Skip navigation
1 2 Previous Next

Ideas Unlimited

22 posts


Kristy Rothe
Victor School, Victor, Montana
2014 NAAE Region I Ideas Unlimited Award Winner

Agriculture teachers are known for their enthusiasm about trying new ideas in the classroom. From bringing in cannulated cows to analyzing soil samples from the community -- ag teachers are rarely short of innovative, hands-on ideas. When Kristy Rothe was the agriculture teacher at Victor School in Victor, Montana, she took innovation to the next level with the use of Dermestid beetles in her Wildlife Conservation unit.

Two years ago, Rothe purchased 1,000 Dermestid beetles from a local taxidermist. The beetles are known for their ability to clean flesh off of animal bones, so Rothe uses them to clean animal skulls and skeletons for use in her classroom.

"At first, my students were skeptical of working with the beetles and skulls, but as the years have progressed, they now look forward to it," said Rothe. "One of my students has even taken the beetles on as her SAE project."

In the classroom, Rothe uses the beetles to clean whitetail deer and elk skulls for measuring and scoring antlers. Students are even encouraged to bring in their own deer skulls to be scored for this lab, which incorporates the history of the Boone & Crockett Club and the importance of record keeping. Rothe also teaches her students how to age deer by evaluating the teeth in the lower jaw of the deer skull.

In addition to the laboratory experiences, Rothe's students use the beetles as a fundraiser for their FFA chapter. Once the beetles clean the skulls, the students practice their taxidermy skills by mounting them for local community members. Not only do the students gain another skill, but the beetles have another source of food, thanks to the community.

Rothe has enjoyed quite a bit of success by incorporating the beetles in her classroom. Her students are excited about their learning and the community supports the program. Thinking outside the box provides students with unique experiences that help keep our classrooms innovative and engaging and the students coming back for more.

The Ideas Unlimited award is sponsored by National Geographic Learning | Cengage Learning. For more information about this award and to learn about the other 2014 Ideas Unlimited award winners, follow this link.

Scoring Deer.jpg      HaleyCollin.jpg      Josie.jpg      Josieagscience.jpg


A Message from our Partners:



Derek Ritenour

2014 NAAE Region VI Ideas Unlimited Award Winner


Every day, teachers and administrators are looking for new ways to incorporate science, technology, engineering, and math into the curriculum presented to students.

For Derek Ritenour, agriculture teacher at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School, in Woodstock, Virginia, STEM is literally "built" into his curriculum. Through the use of Lego Mindstorm systems, Ritenour provides his students with hands-on, inquiry-based experiences that show them how STEM principles are applied in their daily lives.

Ritenour begins his Lego unit by engaging his students in a discussion about engineering. His students list what they already know about engineering and structures, as well as the current questions they have about engineering, structures, and the Lego systems they will be using. The students are then given the challenge of building a structure with their Lego kits that will successfully hold a textbook six inches above their desks.

"Lego Mindstorm encourages my students to brainstorm and find creative solutions to problems through selecting, building, testing and evaluating," said Ritenour. "This system encourages cooperation, communication and teamwork amongst my students."

After their first task is complete, the class comes back together to discuss what they have learned as well as any additional questions they have based upon their first Lego challenge. After this discussion, Ritenour gives students additional challenges to construct various structures, increasing with difficulty each time. Students are able to scaffold what they learn from each challenge to complete the next challenge. As his students progress through the unit, their challenges begin to include additional components like motors, sensors, and programming for more complex structures.

"By using the Lego system, I've been able to bring science to life while also giving students an awareness of career possibilities in agriculture," said Ritenour. "My students are better equipped to face the real world of agriculture after participating in the inquiry-based STEM curriculum I've been able to design as a result of the Lego Mindstorm system."

For more information about the Lego Mindstorm system, please visit this link.

The Ideas Unlimited award is sponsored by National Geographic Learning | Cengage Learning. For more information about this award and to learn about the other 2014 Ideas Unlimited award winners, follow this link.

