When it comes to agricultural education, North Dakota students have ample learning opportunities – both inside and outside the traditional classroom setting. Through their involvement in collaborative activities and youth organizations, the state’s young people are growing their leadership and career readiness skills in a big way.
As a result, North Dakota’s ag industry is set up for continued success as the next generation prepares to put their knowledge to work.
Hands-On Educational Experiences
North Dakota’s Agriculture in the Classroom program aims to increase ag literacy by creating agricultural education programming for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. This program helps teachers across the state easily and seamlessly add ag elements into their daily lessons.
For example, through grants given by Agriculture in the Classroom, the North Dakota Farm Bureau offers educators a 55-lesson curriculum called Project Food, Land and People, which includes instructional units that address core content and meet state standards and benchmarks. In addition, the program participates in Living Ag Classroom, a daylong event that rotates fourth- and fifth-grade students through 10 different hands-on activities related to North Dakota’s production agriculture sector.
Elsie Sheldon, a fourth-grade teacher at Grimsrud Elementary School in Bismarck, loves using Agriculture in the Classroom resources to teach her students about agriculture. In 2019, she incorporated honey kits into her curriculum, with the goal of helping her students learn about pollination. As North Dakota produces the most honey in the U.S., it’s important to teach children about this vital component of the state’s ag industry.
According to Sheldon, the kits included honey sticks made from four different varietals of honey for students to taste-test – all harvested from North Dakota bees – along with activity guides and digital teaching materials that she used to enhance her lessons. Sheldon also used the kits’ contents to help make the connection between the school’s outdoor garden and the pollinators that enable its plants to thrive.
“Many of the kids who grow up in Bismarck don’t know much about agriculture, so it’s important for them to learn where their food comes from and to have an understanding of the ag products and natural resources that come from North Dakota,” Sheldon says. “The Agriculture in the Classroom program gives me the tools and resources I need to help students connect the dots in a fun, meaningful and creative way.”
Youth Organizations Engage Students
Outside the classroom, organizations like the North Dakota 4-H Youth Development – the largest youth organization in the state – and the North Dakota FFA give young people the ability to explore their interests in ag through projects, competitions and other hands-on opportunities.
Along with raising livestock and cultivating crops, North Dakota 4-H and FFA members can take part in an array of leadership activities and events. Both organizations are also helping to ensure the state’s youth are prepared for the highly technical ag careers of tomorrow, providing an evolving catalog of resources and opportunities to stay in step with current needs and agriculture trends.
“Our program is steadily growing, and we’re always introducing more materials that appeal to youth of all ages and backgrounds,” says Brad Cogdill, chair for the Center for 4-H Youth Development at the North Dakota State University Extension. “We’re offering new opportunities in areas like robotics and aerospace, and those are attracting groups of young people we haven’t connected with in the past. Plus, these new opportunities are helping youth get more familiar with ag careers of the future, such as those that will involve unmanned aerial vehicles and other high-tech tools; that knowledge base is going to serve them well going forward.”