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Utah Agriculture in the Classroom

Teacher Award

State & National Teacher Award 2022

Meaghan Porritt

Lewiston Elementary
4th Grade
Meaghan Porritt

My students are strengthening their understanding of “Agriculture and the Environment,” “Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy,” “Food, Health, and Lifestyle,” “Science, Technology, Engineering & Math,” and “Culture, Society, Economy & Geography” through everyday integration of agriculture. This strategy has truly transformed my students' learning.

In the 2019-2020 school year, I received my first Utah Agriculture in the Classroom (UAITC) grant. With this funding, I incorporated aquaponics into my own classroom and created embryology instruction as a new grade-level tradition.

In aquaponics, students sustained multiple herbs as well as our new class pet, Pineapple the goldfish. Pineapple brought a sense of excitement to each day. Being responsible for a live animal that needed constant care substantially increased my student attendance and engagement. Our aquaponics system was the first thing they checked each day, and they became masters at reading PH, nitrate, and nitrite levels and making adjustments to sustain a healthy system.

In March of 2020, we started our first embryology unit. I purchased one Brinsea Maxi II incubator with UAITC grant funds. All fourth-grade students came into my classroom for an introductory lesson, to set the eggs, and to candle the eggs as the incubation progressed. After setting the eggs, the next sixteen days in my classroom consisted of an exciting revolving door of students from my class and other teachers' classes checking humidity, temperature, and rotation to ensure the conditions were perfect for hatching. Students brought siblings and friends and showed them what to look for to ensure a high hatch rate. Concurrently, we dedicated our designated writing and science time to embryology. In writing, students were preparing to present all the information they were learning to different classes; in science, students were learning more information to become chicken and egg experts. Groups assigned by topic researched, synthesized, and compiled information to present. The use of UAITC embryology lessons gave students experiential learning opportunities in chicken embryo development, meeting the basic needs of a growing chick during incubation, and chicken life cycles.

On Friday—day seventeen of egg incubation—our Utah governor announced we would not be returning to school due to the pandemic. My students and I were devastated by this news. Our chicks were set to hatch the following Tuesday. I quickly made a plan and fielded the myriad of parent messages asking about our chicks. When hatching day arrived, I arranged a Google Meet by which all 4th graders could join and view the hatching in real time. The Meet was open from 6 a.m. – 6 p.m., and students were logged on the entire time! Over the course of the day, we achieved a 100% hatch rate. Before the face-to-face school closure, my students had worked so diligently on their research presentations; I hated the thought of their work ending so abruptly. Rather than quit, I enlisted the help of their parents. Parents recorded students delivering their assigned parts of the presentation and sent the recordings to me. I then compiled the parts into one video, and we sent it out to the student body. My students were so proud of their hard work and dedication! The annual chick hatching has now become a revered tradition at Lewiston Elementary.

When Utah's new Science with Engineering Education (SEEd) Standards were adopted in 2020-2021, I was at a loss for where to begin until I began incorporating agriculture into my curriculum. Since these standards were new, there were not many resources that engaged my students in higher order thinking to scenarios that were prevalent in their lives. UAITC resources from the Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix were the answer to my challenge.

I was thrilled that our previous agricultural experiences in aquaponics and embryology fit perfectly into Strand 4.1 of the standards, Organisms Functioning in Their Environment. To assure that students had agricultural projects throughout the entire year, I began incorporating aquaponics at the beginning of the year and scheduled chick hatching in March. This year, with a Utah AITC grant, I was able to secure a second incubator for another classroom, so the incubating eggs were better accessible to all, and students could take more ownership. I was trying to figure out how to finagle a third incubator so all classes could have accessible resources when a Brinsea giveaway popped up in my email. I was thrilled to win and add this new incubator to the rotation so each class could hatch their own eggs! Altogether, we now hatch forty-two eggs donated by the generosity of a local chicken breeder. This year, I also improved our unit of study by adding a guest speaker. Mark Ritewood, owner of the local Ritewood Egg Farm, presented information to our grade level on the process of egg production.

With all the COVID restrictions and a shorter school day, the end of the school year came before we knew it. In our embryology discussions, I had mentioned that all birds hatched from eggs. This led to a lengthy discussion on the types of fowl students were familiar with such as ducks and geese as well as those they were not so familiar with like ostrich and quail. My students were eager to learn more. With the remaining funds from the UAITC grant, I decided to order quail eggs. This was quite the adventure! We now switched gears and compared and contrasted the process of chicken incubation with another species of bird. I invited an officer from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to our classroom, and he discussed conservation with my students, beginning with quail and branching out to other wildlife. Through the process of setting this visit up, I was introduced to the Project WILD professional development opportunity. I completed this training in the summer, and it has been a fantastic addition to increase hands-on learning within my classroom.

I consistently incorporate agriculture into Utah Core Standards where I'm able. I always refer to the Matrix before starting a science unit. I learned about additional resources through UAITC virtual professional development last spring. For example, Strand 4.2 addresses energy transfer. We discuss biomass energy as well as the process of popping corn. I adapted the e-magazine, Farming for Energy, and the “Get Popping!” lesson to teach this concept. Strand 4.3, which features patterns in the night sky, provides an opportunity to discuss how different seasons can affect farmers, their crop and animal production, and the supply and demand chain.

With another UAITC grant, I upgraded our aquaponics system to one that will be reusable for many years. Students started a variety of seeds in plugs and transferred them to the tank. The plants did not thrive as we had hoped, so we brainstormed how to make improvements, and students are currently raising their second round of plugs—allowing them to establish more fully before transplanting. The fish, however, did better than expected; two of three survived. Coconut and Oreo are soon to be proud parents, and the kids could not be more excited! We are currently exploring the growth of greenhouse and hydroponics plants, as well, to see which method is the most efficient.

Through funding from the Utah STEM Action Center, I purchased materials to incorporate “STEM Starts” before the opening school bell rings. Students read an “Ag Challenge” (which I created) on one side of a card, e.g., a sow rolling on her babies when she farrows, and use a variety of materials to create solutions. On the other side of the card is how farmers currently address the problem; students explore ideas to improve the practice. They absolutely love these STEM Starts!

Agriculture opens up a world of opportunity for my students. When experiencing agriculture as the context for learning, students achieve so much more because they are invested. They realize that it matters not only to them now, but their lives in the future as well. Agriculture is everything.