IU1.jpg IU2.jpg IU3.jpg IU4.jpg


A Message from our Partners:



Josh Christiansen
2014 NAAE Region III Ideas Unlimited Award Winner



Students look for classroom experiences that they can apply to real life. Hands-on lessons where they can create something tangible will help them find value in their work and be more engaged in the classroom. For students in Josh Christiansen's class at Flandreau High School in Flandreau, South Dakota, creating scaled, three-dimensional models of animal handling facilities does just that.

"Animal science students are able to get into the ag mechanics shop for this project," said Christiansen. "They learn about animal handling facilities, scale drawings, and some basic tack welding skills."

Christiansen first presents his students with information about various types of animal handling facilities through a Prezi he developed. Once the students have a basic understanding of the key components of different facilities, he assigns them each a scenario, from which they have to design and build a scale model of the appropriate livestock handling facility.

Examples of Christiansen's scenarios include a beef finishing feedlot for 1500 steers and heifers, a hog farrow-to-finish operation for 200 sows, and a sheep production facility for 800 ewes. Each scenario includes specific requirements to meet the animals' needs.

After his students have their scenario, they create a scale drawing of their facility. Students must research information about pen size, space required per animal, and much more to develop their drawing. They also use math skills to determine the appropriate slope of loading chutes, diameter of push-tubs, and many other components of their facility.

After the students have completed their drawings, they construct a model of the facility on a four-foot by four-foot piece of plywood. Once the scale model facilities are complete, the students prepare and present a tour of their facilities. They discuss the dimensions and design of their creation and explain why each component is placed and measured the way it is. The students also share what they have learned about handling livestock humanely.

"The students have enjoyed the project and are often excited to take the model home," added Christiansen.

Attached below are the instructions and examples of livestock handling facility scenarios for this lesson.

The Ideas Unlimited award is sponsored by National Geographic Learning | Cengage Learning. For more information about this award and to learn about the other 2014 Ideas Unlimited award winners, follow this link.


Calving Barn2013.jpeg Cow-Calf2013.jpg  FeedersWorkingChutes.jpg


A Message from our Partners:


Ideas Unlimited
Pallet Gardening with Tomatoes
Kari Roberts, Union County High School, Indiana
2014 Region IV Ideas Unlimited Award Winner

The resources from which agriculture teachers draw their inspiration to take their programs to the next level is truly amazing. For Kari Roberts, agriculture teacher at Union County High School in Liberty, Indiana, an unused stack of pallets inspired her to transform her horticulture class into an essential part of the entire high school.


Roberts' students use leftover pallets from the program's agriculture shop to create pallet gardens. They cover the pallets on the bottom and sides with landscape fabric, fill the pallets with soil, and plant tomato plants in the pallets.


"My students really enjoy making the pallet gardens. They are in charge of watering, feeding, harvesting, and weeding the gardens. It is a great hands-on activity for them to try before going home to make their own pallet gardens with their families," said Roberts.


What began as a simple, hands-on activity has quickly evolved into a new school initiative. The pallet gardens now supply the Union County High School cafeteria with fresh tomatoes that are used on the salad bar. Students attending the high school now have locally-grown tomatoes to add to their lunchtime selection.


"Before starting this project, we discussed the ideas with our cafeteria manager and she thought it was a wonderful way to get fresh produce on our salad bar at lunch," added Roberts.


Pallet gardening is currently a popular trend in horticulture, allowing people with limited space to have gardens at home, supplying their families with fresh produce each day. Roberts hopes that her new approach to gardening will encourage members of her community to develop their own pallet gardens.


"We have spread the word through email and social media to members of our community. We definitely look forward to seeing many successful vegetable, herb, and flower pallet gardens around our community this summer," said Roberts.


