S1071: A framework for secondary schools agriscience education programs that emphasizes the STEM content in agriculture

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Active

S1071: A framework for secondary schools agriscience education programs that emphasizes the STEM content in agriculture

Duration: 10/01/2022 to 09/30/2027

Administrative Advisor(s):


NIFA Reps:


Statement of Issues and Justification

Although many colleges of agriculture have experienced an increase in student enrollment over the past decade, fewer students maintain their agricultural focus through successful placement in an agriculturally based scientific position upon graduation (Dyer et al., 1996; NRC, 2009). This multistate research project aims to revitalize interest in agriculture as a career path and ensure secondary school students have the requisite competencies to succeed in college and careers. The result will be an abundant supply of well-educated workers in STEM careers that require agricultural knowledge and technical skills.

 

A shortage of scientists for agricultural positions exists throughout the country (NRC, 2009). The current demand for STEM-capable workforce surpasses the available supply of qualified candidates (NRC, 2011). Employment data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Opportunities for College Graduates in Food, Agriculture, Renewable Resources and the Environment (FANRE) projected a 39% deficit in the number of FANRE graduates to the demand for degrees in these areas for 2020-2025 (Fernandez et al., 2020). The deficit continued from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture's (NIFA), formally the USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), 2005-2010, 2010-2015, and 2015-2020 reports (CSRESS, 2005; NIFA, 2010; Goecker et al., 2015). Additionally, the 2020 USDA report indicated that 29% of all job openings in the agricultural industry require scientific and engineering expertise, an increase from the previous five-year report (Goecker et al., 2015; Fernandez et al., 2020). These projections have come to fruition as leading agriculture-based corporations indicate they cannot find suitable graduates with an agricultural background and scientific expertise. Industries seeking skilled workers for scientific agriculturally-based positions have been presented with application pools that contain a bi-polar skillset; approximately 39% of applicants have been graduates with “allied degrees” from programs such as “biological sciences, engineering, health sciences, business, communication, etc.” (pp. 7), while 61% of the applicants had degrees in agriculture (Fernandez et al., 2020).

 

Compounding the issue of recruiting and preparing qualified graduates to enter careers in agricultural sciences is the increasing demand for workers with scientific expertise in numerous career areas (NRC, 2009). Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupations are critical to the continued economic competitiveness of the United States, with employers indicating a need for employees with knowledge of agriculture, as well as critical thinking and problem-solving skills across the STEM disciplines (Carnevale et al., 2011; NRC, 2009). The demand for a STEM-capable workforce has continued to grow (CADRE, 2014; NASEC, 2020). The increasing demand for STEM talent allows for and encourages the disbursement of students and workers with STEM competencies across various career paths. Some workers will voluntarily be diverted to other career areas, some may be diverted to other areas involuntarily (by not meeting expectations), and some will continue their education in a STEM field. However, those career paths are not easily predicted; therefore, it is paramount for STEM-related programs to be on the cutting edge to prepare students with the technical skills and knowledge needed to perform. The entire education system, K-12 and beyond, plays an essential role in encouraging and preparing students for careers in FANRE (NRC, 2009).

 

Opportunities for educators and industry leaders to expose potential employees to the benefits of and skills used in various agricultural careers are tremendous and occur across a broad timeline, both before and after entering the adult workforce. To increase the number of students transitioning into post-secondary education and employment, many secondary schools focus on career exploration and preparation, often mimicking colleges and universities by requiring students to choose a career pathway or major through 16 career clusters (Brand, 2013). Career and Technical Education (CTE), including agricultural education, focuses heavily on career exploration to help students better understand the knowledge and skills expected of specific careers (DeLuca et al., 2006). Students in CTE courses engage in academic, technical, and employability skills simultaneously, which better prepares the students to enter careers and post-secondary education (Brand, 2013).

 

Although no direct link has been established to connect successful secondary experiences in agricultural education seamlessly throughout the human capital pipeline to successful employment in STEM-based agriculture careers, K-12 teachers play an essential role in their students' success in school, as well as lifelong outcomes such as college attendance and lifetime earning potential (NASEM, 2020). Additionally, in 2015, 16% of 15-year-olds indicated they intended to have a career in a STEM field. These students were also noted to have higher academic success, specifically related to their achievement scores, than their peers who did not intend to pursue a STEM career (Institute of Education Sciences, 2020). Further studies have shown that "students' course taking during high school plays a critical role in their ability to transition to post-secondary education and pursue a range of post-secondary majors and degree options" (Laird et al., 2006, p. 1). Dyer et al. (1996) found that while the percentage of University of Illinois College of Agriculture first-year students with secondary-level agricultural education was declining, the percentage of students intending to graduate with a major in agriculture was much higher among students with secondary agricultural education experience than among those with no previous agricultural education background.

 

Further, Dyer et al. (2002) found enrollment in a high school agricultural education program to be one of the most influential factors in whether students completed a degree in a college of agriculture. Enrollment in agriculture courses at the secondary level has also demonstrated a statistically significant correlation with more positive perceptions of agriculture (Smith, 2010). Motivation to learn science in agriculture has also been noted to have a statistically significant and positive correlation to students' academic achievement (Chumbley et al., 2015). However, greater effort is needed to increase the number of high school agricultural education students who pursue higher-level agricultural careers through post-secondary education; one study found these students lacked understanding regarding the importance of post-secondary education for careers in agriculture (Smith, 2010). A growing body of literature supporting exposure to high-level careers in agriculture before college to increase the number of graduates skilled in agricultural sciences has led authors of the National Research Council (2009) to recommend "colleges and universities…reach out to elementary-school and secondary-school students and teachers to expose students to agricultural topics and generate interest in agricultural careers" (p. 9), explicitly suggesting partnerships with secondary agricultural education programs.

