With school budgets getting ever tighter, professional development for teachers may seem like an expensive luxury item - falling far down the long list of things a school needs. However, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad realized in 2009 that paying to develop teachers wasn't nearly as expensive as having to hire and train new ones every year. His STEM grant program is targeted at raising the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) proficiency of Iowa high school graduates, while retaining teachers through professional support. The CASE curriculum has been a key part of the program because its unique blend of teacher professional development and rigorous course work meets both goals.
When Branstad was elected to office, education in Iowa was suffering, and Iowa businesses were struggling to find employees with strong foundations STEM. Branstad, along with an educational advisory council, earmarked four million dollars from the state's general fund and a few industry partners to create funding for STEM-related programs. Twelve education initiatives were identified as fundable, including CASE.
Initially, the plan was to fund one CASE Institute for Iowa teachers. That quickly grew, however, into funding for both an Institute and the tools and equipment necessary for a CASE-trained teacher to implement the CASE curriculum in his or her own classroom.
The application process was simple, and many teachers applied for the grant. The result was that in the first year of the program (2012), 73 grants totaling $910,000 were awarded to train agricultural educators to deliver the CASE curriculum in their programs. After the program ran its course, grant program administrators were able to see how the CASE curriculum aligned with Iowa Common Core standards and taught problem solving skills. It was because of this that CASE was approved for a second year of funding.
The second year, 2013, 65 CASE grants were awarded, totaling $650,000. Each agricultural education program selected received a total of $11,250, with about $2,500 designated for the CASE Institute training and the remaining funds going for equipment and supplies.
Jim Russ, an agricultural educator from New Hampton Schools in New Hampton, Iowa, received grants in both 2012 and 2013. Far from being an inexperienced teacher, Russ is a 27-year veteran of agricultural education. However, his first experience with CASE was through the grant program.
Russ expected to bring home information and ideas from his first CASE Institute, for the Introduction to Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources curriculum. He thought he could probably use some of the concepts to freshen up his Intro to Agricultural Education course.
"My expectations were exceeded," Russ said. "Until you have a chance to work through the curriculum, activities, and collaborate with ag teachers, you really don't understand what the CASE training is all about. I have developed a group of educators that I hadn't worked with before and developed a bond that goes beyond the usual FFA ties."
Russ described his curriculum before implementing CASE as very traditional and outdated. Most of the time, his lessons seemed to be hit-or-miss, and students seemed to bounce in and out of his program. In the one year since he has begun teaching the CASE Introduction to Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources, Russ has seen a dramatic change, which has re-energized his enthusiasm for teaching. He credits the curriculum with exposing his first-time agriculture students to material he would not have previously covered, and doing so in a way that captures their interest.
"We all (CASE Institute participants) felt that the curriculum was very usable and appreciated the time working with each other," Russ said. "One of the younger instructors happened to be my daughter who had been teaching for 5 years. I was very excited to hear her say that CASE is the thing that will probably keep her in teaching."
Russ' 2013 grant will allow him to attend the Principles of Agricultural Science - Plant Institute this summer. He is looking forward to the new knowledge and collaboration he will gain from this summer's Institute, and what it will add to his program during the next school year.
Thanks to Governor Branstad's STEM grant program about 39 percent of Iowa agriculture teachers are CASE certified - a number will continue grow in the next several years.
CASE Institute registration is currently open. DuPont Pioneer is offering grants for teachers interested in attending an Institute and implementing CASE in their classroom. Several other scholarship opportunities are also available for educators. Visit the CASE website for full details and to register for an Institute.