As the project develops, Roberts hopes to not only supply the school's cafeteria with a fresh supply of tomatoes, but to also donate tomatoes to the school's food pantry. She plans to use the tomatoes in the program's upcoming food preservation and canning class as well.

kariroberts1.jpg  kariroberts2.jpg  kariroberts3.jpg  kariroberts4.jpg



A Message from our Partners:


Ideas Unlimited
Growing Vegetables in the Air
Robert Bollier, Cheraw High School, South Carolina
2014 Region V Ideas Unlimited Award Winner

Looking for a way to grow produce with a limited amount of space, Robert Bollier, agriculture teacher at Cheraw High School in Cheraw, South Carolina, came up with a plan to produce vegetable crops that involves the collaboration of three of his agriculture courses.

"The idea of 'Vegetables in the Air' was developed to allow for the growing of more produce on a smaller area of ground, and even asphalt," said Bollier.

With the program's recent Growing Agricultural Products (GAP) certification from the South Carolina Department of Agriculture -- food safety certification which allows them to market their produce to schools and stores -- Bollier uses the ideas, skills and manpower from his agricultural business, horticulture, and agricultural mechanics students to grow "Vegetables in the Air."

The project involves planting vegetables inside modified six-inch PVC pipes, harvesting the crops on a rotational method, and replanting. The PVC pipes are layered inside a system of stands, watered by an irrigation system. 

Students in Bollier's agricultural mechanics class build the stands and irrigation systems for the project. His agricultural business students research the feasibility of developing a patent for the idea, and his horticulture classes are responsible for the vegetable crop production.

The daily harvest from "Vegetables in the Air" is used in the school's cafeteria. Bollier plans to expand his project by developing smaller versions of "Vegetables in the Air" and selling them to people who live in apartment complexes with balconies.

                                                RobertBollier2.jpg RobertBollier1.jpg RobertBollier3.jpg


A Message from our Partners:


IdeasUnlimited_Brown (6).jpgNot every student learns the same way. Taylor Brown, agricultural educator at East Jackson Comprehensive High School in Commerce, Ga., kept that in mind when developing her lesson plans, trying her best to meet the needs of each learner in her classroom.

To help mix things up, she developed the D.I.Y. Classroom: 30 Tools to Differentiate & Integrate Your Classroom. The 30 tools consist of numerous handouts, activities, portfolios and assessments and integrate math, science, writing, reading, social studies and art.  For instance, the FFA Tic-Tac-Toe Choice Board allows students to choose what assignments they want to do, giving them a voice and decision in their learning and increasing engagement.


Brown's D.I.Y Classroom idea grew out of tips and suggestions she collected from other teachers, which she modified to fit her own classroom and students. Her hope is that other agriculture teachers can take her tools and use them as a jumping-off point to add variety into their own programs.


"I invite agricultural educators to take my examples, modify the activities to meet their students' needs, and take a chance on trying a new approach to teaching a topic,"she said.

Click the attachment below to download Taylor's DIY Classroom handbook.

IdeasUnlimited_Brown (3).jpgIdeasUnlimited_Brown (8).jpgIdeasUnlimited_Brown (14).jpgIdeasUnlimited_Brown (12).jpg

A Message from our Partners:


individual picture.jpgIn order to help her students visualize animal science concepts, Amanda Ross, agricultural educator at Palmyra High School in Palmyra, Mo., created large plywood cutouts of a cow, chicken, and hog. Ross used these cutouts in lessons pertaining to animal anatomy, meat identification, animal nutrition and digestion, animal reproduction, and veterinary science.


After each lesson, students make paper models of the various organs of the system being discussed and color them accordingly. They then tape the organs to the cutouts, depicting how the system would look in the animal. In animal reproduction, both sides of the cutouts are used to let students see the male and female systems at the same time.


"The three-dimensional wooden cutouts can be extremely beneficial in the classroom setting," Ross said. "Their value goes even beyond their use as a teaching aid in the fact that they add an interest and excitement to the classroom and the unit that a poster or powerpoint just cannot create."

Download the attachment below for details on creating cutouts like Amanda's.

chicken - digestive 2.JPGcow - reproductive.JPGswine - digestive.JPG


A message from our partners:


Ryan Anderson.jpgZach Morris.jpgLooking for ways to introduce new students to the agriculture industry and to gain community involvement and support, Zachary Morris, agricultural educator at West Liberty High School in West Liberty, Iowa, created a farmer to restaurant program. His students grew fresh salsa ingredients for a local Mexican food restaurant.