 

The issues of recruitment and preparation for careers in agricultural sciences overlap. Thus, the goals of this project are: 1) to create awareness and interest at the middle and high school levels for careers in the agricultural sciences, 2) to prepare students for academic success and professional pursuits, leading to a sustainable supply of well-educated agricultural scientists, 3) to prepare and empower agricultural educators to effectively teach rigorous STEM content within the school-based agricultural education curriculum. 

 

Within agricultural education, few studies have recently examined effective teaching practices regarding the emphasis of STEM content naturally embedded in the agriculture curriculum (Thoron & Myers, 2011; Thoron & Burleson, 2014). Further research is critical for scholars to explore current teaching practices implemented by exemplary agriscience instructors. Further, exploration of innovative approaches for teaching STEM within agriculture curriculum in various environments, including rural and urban schools, is necessary. Research has indicated three levels and six features of integrated STEM education, but these elements have yet to be conceptualized as to how they are related to the teaching practices in school-based agricultural education, as well as to critical elements of the STEM learning process (Wang & Knobloch, 2018; NRC, 2013). Research of the topics mentioned above will inform a conceptual model of teaching STEM in agriculture, which can be leveraged to support agriculture learning and career preparation among a broader population of students.

 

Guidance on how STEM education should be designed was outlined in the publication A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012). Science education should be built around three key dimensions in which a limited number of ideas are presented throughout the entirety of the K-12 education to allow for more student exploration and deeper understanding (NRC, 2012). All three dimensions, science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas, actively integrate the four STEM areas in unison, creating one body of knowledge in which students continually build on their foundational knowledge (NRC, 2012). Any model for secondary school agriscience programs that emphasize STEM content must consider the NGSS framework and the Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1998; 2000). Scherer et al. (2019) recommended that researchers expand STEM education to a universal study of all components rather than separate individual concepts in each content area. With the importance of preparing teachers to emphasize the STEM concepts in agriculture within a curriculum, it is essential to understand what the practices entail. To be effective, teachers, who are often underprepared in STEM areas, need content knowledge and expertise in teaching (NRC, 2011). Teachers have noted that specific content knowledge is the most significant barrier to the integration of STEM into the agriculture curricula, even as their content knowledge has been shown to improve student outcomes (Myers & Washburn, 2008; NRC, 2013; Stubbs & Myers, 2015; Thompson & Warnick, 2007; Thoron & Myers, 2010). Ferand et al. (2020) recommended that teacher educators consider creating professional development experiences for agriscience teachers that target content to impact teacher self-efficacy positively. Darling-Hammond and McLaughlin (2011) speculated that "teachers learn by doing, reading, and reflecting (just as students do)" (p.83). However, a gap in the literature exists on current evidence regarding the effective teaching of STEM in agriculture.

 

Crawford (2000) conducted a case study of one high school biology teacher in the Pacific Northwest. This teacher had been noted for his outstanding use of inquiry-based learning when designing lesson plans. The research aimed to gain qualitative data that described what made this teacher's lessons exemplary. The results identified six teacher characteristics that allowed for the successful use of inquiry-based instruction. Those six characteristics were: (1) situating the instruction in authentic problems, (2) grappling with data, (3) fostering collaboration between teachers and students, (4) connecting the students with their community through the lesson, (5) teacher modeling the behaviors of a good scientist, and (6) fostering student ownership in the project and the results.

In agricultural education, Myers and Thompson (2009) conducted a study to determine what teachers needed to emphasize STEM concepts in their classrooms successfully. The responses of the National Agriscience Teacher Ambassador Academy participants were categorized as the following: (1) curriculum, (2) professional development, (3) teacher preparation programs, (4) philosophical shift, and (5) collaboration. Teachers in the study desired an agriculture curriculum written to be aligned with state and national science and math standards and a national database of lesson plans containing explicit emphasis of STEM concepts made available to teachers. Teachers also desired continuing instruction on highlighting science and math principles found in the agriculture program. The teachers in the study believed preservice teachers should be required to take coursework at their university to strengthen their knowledge of such a curriculum. The teachers also reported desiring a shift in philosophy regarding agricultural education. Teachers in the study believed that transforming the view of agricultural education would help teachers of all disciplines understand the role agriculture can take in increasing student achievement. The teachers also valued collaboration and believed team-teaching across disciplines would help to reinforce the importance of agricultural education and make agricultural educators a more valuable part of the education community (Myers & Thompson, 2009).

 

Wang and Knobloch (2018) developed a rubric that identified levels of STEM integration for lesson plans in agriculture. Although the lessons in the study focused on AFNR content and skills, in addition to attempts to have students solve real-world problems to connect learning, educators struggled to connect the multiple disciplines of STEM as one body in their lessons (Wang & Knobloch, 2018). The authors recommend more research into specific strategies of effective teaching such as focusing, framing, and scaffolding real-world problems in SBAE to better facilitate integrated STEM learning. Additionally, it was recommended that both rubrics and observations of teachers implement STEM integrated lessons, along with student data, to triangulate better results on the effectiveness of STEM teaching (Wang & Knobloch, 2018).

 

Despite this progress, the profession needs a model of effective practices that emphasize STEM concepts to prepare a future of agricultural scientists who are highly trained. If the profession is to develop a curriculum framework and further prepare agricultural education teachers to highlight STEM principles in agriculture explicitly, the current teaching practices that are most effective for accomplishing this goal in secondary school agricultural education need to be identified. As previously stated, a gap in the literature in this research focus currently exists.

 

The Concerns-Based Adoption Model, a research-based model, was designed to help facilitate change and provide diagnostic means of measuring implementation of an innovation (Hall & Hord, 2006) and provides a framework to guide this project. The model consists of the environment, the user system culture, resource system, change facilitator team, interventions, users and nonusers, and three diagnostic measures: stages of concern, levels of use, and innovation configurations (Hall & Hord, 2006). Hall and Hord (1987) defined an intervention as “any action or event that influences the individuals involved or expected to be involved in the process” (p. 143). Interventions can range from training workshops to short conversations about the innovation called one-legged interviews (Hall & Hord, 2006).

