Environmental and Agricultural Literacy Education

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<ul><li><p>ENVIRONMENTAL AND AGRICULTURAL LITERACY EDUCATION</p><p>D. HUBERT1, A. FRANK1 and C. IGO21 Southwest Center for Agricultural Health, Injury Prevention and Education, University of Texas</p><p>Health Center at Tyler, 11937 US Highway 271, Tyler, TX, USA 75708-31542Department of Agricultural Education, Communications, and 4-H Youth Development, Oklahoma</p><p>State University, 448 Agriculture Hall, Stillwater, OK 74078-6031</p><p>Abstract. Educational offerings that utilize environmental and agricultural themes can reinforcebasic education for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12) while also teachingabout the environment and agricultural methods and products. A curriculum guide about theenvironment and food and fiber production was created for K-12 teachers. These materials wereevaluated for their effectiveness in increasing student knowledge using elementary classes inseveral states. It was noted through pre/post tests that younger students, in general, made greatergains. Within five thematic areas, the greatest overall improvement was shown in themes relatedto the environment. Environmental topics covered, all in the context of agricultural themes,included the need to preserve shared natural resources including land, water, and air as well as themanaging of the ecosystem and the use of non-renewable energy resources. Clearly suchclassroom guides have utility in teaching young students about environmental issues and theirrelationship to other important topics. This guide and its corresponding Website enhance bothopportunities to transmit new knowledge as well as assess performance and impact on behavior.</p><p>Keywords: agricultural education, agricultural literacy, curriculum, environmental education, foodand fiber systems literacy</p><p>1. Introduction</p><p>Educational topics inclusive of agriculture and environmental topics are neithernew nor unique. Agricultural education professor and historian John Hillisonrecently published findings on the history of integrating agricultural themes orconcepts into academic areas of study, particularly science. He noted that theprimary school agricultural curriculum was preceded in the latter part of the1800s by a nature-study movement that aimed at bringing reality to sciencelessons in elementary school classrooms. This movement was in reaction to theuse of less interesting methods of teaching science, and noted nature-study usagein the states of New York and Massachusetts (Hillison, 1998). Although therewas no indication that student learning of science principles increased, it may beinferred that inclusion of nature-study topics made the subject matter morerelevant to students lives in the still very rural United States.</p><p>As countries develop and move to more urbanized societies, basic knowledgeand understanding of the natural environment and its interrelated systemsappears to have declined. Whatever the reason, from video games to other lessoutdoors-oriented activities, urban youth populations in general appear to have</p><p>Water, Air, and Soil Pollution 123: 525532, 2000.c2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.</p></li><li><p>lost connections with the natural environment and the respect and admirationassociated with the understanding of its systems through participation orinteraction. This loss of ecological and biological knowledge gained throughhands on involvement has raised the level of concern from both agricultural andenvironmental organizations, among others, especially within the United States.The purpose of this paper is to heighten awareness to a recently developedframework for improving food and fiber literacy in K-12 students.</p><p>2. Agricultural and Environmental Literacy Development</p><p>As Americas urban sectors expanded and engulfed more farmland during the1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, agricultural organizations realized a lack ofknowledge and understanding of agriculture and agricultural processes by thegeneral public could have been part of the problem of this urban sprawl and lossof productive acreage. The continued encroachment by cities into productive,arable lands seemed to emphasize the lack of respect for farming as smallfarmers were either forced or bought out of their profession. There appeared tobe hope that creating a greater public understanding of agriculture wouldincrease agricultures importance in America. This, in turn, might offset theagricultural near-sightedness acquired by land developers and the large supportof a generally agriculturally illiterate public. An organized and increased effortto re-educate Americans, beginning with elementary students, was beginning totake shape.