In the spring of 2016 I was selected to participate in an On the Farm STEM Experience sponsored by the American Farm Bureau. I came away with a fundamental understanding that decisions made by farmers are done so using a STEM-based approach that requires critical thinking and knowledge. This approach is one that is driven by economic, environmental, and health factors.
Many students have little knowledge of where their food comes from and lack an understanding of how it is raised. Students often harbor misconceptions that range from the impact that the farming industry has on environmental health to the amount of hormones that an animal may receive. In reality, agriculture is a pioneer industry when it comes to using science to make informed decisions. For example, today’s tractors contain GPS software that allows farmers to farm precisely through actions such as “farm planning, field mapping, soil sampling, tractor guidance, crop scouting, variable rate applications, and yield mapping” (http://www.gps.gov/applications/agriculture ). Techniques related to applied genetics, such as selective breeding and in-vitro fertilization, have been useful in reducing the amount of fat in meat and increasing milk production to feed a growing world.
If you are interested in having your students become critical thinkers, I suggest letting them research the misconceptions related to the agricultural industry so that they can come to their own conclusions. If you are in search of misconceptions, the American Farm Bureau website discusses numerous misconceptions at http://www.agfoundation.org/resources/addressing-misconceptions.
Investigating misconceptions related to agriculture easily lends itself to a project-based learning approach. Indeed, vocational agriculture students are often tasked with solving problems that require knowledge of STEM subjects, like those discussed in a post by Ken Messersmith http://www.edutopia.org/vocational-educators-get-it). Messersmith suggests that such an approach, which engages students in critical thinking and communication, may be beneficial to all students.
For more information on Problem-Based Learning see the Following Resources:
Buck Institute for Education (contains a searchable data base of projects)
GMO’s Go Global: Should They Be Labeled?
Managing Nutrient Needs in Agriculture