 

Advantages of a Multistate Effort

 

This project is significant to the national agricultural education research agenda (Roberts et al., 2016) that called for enhanced program delivery models and an abundance of highly qualified agricultural educators. The research agenda set forth by the USDA-NIFA complements the National Research Agenda for the American Association for Agricultural Education (Roberts et al., 2016) by providing a priority area of creating the next generation of scientists. Previously the project has enabled researchers from multiple institutions to meet regularly to pursue research activities that contribute to the project's goal and objectives. A continuation of the project will enable researchers to build these collaborative relationships, as additional experts continue to join the project each year. Advantages of the multistate effort include an effective forum for building collaboration among agricultural teacher educators and scientists. The effort expands the ability to investigate school-based agricultural education programs in rural and urban centers and across economic, demographic, and commodity areas. Collaborative approaches help formulate more robust solutions when compared to a single state or single researcher effort. Collaboration in a multistate effort has and can continue to streamline and focus research in agriscience/STEM education to enhance teacher effectiveness. A multistate collaborative project can be a catalyst for longitudinal data and replication of studies across the United States. Previous attempts at collaborative research have shown that without a multistate effort, a proposed research focus can be challenging to manage and produces a greater burden on the faculty involved, thereby reducing their ability to enhance the project's impact.

 

Likely Impacts from Successful Completion

 

The successful completion of this research project previously yielded several impacts crucial to the continued success of agricultural education and the industries for which graduates are prepared to enter. One example of this impact stems from the completed work to align the National AFNR standards with the Next Generation Science Standards. This work has provided the foundation for many agricultural education programs to highlight and improve how their curriculum meets science and engineering learning outcomes, increasing the rigor and relevance of agricultural education nationwide. As we look to future work, successful completion will empower agricultural educators with an increased awareness of the practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas included in the agriscience program. Modified curricula will accompany an increased awareness to guide secondary agriscience teachers in highlighting  STEM concepts and ideas through articulated competencies defined once the innovation configuration map is completed and disseminated. By providing teachers and administrators with education and guidance in highlighting STEM competencies in agriculture, the teachers will be more effective, agriscience programs will be of higher quality, and the components leading to high-quality programs will be clarified for use across the nation. These outcomes are particularly salient for newly developed agricultural education programs (and new teachers within established programs) seeking an empirically grounded framework for teaching STEM concepts within classroom/laboratory instruction, Supervised Agricultural Experiences, and student engagement in the National FFA Organization. Finally, as students are exposed to STEM concepts in high-quality agriscience programs led by prepared, effective teachers, their interest and engagement in agriculture-related STEM careers will increase. The end result contributes to an abundant supply of an educated workforce in agricultural careers that require knowledge and technical skills in STEM fields.

 

Technical Feasibility

All institutions involved have adequate resources to complete the project, such as appropriate research lab and office facilities, computer equipment and relevant software, high-speed internet access, and labor pool.

 

 

Related, Current and Previous Work

A search of the NIMSS systems revealed only two active multistate research coordinating committees and one advisory committee related to agricultural education. NCDC231: Collaborative for Research on Food, Energy, and Water Education focuses on research surrounding science literacy as developed in educational programs at the food, water, and energy nexus. Members of NCDC231 and the Agriculture Education Research advisory committee (NCAC-024) are included in the membership of this project. W-3006 Multistate Agricultural Literacy Research focuses on the methods and programming for informing public opinion and policy, agricultural and natural resources issues. Multistate research team members have actively participated and achieved several goals related to the S1057 and S1071 projects over the past 10 years. The replacement project proposal seeks to build upon the team's previous efforts to expand  a framework for secondary schools agriscience education programs that emphasizes the STEM content in agriculture.

 

Historically, the integration of science into agricultural education has been a part of educational reform since the US industrial revolution. Managers, policymakers, and communities indicated they needed scientific advancement led by agriculturalists (Hillison, 1996). The Hatch Act of 1887 provided a mechanism to utilize federal dollars to fund scientific research to increase production in the name of agricultural advancement. In the 1800s, agriculture and science have been cited as indelibly interwoven with Chambers and Chambers Encyclopedia (1897) noting agriculture as the application of scientific principles and reasoning related to the art of agriculture. Later, the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 brought agricultural advancements into the public-school setting with the establishment of school-based agricultural education across the United States. School-based agricultural education (SBAE) was formed from a need for vocational training for the rural males engaged in agricultural production. A hands-on curriculum created value for rural students to remain in school and receive an education while becoming established in farming. The high school agriculture instructor provided a way to move research into practice for local farmers, educating students and adult farmers on innovations. Agricultural instructors helped the farmers understand the use of scientific discoveries and new farming practices with sound explanations based on the biological and physical sciences.

 

Due to changes in education and societal needs, the role of SBAE programs shifted to focus primarily on vocational training. Agricultural education lost grip of the authentic science investigations that drove its creation. From the 1950s through the late 1980s, agricultural education was well-focused on vocational training but strayed from the scientific concepts behind the hands-on skill set. During the early 1980s, a major publication by the National Commission on Excellence in Education titled A Nation At Risk (NCEE, 1983) laid the groundwork for the next two decades of focused science principles across all curricula. During the mid-1980s, agricultural education began to integrate science principles back into high school agricultural programs (Phipps et al., 2008). Martinez (2007) described the futuristic shift in thinking:

Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs [of which SBAE is included] are becoming more academically rigorous and less directly tied to single occupations. CTE is no longer just a training program for workers; today CTE also prepares students for post-secondary work including college as well as lifelong learning. CTE does not replace academic subjects, but rather reinforces academic instruction by incorporating basic academic instruction in a purposeful way into CTE courses. CTE provides meaningful contexts in which students can apply the concepts they learn in academic classrooms in settings that help them to see the real-world relevance of what might otherwise be abstract concepts. (p. 55-56)

