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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