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3 Posts authored by: Christi Chadwell

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.

CASE's new pre-service teacher program, which is aimed at producing graduates who are certified to teach a CASE course, completed its first class earlier this year.


The CASE pre-service program is modeled closely after the normal CASE Institute for current teachers, focusing on the design and implementation of the CASE curriculum, introduction to a year-long curriculum plan, and seeing the lessons modeled and carried out on the student-to-teacher level. Once a student completes the pre-service program and is hired into a full-time teaching position, their hiring school will have the option to continue the CASE curriculum and involvement.


"This program is going to be essential for students to have a leg-up," said Dr. Michael Retallick, the associate professor at Iowa State University who coordinated the pre-service program at his institution this past May, "especially for school districts that know about CASE. As teachers are retiring and leaving, they are going to want to replace them with CASE certified teachers."


In order to offer the CASE pre-service certification program, a university must have a CASE certified affiliate professor to facilitate the coursework and oversee the program. Additional pre-service certification requirements and benefits extend to the attendee during and after the program.


Currently Iowa State University and Texas Tech University have piloted the program, but there are plans to expand it in the coming year.


The Iowa State program lasted two weeks, and was available to any undergraduate students majoring in agricultural education. Host institutions are able to plan their own pre-service course on a schedule that fits best for their classes, professors, and facilities.


"We held the classes at the Iowa FFA Enrichment Center, which is also where we hold all CASE Institutes in our area," Retallick said. "Students could register for $250, and we had a group of ten students. I know the cost deterred some students from participating, but it is still a great opportunity."


Dr. Retallick worked with local sponsors to help defray the cost of training., which would have been much higher than the $250 that was charged.


"This program helps to minimize as many barriers as possible once the student starts in their own classroom," Retallick said. "The students get to see how to perform each lesson, how lab equipment works, what issues students might face during the lessons and how to deal with those issues."


For more information about the pre-service program and other CASE programs, please visit


Ever wanted to start that spark inside a student to succeed? Leslie Fairchild, the newly hired CASE Food Science and Safety curriculum writer, let that passion drive her to a new adventure- writing curriculum instead of just delivering it. Fairchild, who has taught agriculture in central Indiana since 2005, has used the CASE curriculum since she participated in the pilot AFNR course in 2001. She appreciated so much what CASE can do for teachers and students alike that she became a master teacher in 2011. When the position of writer for the Food Science and Safety curriculum became available, it seemed like a natural fit for Fairchild, who always enjoyed teaching food science in her own program. 

The idea of being a bigger part of CASE and one of the people who helps to bring food science into the classroom was something I just couldn't resist," she said.

The CASE Food Science and Safety course is targeted specifically toward high school juniors, with the Introduction to Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (AFNR) and Principles of Agricultural Science-Animal (ASA) or Principles of Agricultural Science-Plant (ASP) as prerequisites. The FSS course will provide students hands-on experience in the food science and safety industry, allowing them to broaden their skill set in the agricultural industry.

General Mills, one of the course's sponsors, hosted a development meeting in June in Golden Valley, Minn, at one of their facilities, bringing together 28 of the best and brightest in food science, including industry professionals, and secondary agriculture and food science teachers.  Starting with broad content areas, participants honed in on 80 food science concepts that will be developed into 150 days of classroom instruction by Fairchild. The FSS course will be field tested summer of 2014, with full release anticipated for the next year. Working from the initial concepts identified during the development meeting, Fairchild will create lectures, activities, projects, and problem sheets for students to complete during the course. She will also develop rubrics, manuals, and any other teacher resources necessary for the course's implementation.

"I'm most excited about seeing these ideas in my head getting written down on paper," she said. "And then seeing the potential of the course to really enhance the student experience."

The FSS course is sponsored by General Mills and Cargill as a special project of the National FFA Foundation. Their generous funding made it possible for the Food Science and Safety Course to be the sixth course to be developed for CASE.

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Natural Resources and Ecology Field Test Institutes Draw to a Close

CASE is currently field testing the Natural Resources and Ecology (NRE) course, sponsored by CSX and Mosaic. At the completion of the field tests in Illinois and New Jersey, 28 high school teachers will be certified to teach the CASE Natural Resources and Ecology course. During the the upcoming school year, these teachers will give CASE feedback about that will be used to improve it before its general release in summer 2014.

CASE Sponsors

Everything CASE does is made possible by support from the National FFA Foundation and the wonderful sponsors listed below. These organizations are truly committed to fostering the next generation of leaders in agriscience.


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