 

Since the shift back to teaching the science of agriculture, research has been conducted both within and outside of agricultural education focused on integration across disciplines. Illumination of science concepts in SBAE courses allows core science concepts to be applied by drawing on active and applied learning (Phipps et al., 2008). Studies outside of agricultural education have reported that students who experience an integrated curriculum tend to have higher achievement and interest in learning than students who experience a curriculum focused only on one subject (Beane, 1995; Brago et al., 1995; Stevenson & Carr, 1993). Research has been conducted examining practical, student-centered math and science integration into the classroom across disciplines (Treacy & O’Donoghue, 2014). In agricultural education, much of the research on STEM in the SBAE curriculum has focused on student achievement (Despain et al., 2016; DiBenedetto et al., 2015; Haynes et al., 2012; McKim et al., 2018; Nolin & Parr, 2013; Pearson et al., 2013; Skelton et al., 2018; Smith & Rayfield, 2017; Thoron & Myers, 2011). By the completion of high school, American students must acquire scientific skills and knowledge to be informed citizens, consumers, and decision-makers (NRC, 2012). Stakeholders have identified a deteriorating workforce lacking agricultural technical skills, 21st-century employability skills, scientific knowledge, and quantitative reasoning that places our nation's national security and nation's economy at risk (CADRE, 2014; DiBenedetto & Myers, 2016; NRC, 2009; Steen, 2004; Thoron & Myers, 2008).

 

Significant trends in the US educational system prompt the need for a science-based investigative curriculum in agriculture (Thoron & Myers, 2008). Agriculturists, policymakers, and community leaders agree there are societal benefits when agriscience education extends the knowledge of agriculture to urban and rural communities. With more diverse demographic characteristics and higher levels of participation, there is a growing challenge to provide and manage authentic agriscience investigations and experiences for school-based agricultural students. Demographic changes from rural to urban have affected student interest and career choice, leading to an increased need for educating talented students who are well-equipped with agricultural knowledge based in science to meet the demands of scientific discovery in the agricultural industry. As such, teaching methods and their impact on student achievement in science in SBAE courses has been another area of for research (DiBenedetto et al., 2015; Haynes et al., 2012; McKim et al., 2018; Pearson et al., 2013; Skelton et al., 2018; Smith & Rayfield, 2017). Unfortunately, meaningful evidence that science integration in SBAE increases student achievement has yet to be found (Despain et al., 2016; Haynes et al., 2012; McKim et al., 2017). However, the call for improved student knowledge of science concepts to support industry and occupational needs remains (CADRE, 2014; NRC, 2009, 2012). Lastly, SBAE teachers' perceptions and intentions to integrate science into the curricula have been examined with barriers, attitudes, types of use, confidence, and overall perceptions found to be significant themes (Haynes et al., 2014; Ferand, 2021; McKim et al., 2018; Pauley et al., 2019; Stubbs & Myers, 2015, 2016; Thompson & Warnick, 2007; Thoron & Myers, 2010; Warnick & Thompson, 2007).

 

Transforming Agricultural Education for a Changing World (2009), sponsored by the NRC, called for action to meet the need for professional education in agriculture of a diverse student body for the largest food producer globally, the United States. Woven across this need for professional undergraduate programs that are attractive to, supportive of, and challenging for the students persistently exists the foundational need for career discovery at the high school and middle school levels. The simple understanding of how agriculture affects the daily lives of all Americans must be expanded to include authentic science-based, research-driven curricula. The curricula must then focus on critical thinking, problem solving, argumentation skills, inquiry and scientific reasoning of students through research-supported, issues-based, authentic assessments. The aforementioned curricular focus must occur while supporting the career and technical structure of the local program as students continue to focus on the applied portion of becoming successful in the workplace and their careers. SBAE programs hold significant potential for helping to alleviate the shortage of agricultural scientists. Most high school agricultural programs are located in rural areas, providing the best opportunity to attract students who have some experience in agriculture. In addition, secondary agricultural education has a significant number of programs in suburban and urban schools, providing access to many students who enjoy science and could be attracted to an agriscience field. Traditionally, future scientists have not been actively pursued through these programs; with a new focus, these programs can provide value to the industry beyond agricultural awareness. Secondary school agriscience education programs exemplify a new biology approach in that integrated sciences are connected to agricultural problems and practices through a formal classroom and laboratory instructional program (NRC, 2009).

 

The continued shortage of researchers who can effectively connect their biology and chemistry competence to field conditions will slow the pace of innovation and discovery and place our food system at risk at a basic level (APLU, 2009). As such, this multistate project's importance in creating a proactive, comprehensive recruitment and preparation strategy that begins at the high school level is amplified. High school remains the vital time when students make their initial career and college major decisions (Helwig, 2004). Action is needed now to maintain global leadership (Vilsack, 2009). Rampant changes in the agriculture industry require a "STEM-capable" workforce with the ability to solve problems associated with scientific content (NRC, 2011). As such, a specialized workforce with knowledge of technical agriculture and scientific core ideas is needed to address the complex problems within agriculture as the world continues into an age of "scientific agriculture" (NRC, 2009, p. 16). The United States Department of Agriculture recommended that students seeking future employment in the agriculture industry have "basic science skills and the ability to solve problems with scientific applications" (CSREES, 2005, p. 12). Agricultural education is ideal for teaching scientific content through an agricultural context (NRC, 2009; NRC, 2012; McKim et al., 2017; Washburn & Myers, 2010). High-quality professional development for agriscience teachers should address the vast amount of content taught in the SBAE curriculum (DiBenedetto et al., 2018). Agriscience teachers have noted that science is the most closely related to and is a natural fit for the four STEM content areas within agriculture (Haynes et al., 2014, Scherer et al., 2019), and as a result, they are the most confident in teaching science (Smith et al., 2015). Contrary to teachers' portrayed confidence, lack of scientific knowledge was reported by SBAE teachers as their biggest barrier to the integration of science in their classrooms (Myers & Washburn, 2008; Ferand, 2021; Stubbs & Myers, 2015; Thompson & Warnick, 2007; Thoron & Myers, 2010). Comparing standardized test scores of students enrolled in SBAE courses to those who were not, found that students not enrolled in SBAE displayed higher levels of achievements than their counterparts (Despain et al., 2016). Inversely, Nolin and Parr (2013) reported that enrollment in an SBAE course was a significant indicator of a student passing a biology state exam. Further, Ferand (2021) reported that students in SBAE courses have moderate levels of motivation to learn science in agriculture.