Morris' students already had commercial growing experience through raising vegetables for their school's lunchroom, so they expanded their operation by growing jalapeño peppers and Roma tomatoes for El Patio Family Mexican Restaurant's fresh salsa.  Morris' students ran every aspect of the project, from growing and harvesting the vegetables, to communicating with the restaurant and keeping records of total pounds produced and sold.


In addition to selling their fresh vegetables to the restaurant, the students created table tents for the restaurant to market their agricultural education program with fun facts about El Patio Restaurant, West Liberty FFA, and agriculture, printed in both English and Spanish.  Dr. Ryan Anderson, agriculture professor at Iowa State University, worked with Morris on developing ideas and suggestions to continue to move the program forward.


The students' salsa program has continued to grow; this past fall the students conducted a salsa making workshop with elementary students using produce from their garden, integrating the National FFA's Food For All grant and the Nutrients for Life program. The salsa program has even expanded to create unique agriculture-based entrepreneurial and work placement projects for the students, including a community garden project that produces food for a local nursing home and working as servers at El Patio.


"If instructors currently have Farm to School programs they can utilize their garden beds to reach out to community food service businesses to promote growth of locally prepared produce. In addition to promoting diversity within the community; the students can also learn about advertising and making positive business connections," Morris said.  "The result of the salsa project has made a tremendous impact on our program.  Membership and participation of Hispanic students within the classroom has increased in all courses, especially horticulture."


A message from our partners:


Stehlik_headshot.jpgFeeding their school's commercial ewe operation was taking a lot of time, but instead of complaining, Dan Stehlik, agricultural educator at Republic County Jr./Sr. High School in Belleville, Kansas, created an entire in-class project around the problem. the result? A simple bale feeder created by Stehlik and his advanced welding student, that can unload a 1500 pound hay bale in just a few minutes. This same job would take Stehlik and his students up to 45 minutes to do manually.


"As other instructors look for ways to engage students in higher level thinking applications and means to integrate academics into welding and mechanical curriculum, projects like this can provide the opportunity," Stehlik said.  "This project developed from a need and resulted in an opportunity to produce more while saving time and labor.  Working smarter, not harder!"


The bale hauler project incorporated math and physics concepts like finding balance points and force inputs. The students were forced to think on many levels, from academic to economic to safety. Their creative thinking and problem-solving work resulted in a simple low-cost tool, which can benefit not only the school's program but also other producers. Having his students look at this problem from a problem-solving project, allowed Stehlik to actively engage the students.


From our NAAE Partner:


Josh Evans.jpgDuring his plant science classes, Joshua Evans, agricultural educator at Preston High School, Preston, Idaho, had trouble keeping his greenhouse tidy. Every time students would fill flower pots, the media would make a huge mess. His fix: create a media table specifically designed to keep those messes from happening all over the greenhouse floor.

Using two 55-gallon plastic barrels, plywood, and a metal mesh tabletop, Evans created a potting work table that his students could use to fill pots and bedding flats, store potting media, reduce the amount of potting media on the ground, and help speed up clean-up.

"I estimate that in the planting of over 200 flats of bedding plants and 50 twelve-inch hanging baskets, we have saved over three cubic feet of potting media," Evans said. "This is a savings of thirty dollars to the program, which is equal to three flats of flowers.  With that much soil being collected, it also increases the efficiency of clean up time at the conclusion of class.  This addition to the greenhouse program has been a great asset."


Evans' table is 4 feet wide by 4 feet long and 32 inches tall. A half-barrel is mounted at each end of the hinged tabletop.  The tabletop is framed below with angle iron, directing any dropped potting media into a barrel half that is mounted underneath like a drawer, easily sliding out so that all potting media swept off the table can be dumped back into the side-mounted media barrels. These media barrels are covered with wooden lids, allowing for more table-top workspace and closed storage of the potting media.