</p><p>In 1988 the National Research Councils Committee on AgriculturalEducation in Secondary Schools proposed that an agriculturally literate personwould understand the food and fiber system in relation to its history, economic,social, and environmental significance (National Research Council, [NRC]1988). Additionally the Committee recommended that all students shouldreceive at least some systematic instruction about agriculture beginning inkindergarten or first grade and continuing through twelfth grade and thesubject matter about agriculture be broadenedto include the utilization ofenvironmental and resource management.</p><p>According to Terry et al. (1996), the need for societal knowledge aboutagriculture is based on two primary factors. First, as consumers of agriculturalgoods, people need to understand basic principles of food and fiber sources,marketing, distribution, and nutrition. Secondly, they hypothesized that becauseof the roles citizens play in policy decisions, people need to understand theimpact of agriculture upon society, the economy, and the environment. There isa similar need for the understanding of environmental positions associated withagriculture as well. In this context, controversial agricultural and environmentalissues are often the results of competing factions and there is an equalsignificance for environmentally and agriculturally literate populationsthroughout the world.</p><p>526</p></li><li><p>Some assistance in creating agriculturally literate populations can be found inthe use of mass media to provide correct information about agricultural andenvironmental issues with science knowledge providing the best facilitatingmeans to understanding. Rogers (1983) and Terry (1994) indicated the mostimportant factor contributing to consumer awareness and understanding aboutscience and technology is mass media (as cited by Vestal and Briers, 1999).Recently, increased media coverage of environmental controversies appears tohave magnified the natural resource connections between the environment andagriculture. This media awareness has not been entirely positive for the naturalresource utilizing industries of agriculture, forestry, and fishing, and theircorresponding efforts to create sustainable societies. Often public perception, ormisperception, is affected by television and periodical coverage overdramatizingthese industries activities and impacts on non-renewable resources.</p><p>However, the apparent public disapproval of some natural resource utilizingindustries portrayed in the press may be found not only in mass medias focuson the negative influence of agricultural production on the environment, but alsoin the lack of understanding of these matters by journalists. Analysis by Terry etal. (1996) of agriculture/environment and public policy news articles revealed ahigh percentage of unfavorable, judgmental sentences and a high degree ofjournalistic bias in them. Of the three most popular news periodicals in U.S.circulation in 1995, Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report, only 13articles were printed with agricultural issues as the main topic during the entireyear. Eight of the agricultural articles were classified by the researchers asenvironmentally related. Situations such as this (the largest means ofinformation dissemination contributing to public misinterpretation) provide themotivation to engender societies that can synthesize, analyze, and communicatebasic information about agriculture and the environment. However, for thesesocietal changes to evolve, we must focus on learners when they are mostsusceptible to new thoughts and ideas.</p><p>3. Curricula/Teaching Resources About Agriculture and the Environment</p><p>3.1. A GUIDE TO FOOD AND FIBER SYSTEMS LITERACY</p><p>The challenge for educators in infusing food and fiber systems literacy into coreacademic subjects is recognizing existing connections. Connecting biology andlife science, as well as environmental science to agriculture is easy. Other coreacademic subjects can be more challenging to infuse with agricultural topics.Without detailed guidance for attaining knowledge about agriculture and theenvironment, students, as they mature into adults, will be asked to makedecisions about matters they know little about. It was determined that studentsof all ages, if presented information in a systematic manner, would become</p><p>527</p></li><li><p>better decision-making adults in matters relating to agriculture and theenvironment.</p><p>A Guide to Food and Fiber Systems Literacy (referred to as the Guide) wasplanned to facilitate these types of challenges. Developed at Oklahoma StateUniversity, the Guide was the culmination of four years of work in developingand testing a curriculum framework of agricultural themes, standards andbenchmarks, and supporting material needed to produce agriculturally literatestudents. The Guide also includes explanatory narrative needed forimplementing Food and Fiber Systems Literacy in schools. Themes aresectioned into Understanding Food and Fiber Systems; History, Culture, andGeography; Science, Technology, Environment; Business and Economics; andFood, Nutrition, and Health. Grade specific benchmarks guide teachers to makeappropriate academic connections to agriculture and environmental topics, withsample lessons included to facilitate this process. It is hoped thatimplementation of the Guide by schools and districts across all grade levels willproduce better-educated students so their agricultural and environmental issuedecision-making capabilities will be enhanced. To facilitate distribution of theGuide, an Internet Website was developed for teachers and other interestededucators and administrators (http://food_fiber.okstate.edu).