 

The mission of the multistate replacement project exists to utilize previous accomplishments from the S1057 and S1071 projects to implement the curriculum framework and disseminate the innovation configuration map created to focus research efforts and expand the body of literature around the three main objectives emphasizing concentration in the SBAE curriculum, effective methods and instruction, and high-quality teacher professional development centered around STEM. Over the past ten years, the efforts of this multistate team have proved to be fruitful. The result of the previous S1057 and S1071 multistate research team efforts implored the need for further investigation and research to continually enhance the body of knowledge to address the three main objectives related to curriculum, teaching methods and instructional techniques, and professional development to postulate a framework for secondary schools agriscience education programs that emphasizes the STEM content in agriculture and furthermore directly aligns with the American Association for Agricultural Education national research agenda (Roberts et al, 2016). The multistate team is committed to utilizing the document indicating the integration across the disciplinary core ideas, agriculture, food, and natural resources career pathways, and next-generation science standards (Barrick et al., 2018). The National Research Council's (NRC, 2012) Framework for K-12 Science Education describes a vision of what it means to be proficient in science; it rests on a view of science as both a body of knowledge and an evidence-based, model- and theory-building enterprise that continually extends, refines, and revises knowledge. The framework presents three dimensions that were combined to form each standard: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, Disciplinary Core Ideas within the integration model. Agriculture is a science, and the multistate project seeks to strengthen the relationship between the science of agriculture and principles taught in science courses. Members of the previous projects employed much effort to develop an Innovation Configuration (IC) Map to guide professionals in secondary school agriscience. The IC map aims to provide recommendations of effective practices for secondary school Agriscience education programs emphasizing STEM content in agriculture. Using the tool to evaluate agriculture programs and preparation programs can help teachers/program leaders include all best practices for secondary agriscience programs. Innovation Configurations (IC) describe what change should look like when properly implemented (Hall & Hord, 2006). Hall and Hord (2006) noted, "the innovation in action can take on many different operational forms or configuration;" in addition, "the tendency to adapt, modify, and/or mutate aspects of innovations is a natural part of the change process" (p. 113). An IC map requires all parties to decide on a consensus and operationally define an innovation. Completing the IC map will provide a valuable tool in identifying what components within secondary school agriscience education programs are being implemented well and which components need additional work. The IC map renders implementation more effective and efficient and documents the extent and quality of implementation for evaluation studies. An IC map was developed in 2016 by a  subset of S1057 members of the multistate team of researchers to help reflect upon the recommended practices to clarify better and define high-quality agriscience programs. In 2021, a subset of S1071 members of the multistate team reviewed the IC map. The IC map provides suggestions and guidance to teachers, administrators, and education and industry leaders in preparing teachers of agricultural education. The IC map explicitly focuses on STEM principles in agriculture and highlights current teaching practices that are most effective. The IC map provides a starting point to operationally define implementation of a high-quality agriscience program. A goal of the multistate team is for the map to be released for adoption in 2022 by state secondary school agriscience education programs. The final document will be posted to Michigan State's website and distributed by the multistate team via national, regional, and local professional development meetings with agricultural educators. As state leaders, school administrators, and teachers are informed of the resource and begin to adopt and utilize the map, agriscience programs can be evaluated. Further research can guide the overall framework for secondary agriscience programs that emphasize STEM content in agriculture. In addition to providing an implementation and evaluation tool for high-quality agriscience programs, an overarching, long-term goal of disseminating and implementing the IC map is to increase student engagement in STEM careers. Further research related to science in SBAE will assist in meeting the three goals of the project: 1) to enhance curricula to create awareness and interest at the middle and high school levels for careers in the agricultural sciences, 2) to utilize effective teaching methods and instructional techniques to prepare students for academic success and professional pursuits, leading to a sustainable supply of well-educated agricultural scientists, 3) to design and implement high-quality professional development to prepare and empower agricultural educators to effectively teach rigorous STEM content within the school-based agricultural education curriculum. 

 