A Message from our Partners:


p heasley.jpgPaul Heasley, agricultural educator at State College High School in State College, Pa., needed a way to teach elementary students about sustainability and vegetable production, while meeting the students at their learning level. Heasley came up with a "Grow House" that would be similar to a playhouse structure, made of hog panels, zip ties, and live plants.


After assembling the house shaped structure Heasley and his students placed it in the elementary school's garden and planted plants around the house's perimeter which grew up to create the walls and roof.


This project serves as the service learning connection between Heasley's program and the elementary students in the district, as well as a teaching tool that allows Heasley to integrate National Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources Career Cluster Content Standards into his curriculum. The project also integrates the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics model into his instruction and allows Heasley to easily present concepts of vegetable production to teach the students the benefits of gardening while providing a play space.

Grow House 3.jpgP1030622.JPGP1030626.jpg

Zach Crews, an agricultural educator at Slater School in Slater, Mo., knows that memorable classroom learning moments tend to stick with students. And there's not much more memorable than teaching a student to castrate livestock.


And while he'd love to be able to teach them on a live animal, it's simply not practical. So Crews came up with the idea for a mock scrotum castration activity during his senior year in college, when he was challenged to create an activity he could use when student teaching during his senior year. Because he always has enjoyed animal science and looked forward to using his experiences in the livestock industry to help students learn more about it, he planned an animal science lab activity. And because he knew hands-on learning helps bridge the gap between urban-raised students and the farm experience, he chose something that would be sure to get their attention.


"Castration of male animals is a traditional practice that happens on a daily basis in the livestock industry, but for you to be able to have your students take part in this practice, it takes a ton of planning," Crews notes "From finding the animals and a producer that is willing to let you show students this process to teaching students the proper safety techniques and procedures of this common practice, it could be a nightmare for a teacher to actually do a live castration in class, and this is where my mock scrotum comes into play."


While teaching health practices in his Advanced Animal Science Class, Crews used the mock castration/scrotum lab to help teach students the basic process without having to use a live animal in the classroom or a farm lab.


"I use this lab where students get to identify the parts of the scrotum, and build a better understanding of how the process is done without having to deal with blood or weak-stomached students."


Crews notes that he uses Jell-O to fill the mock scrotums. This gives students a focal point for their silly comments. He's even been known to challenge jokesters to eat the inside of the scrotum.


To make the scrotum, Crews used the following materials: a large balloon, two water balloons, two smaller-sized Styrofoam balls, a large needle, larger-sized ribbon, a package of Jell-O and a funnel. To assemble the mock scrotum, the first step is to cut a piece of ribbon about 6 inches long and thread it through the eye of the needle. Next, push the needle through both Styrofoam balls and tie the ends of the ribbon off on both sides of the balls. This creates the testacies and spermatic cord. Then take a water balloon and stretch over each of the Styrofoam balls, creating the sack in which the testicles are held. Once this is complete, take the larger balloon and stuff the water balloon-wrapped balls into it, creating the scrotum. (Crews suggests blowing a little air into the balloon to help it stretch out.) Complete the project up by inserting the funnel into the balloon, pouring in the Jell-O, tying off the balloon and putting it into the refrigerator for it to set up. The Jell-O represents the blood and inner liquids within the scrotum.


In his lab, Crews provides each student with a scalpel and mock scrotum. He then shows them the removal process of each testicle by slicing open the large balloon, pushing the individual ball toward himself, slicing the water balloon open, cutting the cord and removing of each testicle. He then has each student complete the process.


Crews was the 2012 Ideas Unlimited award winner for Region IV. For more information about the Ideas Unlimited award program and all other NAAE award programs, visit


The Ideas Unlimited award is sponsored by Delmar Cengage Learning.


From our partner:



Burning Flag Hand_text.jpgFor Sally Shomo, a former agriculture teacher at Beverley Manor Middle School in Staunton, Va., the American flag retirement ceremony her FFA chapter hosts each year is not only a community service, but a way to help build a sense of patriotism and citizenship in her students, something that she feels is not always emphasized enough.


