Agriculture Comes to the Classroom With Virtual Farm Tours
As elementary students pack their supplies to go back to school, many won’t have the opportunity to attend educational field trips due to significant budget cuts in public school systems.
“Nationwide, school districts are facing tighter and tighter budgets, making it difficult to send students on educational field trips as often as they have in the past,” says Lisa Gaskalla, executive director of the National Agriculture in the Classroom organization. “So, we’ve created ways to bring the field trip to the classroom.”
The Agriculture in the Classroom organization aims to increase agricultural literacy for students in grades K-12. With a shortage of funds for field trips, the organization uses technology to virtually put students on a farm without having to board a bus.
Branded FarmChat, the Iowa Agricultural Literacy Foundation developed a statewide opportunity in 2014 for Iowa elementary students to attend field trips from the comfort of their own classrooms.
“The beauty of FarmChat is that it eliminates barriers, including biosecurity, distance, and safety reasons,” says Will Fett, executive director of Iowa Ag Literacy Foundation. “Although it’s Iowa-based, Iowa farmers have done programs as far as Texas and Las Vegas, so if students want to learn about Iowa agriculture, FarmChat makes that barrier of distance obsolete.”
Nick Bowden, a diversified crop and livestock farmer in north-central Iowa, recently took part in a FarmChat virtual tour with classes of third and fourth graders.
“I’m an outgoing person but not the type who likes to be on camera,” says Bowden. “However, I feel a responsibility to answer the next generation’s questions related to how farms work.”
The virtual tour took nearly 30 minutes for Bowden to show the students his farm and to answer their questions. Bowden and the students used Skype to video-chat, but he says other platforms such as Google Hangouts, Zoom, or Facetime work as well depending on what the schools use.
“Elementary students are at such an impressionable age because they’re soaking in everything around them from school to TV to social media,” says Bowden. “If they get misinformation now, they may never accept other facts or truths, so getting them exposure at their young age makes a big difference.”
Nebraska’s Virtual Field Trips
The Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation has also launched a similar project to FarmChat known simply as Virtual Field Trips.
Growing up on his fifth-generation hog farm, Lukas Fricke has made it a priority to share his family’s farming story, and he took the initiative to showcase their hog barns to students through a virtual field trip.
“The video chat tours are the easiest way to get a lot of students through our barns without having to spend a lot of money on the school’s behalf or having to worry about biosecurity or safety,” says Fricke. “We brought 150 third graders through our barns in a little under 30 minutes just by connecting on Google Hangouts.”
Fricke says he enjoyed listening to their concerned, detailed, and entertaining questions, and he is excited to see the virtual field trips grow on farms and in classrooms. From having the opportunity to educate young students, Fricke knows they now understand there are real people taking care of and respecting farm animals.
No matter if you have a video chat platform or are comfortable on camera, Fett advises that you just give a virtual farm tour a try.
“If farmers are comfortable with the video chat technology, they can be ambassadors and reach out to a school to connect with a teacher and classroom,” says Fett. “If they want some help to do so, they should contact agclassroom.org.”