Objectives

  1. Objective 1: Curriculum - Facilitate the adoption and evaluate the impact of agricultural STEM curriculum.
    Comments: Objective one seeks to utilize the document that was prepared by the previous multistate efforts related to this project to indicate the integration across the Disciplinary Core Ideas identified by the expert panel, the AFNR Performance Indicators, and the NGSS Performance Expectations this iteration of the project intends to disseminate the curriculum framework to secondary agriculture teachers and teacher educators through states represented on this project. Previously initiated efforts to introduce agricultural educators to this resource and its utility began during the S1071 project five-year cycle. One example comes from Michigan, in which the framework was used to align Michigan AFNR standards with the Next Generation Science Standards within a unique curriculum tool that creates a curriculum report illuminating the AFNR and aligned-NGSS standards taught within the course. Various approaches will be used to facilitate the adoption, and evaluate the impact, of agricultural STEM curriculum. With a focus on facilitating the adoption of agricultural STEM curriculum, approaches will include dissemination of resources and curriculum developed which foreground STEM concepts and skills via learning experiences in agriculture, food, and natural resources. Members of the multistate project will organize and share existing and create new resources and curricula within agricultural STEM and share these resources with multistate project collaborators and other stakeholders in agricultural education. In addition, members of the multistate project will share example methods utilized to disseminate identified curriculum, including, but not limited to, professional development sessions, online curriculum tools, preservice teacher education coursework, and self-directed learning guides for teachers. To evaluate the impact of agricultural STEM curriculum, members of the project will evaluate the effectiveness and quantity of school-based agricultural education program graduates entering the AFNR workforce over time.
  2. Objective 2: Teaching Methods and Techniques- Identify teaching methods, resources (facilities, equipment, materials, etc.), and instructional techniques currently utilized by agriscience teachers during exemplary Agricultural STEM instruction.
    Comments: The purpose of objective two aligns with previous attempts of the S1057 and S1071 multistate projects to gain an in-depth analysis of current methods of STEM content integration utilized by exemplary agriscience teachers. Experiential learning has shown to be a practical approach to teaching across multiple disciplines (Kolb, 2014; Kolb & Kolb, 2005). Furthermore, experiential learning in agricultural laboratories has been established as an ideal method to teach scientific content, and problem-solving skills to agriculture students to better prepare them for careers in the science-based agriculture industry (Myers & Washburn, 2008; NRC, 2009; Washburn & Myers, 2010, Shoulders et al., 2012). Providing students with experience in laboratory activities was the most important lesson-based attribute supported by previous research, which found that teachers viewed their role during experiential learning as that of facilitator, responsible for guiding student learning experiences (Warner et al., 2006). Facilities, equipment, and materials are essential components of secondary agricultural education and provide students with opportunities to develop problem-solving skills through experiential learning (Shoulders & Myers, 2012a). By designing agricultural education facilities to focus on scientific problem solving, teachers can enhance student experiences to prepare them more effectively for scientifically based careers in agriculture (Parr & Edwards, 2004). Research to determine facilities and resources necessary to enhance the educational experiences will allow teachers to improve student achievement in scientific problem solving through experiential learning. Several self-reporting studies have provided a baseline of understanding of the importance and use of facilities and equipment. Collaborative research efforts among the multistate team will help identify barriers to utilizing facilities, equipment, and resources and help develop strategies to maximize student learning.
  3. Objective 3 – Professional Development: Design and evaluate professional development related to Agricultural STEM Education.
    Comments: Objective three seeks to describe the nature and impact of professional development (PD) related to agricultural educator integration of STEM concepts within a school-based agricultural education (SBAE) program. The research team intends to conduct research activities that inform practice to build the foundation for agriscience teachers to deliver STEM-based learning experiences. The multistate research team will use current and past research to create and test PD models of innovation. PD is a continuous process that happens both on and off the job and should provide teachers the knowledge and skills needed to change actions, beliefs, and attitudes (Greiman, 2010). PD should be more than one shot geared towards a single teaching strategy or tool. Effective professional development models should lead to a change in teacher behaviors, impacting changes in students' learning outcomes. Only when a teacher sees the change in their students within their classroom with the teachers' attitudes and beliefs truly transforms (Guskey, 2002). Darling-Hammond et al. (2011) described PD as ongoing, directly connected to teachers' instruction, and intensive. Change occurs through building relationships between participating teachers, aligning PD content with district improvement plants, and allowing teachers to experiment with the content through models. Further elaborating on these original tenants, Darling-Hammond et al. (2017) put forth seven key elements of effective PD, which include: active learning with input from participants (directly related to andragogy), content-specific, the opportunity for modeling and interaction with materials, coaching from expert teachers, building relationship between participating teachers, should be intensive and of meaningful duration, and lastly, should include ample opportunity for feedback, reflection, and sense-making. Desimone's (2009) framework for effective PD echoed many of these elements through a five-pillar structure: coherence, content-specific, duration, collective participation, and active learning. Guskey (2002) continued with a similar thought process by highlighting that PD should be a gradual process, include time for feedback and reflection, and provide support and social pressure. PD for teachers should mirror emerging trends in educational innovation, such as virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence, and machine learning in a modern learning environment. Further, professional development is needed in the effective utilization of social media to reinforce teaching and biometrics to monitor student engagement to improve teaching skills. PD created through the multistate efforts of this project will utilize these innovations to educate teachers in implementing action research in their daily classroom activities. Professional development will encourage teachers to use data, examples of student work, and reflective journaling to reflect on their teaching practice. PD activities designed through multistate collaboration will address awareness of teaching performance, skill development, overall improvement of the instructional program, and strategic thinking in implementing the Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resource (AFNR) curriculum. Additionally, for researchers who develop studies related to young farmer programs and adult education, the transformative learning theory may be applied because it proposes that the more knowledge the learner gains, the more likely their worldview will change, allowing the adoption of new ideas (Mezirow, 1981). For adult learners, an openness to questioning assumptions creates a path forward to adopting new technologies in agriculture, food, and natural resources.

Methods

Objective 1 Anticipated Contributors: Curry (Penn State), DiBenedetto (Clemson), Hasselquist (South Dakota State), Myers (Florida), and Smith (Idaho)

 Objective 1: Curriculum - Facilitate the adoption and evaluate the impact of agricultural STEM curriculum. A variety of methods will be employed to transition to a focus on evaluating the impact of agricultural STEM curriculum. Specifically, assessments will include evaluating teacher and student experiences engaging in agricultural STEM curriculum. Teacher assessments will include quantitative surveys measuring, for example, value, barriers, self-efficacy, and motivation perceived by teachers reflecting upon implementation of agricultural STEM curriculum. In addition to quantitative surveys, qualitative interviews will be employed to investigate the breadth of agricultural educators' experiences implementing agricultural STEM curriculum, including experiences implementing three-dimensional learning. Evaluations of student experiences engaging in agricultural STEM curriculum will primarily seek to identify outcomes of agricultural STEM learning experiences via quantitative and qualitative methods. Outcomes studied will include, but are not limited to, graduates pursuing AFNR careers, agricultural knowledge acquisition, STEM knowledge acquisition, agricultural STEM career interest, problem-solving ability, systems thinking, and intention to engage in additional agricultural STEM learning. Members of the multistate project will utilize a combination of both existing and crafted instruments and protocols in alignment with this objective. In total, the methods employed will inform the expansion of agricultural STEM curriculum within school-based agricultural education environments.