Shomo wanted to create a program that specifically addressed the part of the FFA mission of building character and promoting citizenship, volunteerism and patriotism.


Working closely with the local Ruritan Center, Shomo's chapter acquired and decorated an old post office drop box for tattered flags to be turned in, and developed a script for the ceremony.  Community members, leaders, and veterans were invited to come and take part in the program. Shomo even took it one step further and asked other groups at the school to participate, like the band and choir.


"The first year, we asked students and parents to submit pictures of what America looked like to them," said Shomo. "This last year, we asked them to submit pictures of what agriculture looked like to them. These were put into slideshows and shown at each respective ceremony. By the end of each picture slideshow, everyone in the audience was tearing up. It is amazing to see the items submitted and the viewpoint of the students."


When a flag is retired, each section is cut separately. First, the union (the blue field with the stars) is cut away. Then, starting at the bottom of the flag, the meaning of each stripe is explained, then that stripe is cut away. For example, the first stripe is for the original 13 colonies, second for purity, third for courage, and so on. In Shomo's ceremony, each student shared what their stripe represented and dropped it into the fire. They asked veterans in attendance to retire the unions.


"There was a huge need for this ceremony in our community. No one really knew what to do with their flags when they became tattered or torn," Shomo said. "It was great to have this ceremony for the middle school students, and community members, to know the meaning of the flag and how important it is."


"After 31 years of teaching, this was the most meaning and impactful moment I have been a part of. This is at the top of my list for favorite projects with my FFA members and the community," Shomo said.


Shomo hopes other FFA chapters will start a similar program in their area, and would be happy to share more information, guidelines, and pictures of the program with interest individuals. She can be contacted at


Shomo's flag retirement ceremony idea was selected as the winner for the 2012 Region VI Ideas Unlimited Award, which is sponsored by Delmar Cengage Learning. For more information about all NAAE awards, visit


From an NAAE partner:


The charge of reaching every student every day can be a real challenge, since classes are made up of students with a number of learning styles, as well as at different academic levels. Robert Bollier, an agriculture teacher from Cheraw, S.C. decided to tackle this challenge in his agriscience classroom by creating a series of projects that use familiar household items to teach students about complex scientific concepts.

“As educators, we are faced each day with how to get the content to all of our learners,” Bollier said. “I have developed a collection of agriscience experiments and projects to reach every student.”

Bollier’s From the Kitchen Cabinet is a collection of experiments and projects that uses items found in every household kitchen cabinet. The projects are designed to teach core science concepts, meet writing standards, and help students score higher on standardized assessments. The projects allow students to be creative with familiar household items, which helps them be more comfortable learning science concepts that can sometimes be dry or intimidating. 

“These experiments allow for an easier connection between the lessons we teach and the activities the students will perform,” Bollier said. The specific projects can be adapted to fit animal science, plant science, agricultural mechanics or biosystems, depending on the teacher’s strengths and needs.

Bollier’s out-of-box thinking was noticed by his peers, who selected him as the recipient of the 2012 Ideas Unlimited award for his compilation. The Ideas Unlimited award is sponsored by Delmar Cengage Learning. For more information about this and other awards, visit

You can download From the Kitchen Cabinet below.

Big thanks from our sponsors!


Jim Melby, and agricultural educator at Winneconne High School in Winneconne, Wis. understands the importance of technology in the classroom. While shopping for a new FFA laptop with fellow agriculture teacher, Matt Reinders of Loyal, Wis., they began brainstorming different ways to incorporate the new technology into their programs.  Realizing the laptops they purchased were equipped with webcams, they began to discuss using Skype as a presentation tool in their classrooms.  Together, Melby and Reinders developed a project for their eighth grade students to teach each other, from schools over 100 miles apart.

Students were assigned the task of creating their own interpretation of the FFA emblem. Students worked in groups to research and develop their projects.  Using Skype, students presented their projects to both their own class and the remote class.  Not only did the project bring more technology into the classroom, but it engaged the students and allowed them to venture out of their comfort zones.

See the attached documents for details on how to implement Jim Melby's award-winning idea into your own program.