information on the National Agriscience Teacher Ambassador Academy, you can find more information on the NAAE website. Also, the staff have been working very hard to get all the award applications up on the website. In addition to the applications, they are working on planning the NATAA professional development session that will be offered this summer, along with finalizing the National Policy Seminar.


I have to admit, if it had not been for the email blast from NAAE staff I probably would still be walking on that same old cow path in my classroom, or I may have moved on to a different pasture. I would encourage you to venture off the old cow path and give this life-changing professional development a chance to enhance the educational environment in your classroom.


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