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Objective 2 Anticipated Contributors: Curry (Penn State), DiBenedetto (Clemson), Hasselquist (South Dakota State), McCubbins (Mississippi State), McKim (Michigan State), Myers (Florida), Smith (Idaho), Sorensen (Utah State), and Ulmer (Kansas State)

Objective 2: Teaching Methods and Techniques- Identify teaching methods, resources (facilities, equipment, materials, etc.), and instructional techniques currently utilized by agriscience teachers during exemplary agricultural STEM instruction. Objective two will be accomplished by employing both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Using purposive sampling, the team will generate an interview list of peer-identified exemplary teachers. Implementing both quantitative and qualitative methods will enable the research team to triangulate the data from multiple collection methods and obtain triangulated results about the topic for interpretation (Teddlie & Tashakkori, 2009). For example, the members of the multistate group will collaborate to examine how agriscience teachers effectively integrate agricultural STEM into their SBAE programs. Thereafter, we will use descriptive survey research to identify the resources (facilities, equipment, materials, etc.) used by agriscience teachers during exemplary agricultural STEM instruction.

Further, we will use the Levels of STEM Integration Rubric (Wang & Knobloch, 2018) to examine the degree of STEM integration in exemplary Agricultural STEM instruction. We will also examine how facilities influence exemplary Agricultural STEM instruction using the Agricultural Laboratories in Secondary Agricultural Education instrument (Shoulders & Myers, 2012b). Finally, we will describe effective Agricultural STEM teaching methods, resources, and techniques through qualitative content analysis, interviews, observations, and visual approaches. On a national scale, a survey was developed by a subset of S1071 multistate researchers utilizing the Framework for Agricultural STEM Education to capture the teaching methods, resources (facilities, equipment, materials, etc.), and techniques currently utilized by agricultural educators. In addition, the survey has agricultural educators identify exemplary STEM teachers within their state. Using these data, we can identify the methods, resources, and techniques utilized by agricultural educators identified by their peers as exemplary and juxtapose those findings to the general population of agriculture teachers. The instrument has been pilot tested once and is undergoing revision before being pilot tested again. 

 

Objective 3 Anticipated Contributors: Croom (Georgia), Curry (Penn State), DiBenedetto (Clemson), Hasselquist (South Dakota State), Myers (Florida), Smith (Idaho), Stofer (Florida), and Ulmer (Kansas State)

Objective 3 – Professional Development: Design and evaluate professional development related to agricultural STEM Education. Research designs for PD in agricultural education use quantitative and qualitative research methods to measure and assess professional educators' knowledge, skills, and dispositions to deliver authentic and compelling learning experiences. These learning experiences include the development of skills in pedagogy and technical subject matter content in the agricultural sciences. Members of the research team will design research to examine the form, frequency, intensity, and duration of PD experiences and conduct analyses to gauge the effectiveness of the experiences. Evidence of effective PD includes the measurable change in a teacher's classroom performance, the quality of teaching materials and reusable learning artifacts produced by the teacher, utilized from PD programs, and measurable student performance outcomes on formative and summative assessments. These methods allow the research team to analyze the gains in teacher knowledge and their readiness and willingness to adopt new teaching strategies based on specific PD experiences. The multistate research team will utilize quantitative research methods, including assessments of teachers' professional development learning experiences. Agricultural education teachers create teaching strategies and techniques grounded in education learning theories. Researchers will deploy studies grounded in, but not limited to, cognitive learning theory, social learning theory, and experiential learning theory. As proposed by Jean Piaget, cognitive learning theory examines the mental processes that influence learning and how internal and environmental elements influence learning (Flavell, 1963). Bandura's social learning theory proposes that students learn by interpreting observed behavior in others (Bandura, 1977). Researchers utilize this theory in constructing studies that examine how teachers help students develop positive learning behaviors in the classroom. The "learning by doing" model of agricultural education is explained thoroughly by Kolb's Experiential Learning Theory (Kolb, 2014).

 

Researchers rely on Kolb's Model to develop studies that examine how students learn through experience, how that experience influences the recall of information, and how students transfer and apply knowledge in new situations (Kolb, 2014). Quantitative methods also include using experimental research design in the social sciences, with control and experimental groups, to determine the effectiveness of training materials and the delivery of PD content. The research team may also include qualitative research methods with quantitative methods to answer questions that cannot be easily captured by quantitative means. A convergent, parallel mixed-methods design permits the research team to synthesize the results from separate quantitative and qualitative components during the interpretation of the results. This design will enable the team to confirm, cross-validate, or corroborate findings within various studies (Creswell & Clark, 2017). Qualitative methods will include primary data from interviews, program site visits, and document analysis. Bringing together strengths and weaknesses of the quantitative and qualitative nature will enable the research team to compare and contrast the quantitative results with the qualitative findings to develop a clearer picture of exemplary teaching techniques, student career readiness, and knowledge acquisition for both populations (Creswell & Clark, 2017).