</p><p>The use of the Guide to provide direction for classroom instruction aboutagricultural and environmental topics and ultimately increase student learning inthese areas was studied. A pilot testing of the Guide was conducted in three K-8schools during the 1997-98 academic year in the states of California, Montana,and Oklahoma (one school per state). These case studies included 366 students,177 students, and 257 students, respectively. The researchers used a pretest andposttest methodology to determine gains in students food and fiber knowledgefor the grade groupings K-1, 2-3, 4-5, and 6-8. These grade groupingscorrespond with the grade-grouped benchmarks in the Guide. Using SAS foranalysis procedures, statistically significant differences in pretest and posttestgroup results were found. Table I provides a summary of these results.</p><p>Pearsons Product Moment Correlation Coefficients were computed todetermine whether a relationship existed between these knowledge scoredifferences and the number of instructional connections teachers made to Foodand Fiber Systems, i.e., the number of times teachers referred to agriculturaltopics in lessons. Table II summarizes the result of the analysis.</p><p>Both the Montana site and the Oklahoma site showed a strong correlation,0.621 and 0.586 respectively, between the test score differences and the numberof instructional connections made by teachers, with the Oklahoma site returninga significant statistical difference. Pooling the Montana and Oklahoma data tocreate a composite yielded a 0.603 correlation coefficient and the computeddifference was statistically significant as well. Knowledge score increases of 10percent or better were seen when the number of reported connections rose to 20or above. California data were not included in the correlation due to structuraldifferences between the California school and the other two schools.</p><p>528</p></li><li><p>TABLE I</p><p>Students food and fiber knowledge levels as measured by pretest and posttest scores</p><p> Pretest PosttestState: Grade n Mean n Mean Difference F-value pCA: K-1 15 54.8 12 57.3 +2.5 0.86 0.3555MT: 54 72.1 50 88.8 +16.7 74.75 0.0001*OK: 53 77.3 53 86.1 +8.8 21.33 0.0001*CA: 2-3 42 71.0 39 76.8 +5.8 8.83 0.0032*MT: 38 75.6 35 89.4 +13.8 46.28 0.0001*OK: 73 79.3 72 88.4 +9.1 41.24 0.0001*CA: 4-5a --- --- --- --- --- ----- ------MT: 49 67.2 47 71.2 +4.0 5.13 0.0239*OK: 75 66.1 74 72.7 +6.6 15.11 0.0001*CA: 6-8b 502 31.8 315 29.3 -2.5 21.45 0.0001*MT: 50 63.7 45 62.4 -1.3 0.23 0.6315OK: 67 57.9 58 55.0 -2.9 1.53 0.2157</p><p>Note. df for all calculations was 1. *p</p></li><li><p>With each site using an infusion approach to implementing FFSL, the datawere combined to provide a composite view of the thematic area analysis. Thatcomposite information was presented in Table III.</p><p>TABLE III</p><p>F-Value Comparison Of Composite Pretest And Posttest Differences By Grade Groups WithinTheme Areas For California, Montana, and Oklahoma Sites</p><p>Theme and grade grouping F-value pUnderstanding Agriculture</p><p>K-1 15.5 0.0001*2-3 11.01 0.0001*4-5a 42.71 0.0001*6-8 19.54 0.0001*</p><p>History, Culture, and GeographyK-1 1108.58 0.0001*2-3 33.33 0.0001*4-5a 52.83 0.0001*6-8 290.48 0.0001*</p><p>Science and EnvironmentK-1 202.96 0.0001*2-3 0.00 0.98204-5a 79.96 0.0001*6-8 14.09 0.0002*</p><p>Business and EconomicsK-1 4.80 0.0295*2-3 22.56 0.0001*4-5a 18.76 0.0001*6-8 0.40 0.5254</p><p>Food, Nutrition, and HealthK-1 59.88 0.0001*2-3 145.27 0.0001*4-5a 24.21 0.0001*6-8 5.92 0.0151*</p><p>Note. df for all calculations was 1. *p &lt; 0.05a there was no 4-5 component in CA data represent only MT and OK</p><p>With only two exceptions, all grade groups within each theme area showedstatistically significant differences between pre- and post test results. Within theScience and Environment theme, the 2-3 grade-group produced a zero F-value,which yielded a 0.98 significance score. The 6-8 group, within the Business andEconomics theme, also showed no statistical significance, producing an F-valueof less than one.</p><p>Though not generalizable outside of this study, these results may suggest thatwhen implemented consciously, the Guide may influence student learning aboutagriculture and the environment.</p><p>530</p></li><li><p>3.2. AGRICULTURE AS ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE</p><p>Prior to development of the Guide, Israel also had recognized the importance oftangible, realistic instruction that uses agriculturally based instruction, albeit 20years earlier and specifically in science. In the 1970s, according to Blum(1985), Israeli schools introduced a new Agriculture as Environmen...</p></li></ul>


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