Planting Seeds for Sustainable Agriculture in Science Class

Maud Walsh and Jennifer Irving

Middle and high school students who are not in agricultural science programs are often unaware of how large a role science plays in agriculture and the many job opportunities available in agriculture. With the goal of encouraging middle and high school science teachers to incorporate concepts related to sustainable agriculture into their classes, we conducted a five-day professional development workshop, SuSTEMable Agriculture: Integrating Concepts from Sustainable Agriculture into Environmental, Life, and Physical Science Classes, in the summers of 2018 and 2019.

Each day of the five-day workshop included a half day of a presentation and an activity or field trip led by specialists in the School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences or the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Topics covered included:

  • Strategies and challenges of traditional plant breeding.
  • Remote sensing technologies for nutrient management to improve crop yield and reduce nonpoint-source runoff.
  • Conservation management.
  • Soil biology.
  • Local food production and farm-to-school programs.
  • Strategies for weed control.
  • Techniques for studying bees and other pollinators.
  • Medicinal plants.

The sessions were followed by related classroom activities and discussions about lesson planning and ways to integrate sustainable agriculture topics in their biology, environmental science, chemistry or other STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes. These activities were based on available soil or plant activities from other organizations, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation.

Assessments made of teachers before and after the workshop indicated a significant positive change in teachers’ confidence in their abilities to teach about select topics in sustainable agriculture. The overall reaction to SuSTEMable Agriculture was positive, indicating that we were successful in communicating about science in agriculture and the many careers that students interested in science can pursue.

Maud Walsh is a professor in the School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences, and Jennifer Irving is the research translation coordinator, LSU Superfund Research Center, Department of Environmental Sciences.

Acknowledgment: SuSTEMable Agriculture was supported by the Professional Development for Secondary Teachers and Education Professionals (PD-STEP) Program grant award [grant no. 2017-06203/project accession no. 1015335] from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

(This article appears in the fall 2020 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

Group of people standing in an agricultural field.

SuSTEMable Agriculture participants visited the LSU AgCenter Central Research Station in Baton Rouge in June 2019 to learn about soil fertility and precision agriculture. Photo by Daniel Forestieri

People in classroom listening to a speaker.

Lisa Fultz, associate professor in the School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences, standing, discussed the importance of healthy soil ecosystems to SuSTEMable Agriculture participants in June 2019. Photo by Maud Walsh

Group of people under or near a tent with an agricultural field in the background.

Brenda Tubaña (center front, yellow shirt), professor, and Luciano Shiratsuchi (center back, plaid shirt), associate professor, both in the School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences, and their research teams discuss tools used for remote sensing to manage soil fertility as part of the SuSTEMable Agriculture class for teachers in grades 6-12. Photo by Maud Walsh

1/7/2021 9:48:54 PM
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