Measurement of Progress and Results

Outputs

  • Distribution of validated practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas for secondary schools agriscience education programs (Obj. 1)
  • A public web site that includes past multistate research team accomplishments, related materials and results of past and current research and outreach (Obj. 1, 2, & 3)
  • Publication and dissemination of innovation configuration map for implementing an agriscience program (Obj. 3
  • Seminars, workshops, webinars, e-learning materials, and other delivery methods to disseminate research findings to stakeholders (teachers, teacher educators, school administrators, state leaders, industry partners) (Obj. 1 & 2)
  • Research-based outline of teaching methods, resources, and techniques currently utilized by exemplary teachers (Obj. 2)
  • Series of reports and research publications reflecting recommended practices outlining a framework for secondary schools agriscience education programs that emphasizes the STEM content in agriculture, resulting from the multistate team research and outreach efforts (Obj. 1, 2, & 3)

Outcomes or Projected Impacts

  • Increased awareness of the practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas included in the agriscience program (Obj. 1)
  • Modified secondary school curricula that include agriscience competencies focused on illuminating science concepts and disciplinary core ideas (Obj. 1)
  • Increased awareness of agricultural and STEM knowledge acquisition, agricultural STEM career interest, problem-solving ability, systems thinking, and individuals’ intention to engage in additional agricultural STEM learning (Obj. 1)
  • Increased teacher self-efficacy to apply inquiry-based instruction, problem-based learning models to elicit higher quality agriscience programs focused on the needs to prepare students for the 21st century, STEM-based industry (Obj. 2)
  • Clarification within the agricultural education profession of what constitutes high-quality agriscience programs (Obj. 3)
  • Long term – Increased student engagement in STEM careers, retention and recruitment of agriscience teachers (Obj. 3)

Milestones

(2023):Initially, release innovation configuration for adoption by state agriscience programs. (Obj. 1)

(2023):Conduct seminars to disseminate proposed practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. (Obj. 1)

(2023):Collaboration to develop a national study of local school educators regarding the extent to which the identified competencies are and should be part of the agriscience curriculum model. (Obj. 1)

(2025):Complete administration of nationwide survey which utilizes the Framework for Agricultural STEM Education to capture the teaching methods, resources (facilities, equipment, materials, etc.), and instructional techniques currently utilized by agricultural educators to agriscience teachers. Activities in support of the survey will also take place throughout 2023 & 2024. (Obj. 1)

(2024):Continually identify exemplary secondary school agriscience teachers and establish partnerships with the school districts of the exemplary teachers willing to participate in research. This activity will take place throughout the life of the project (Obj 2)

(2025):Conduct statewide classroom visits and observations of exemplary agriscience teachers. Activities in support of this activity will begin in the first year and continue through the life of the project. (Obj. 2)

(2026):Expand implementation to collect agricultural science student data at schools in states across the nation. This will continue into 2027. (Obj. 2)

(2027):Analyze data and identify teaching methods, resources, and techniques utilized by exemplary teachers. Though this will be completed in 2027, data analysis will be an ongoing activity throughout the life of the project. (Obj. 2)

(2023):Annually, design and implement high-quality professional development programs for agriscience teachers across the nation. Activities is support of this milestone will take place throughout the life of the project. (Obj. 3)

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Outreach Plan

To facilitate widespread adoption of the Curriculum Framework and Innovation Configuration Map, funding will be sought by subsets of members involved in the multistate research team to develop a variety of programs for dissemination to agriculture teacher educators and state staff. Collaborative research and outreach results will be disseminated to interested stakeholders through the project’s website, presentations at research conferences (i.e. American Association of Agricultural Education), refereed publications in research journals (i.e. Journal of Agricultural Education) and practitioner journals, the development of technical reports, and the delivery of workshops and seminars for both researchers and practitioners. High-quality professional development models will be utilized to deliver the information as outlined by previous multistate accomplishments for effective implementation. Effective professional development should increase teacher learning, change practice, and impact student achievement (Desimone, 2009; Guskey, 2002). Research has indicated that it is the features of the professional development, not the arrangement of the activities which indicate the outcomes of the future behaviors (Desimone, 2009). Five essential features are commonly agreed upon in the professional development community. The features include: (a) content focus, (b) active learning, (c) coherence, (d) duration, and (e) collective participation (Desimone, 2009, p. 183). To ensure high-quality participant experiences, PD conducted by the multistate team will utilize these five features.

Organization/Governance

An executive committee consisting of a chair, vice-chair, and three (3) other project members who will lead and form subcommittees for each objective will be established to maintain the direction of this project. The executive committee will meet quarterly (either face-to-face or via conference call) to assess progress. Further, an annual meeting of all participants will be held.

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Shoulders, C. W., & Myers, B. E. (2012a). Teachers’ use of experiential learning stages in agricultural laboratories. Paper presented at the Southern Region Association for Agricultural Education Meeting, Birmingham, AL. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1122268

 

Shoulders, C. W., & Myers, B. E. (2012b). Teachers’ use of agricultural laboratories in secondary agricultural education. Journal of Agricultural Education, 53(2), 124-138 https://doi.org/10.5032/jae.2012.02124

 

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Smith, K., & Rayfield, J. (2017). A quasi-experimental examination: cognitive sequencing of instruction using experimental learning theory for STEM concepts in agricultural education. Journal of Agricultural Education, 58(4), 175–191. https://doi.org/10.5032
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Stubbs, E. A., & Myers, B. E. (2016). Part of what we do: Teacher perceptions of STEM integration. Journal of Agricultural Education, 57(3), 87–100. https://doi.org/10.5032/
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Thoron, A. C., & Myers, B. E. (2010). Perceptions of preservice teachers toward integrating science into school-based agricultural education curriculum. Journal of Agricultural Education, 51(2), 70–80. http://www.jae-online.org/attachments/article/16/Thoron.pdf

 

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Washburn, S. G., & Myers, B. E. (2010). Agriculture teacher perceptions of preparation to integrate science and their current use of inquiry-based learning. Journal of Agricultural Education, 51(1), 88-98. https://doi.org/10.5032/jae.2010.01088

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