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Utah Agriculture in the Classroom

Teacher Award

State Teacher Award 2011

Pyper Shelton

William Penn Elementary School, Salt Lake City, Utah
1st Grade
Pyper Shelton

Utah Agriculture in the Classroom is pleased to announce Pyper Shelton as the 2011 Utah AITC Teacher Award winner! Pyper teaches first grade at William Penn Elementary School in Salt Lake City. In her own words, Pyper describes her teaching methods and educational philosophy:

Communities, cultures, connections, cycles, and relationships: all are themes in our first grade class. Without a doubt, I can lecture to my students all day long. However, their listening interest will last about 1 minute, if we are lucky. Fortunately, this is not my teaching style. Learning is fun! It is an active process. The classroom environment should be inviting and engaging making lifelong learners out of my little ones. The following are a few examples of the activities in which we engaged throughout the year.

  • We planted a salad under grow lights—lettuce, radishes, carrots, peas and tomatoes grew and flourished. Students who would never touch a salad devoured what we had grown in our classroom!
  • We attempted to grow an avocado plant from a pit. It failed, but we learned from the experience that not all science experiments work the way we intend. We will try again!
  • As our house plants attempted to take over the window sill, we cut back the branches, soaked them in water until roots formed and then planted them in pots.
  • When my pussy willow tree started to bloom, I brought in pussy willow branches for the class to explore. We put several stems in a deep vase of water and as the year progressed, we watched the stems take root. My students were amazed that that is how I got my pussy willow tree many years ago!
  • We purchased the Garden in a Glove and Living Necklace kits from Utah Agriculture in the Classroom. What clear and exciting ways to see the transformation from seed to plant!
  • We used carnations, daisies, and celery to observe the purpose of the stem of the plant. The colored water was pulled right up to the tips of the petals and leaves! So visual, so fun!
  • We made a bulletin board showing the parts and purposes of plants.
  • We read many trade books about seeds, plants, and flowers!
  • We adopted a former student's science fair project: a terrarium! We used it to watch plant growth as well as the water cycle!
  • We observed the similarities and differences between living things as we hatched eggs to chicks. In caring for our new arrivals, we learned the importance of meeting the needs of such small creatures. As the chicks were handled, we found that they are amazingly resilient and strong and yet so helpless and small. We also predicted what could eventually become of our chicks as they become a food source.

Our agricultural awareness is a year-long process (or a life-long process, if I am successful). Although listed separately, these activities are not isolated units and events. We integrate them into our language arts, mathematics, art, music, dance and all other aspects of the curriculum. The core objectives and standards change subtly on a regular basis, but the educational needs of my students remain. As I teach them to love and experience learning, the core objectives, whatever they are, will be met. Twenty-three years of teaching have taught me that! I will continue to use the core objectives and standards as “excuses” for bringing agriculture into the classroom. I will continue to integrate agriculture awareness into all aspects of our curriculum, because to me, it just makes sense and it comes naturally to weave math, reading, writing, music, science, and social studies into one great learning experience.

As I guide my students through the learning process, I try to use innovative and unique approaches. From "being there" experiences, to the involvement of guest speakers, to hands-on activities, we find ways to bring agriculture into the classroom. Our "being there" experiences include fieldtrips to a local historic farm, Wheeler Farm, and to Thanksgiving Point, an oasis of farming and gardening. We also use multimedia: virtual fieldtrips via the computer, DVDs and a great wealth of trade books.

We are always delighted to welcome professionals into our classroom! We have tapped the resources of "Slow Foods Utah" in a program sponsored by Harmon's, a local grocery chain. Each month, store employees bring a variety of different food products for us to explore and taste. We also tap into Thanksgiving Point's outreach program, Tulips Journey North, where representatives come each year to help us plant Red Emperor Tulips. We love monitoring the progress of tulip growth throughout the world, learning about climates and why tulips grow in some areas and not in others.

But the favorite method of learning in my classroom is the method that makes us all "Super Scientists"...the hands-on approach! Making learning real and connecting it to real life events is what education is all about. My students and I have decided that becoming Super Scientists is a great way to learn about the scientific method. We have explored the following:

  • Is it hay or straw?—A friend of mine was the Grand Master of Hay at the Cache County Fair. He brought me a section of a bale of hay and another of straw. Rather than simply learning the definitions of each, we compared, contrasted, tasted, smelled, and recorded our observations. Oh, how good our room smelled!
  • Ah, cattails!— As a class, we gathered and placed some cattails in an antique milk can in our room. One exciting day, they went to seed! Poof! Seeds were everywhere! Super Scientists pulled them apart, explored, recorded, and were mesmerized by these amazing acts of nature. We took the remaining cattails outside and bounced them against the playground fence. What a visible way to see wind currents and seed dispersal!
  • Oil from seeds?—Our Grand Master of Hay also gave us numerous safflowers which he had grown. These little seed pods are as prickly as thistles! After dissecting the flowers, my students found that the prickly outer coating protects the seeds, which are found in a nest of downy fiber. After discussing how these little seeds provide oil, we found that safflower oil has a whole new significance.
  • Onions and Eggs: A Colorful Combination—Students are often surprised to find that onion skins are wonderful for dying eggs. Students wrapped eggs in regular yellow onion skins and placed them in nylon stockings. The eggs were then hard cooked, resulting in the most beautiful mottled eggs! Not many of my students realize that plants can be used to create color (even though grass stains are ever present on their knees).
  • Pip, Cheep, and Cluck—Our embryology unit has grown to legendary status! From the first day of school I am greeted daily by past students, their siblings, and their friends—"Mrs. Shelton, when will you have the chicks?" We save this unit for the spring when our Super Scientist skills are at their peak. When the time comes, our chicks are returned to Wheeler Farm to finish out their lives at the farm. Each fall, our second graders return to Wheeler Farm for a field trip. How excited they are to report back that they saw our chickens and that the chickens remembered them!