The Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom (MAITC) program celebrated a major milestone in 2015 as it turned 30, marking three full decades of service to students and teachers in grades K-12 across the state. MAITC provides educators with cost-free materials that enable them to easily integrate agriculture into their existing lesson plans.
“We’re an education program designed to integrate agriculture into the K-12 classroom,” says Al Withers, longtime MAITC program director retiring in July 2016. “We create materials that fit the academic standards and help students learn through inquiry so they can better understand how agriculture fits into their world.”
An Educational History
According to Withers, who has been with the program since it started, the concept of agriculture in the classroom was envisioned in 1981 by former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture John Block, who believed agriculture should be an integral part of every student’s educational experience – not just a subject offered in career and technical programs at the high school level. Block’s idea caught on in Minnesota, and Withers was asked to become MAITC program’s first director.
Withers has played an important role in creating the public-private partnership between the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and MAITC Foundation. The foundation is responsible for keeping all MAITC programs and educational publications free of charge. Additionally, Withers was instrumental in the creation of two publications, the popular AgMag and AgMag Jr.
Sue Knott was hired as an education specialist in 2011, becoming MAITC’s second employee. In addition to developing curriculum, Knott works with teachers to show them how they can weave agriculture into their lessons.
“I help teachers see that agriculture is something that can really benefit them and their students,” Knott says. “Students can definitely relate to agriculture. It’s something they need to survive, so they’re going to be interested and want to know more.”
Today, MAITC reaches an average of 135,000 students, 4,500 teachers and more than 700 schools in all corners of the state. While its goal is still the same – to increase agricultural literacy in K-12 education – its methods have changed over the years to keep up with the latest technology.
For example, all of the program’s materials are now available in an online library, making it quick and easy for teachers to access what they need.
“The website is constantly updating and adding new materials,” says Amy Benson, who teachers second grade at Cedar Park Elementary in Apple Valley. “When I am planning lessons in my science units, I always cross reference the MAITC website for new lesson ideas or free materials they have available to support lessons.”
Knott says one of the program’s most popular materials is the Minnesota School Gardens Guide, which features 31 plant and science-based lessons to help teachers bring content to the classroom.
Additional favorites include the Food for Thought: Connecting Minnesota Geography with Agriculture resource, and, of course, AgMag and AgMag Jr., which are also available online.
To help ensure program success, Knott leads professional development workshops at
educational conferences. She shows teachers how MAITC materials can be used in their classrooms on a regular basis. Knott also introduces the MAITC program to college students who are on their way to becoming teachers.
“Our hands-on activities and lessons not only help students gain agricultural knowledge, they also help reinforce what students are already learning in their curriculum, whether that’s science, social studies or math,” Knott says.