AgriEducation – Using Inquiry to Create a Farmer’s Market of Student Learning

“The plowman is broad as the back of the land he is sowing
As he dances the circular track of the plow ever knowing
That the work of his day measures more than the planting and growing
Let it grow, let it grow, greatly yield”
“Let it Grow” – The Grateful Dead
John Perry Barlow and Bob Weir – Songwriters

We want our students to contribute to their communities by sharing their ideas, goals, interests and solutions through public demonstrations of learning to authentic audiences. To do that, students need to explore and select appropriate content that is important to them, not us, and it should reflect their best ideas and work after careful exploration. Ryan McClintock shared with me his vision of SEEDS – simple terms that might inspire students to explore their worlds without mandating specific academic content. It inspired my AgriEducation Vision.

Selecting the Seed

Students begin by exploring different SEEDS in an attempt to find the exact variety that drives an interest. We accomplish this through a process of student-directed inquiry led by academic advisors. These advisors are not selected by academic content; instead, advisors are randomly assigned to lead the session. The hope is that students themselves will ask questions that explode that SEED into its many varieties. For example: IDENTITY

  • Science:
    What role does DNA play in who we are?
    How did we evolve into the humans we are today?
    How are genes different than DNA?
    Does GMO change the identity of a plant?
    How do individual species play important roles in an ecosystem?
  • Social Studies:
    How does a culture impact our identities?
    What is the difference between Nurture and Nature in developing identity?
    How do external labels and stereotypes impact identity?
    Does our geographical location impact who we become?
  • English Language Arts:
    Do books/stories impact how individuals develop identity?
    How does fiction reflect social acceptance of those who are “different”?
    Can fiction create change in people?
  • Art:
    How do self-portraits illustrate an artist’s identity?
    How can artists show identity in their art?
    How have artistic movements represented or impacted identity?
  • Math:
    Why are shapes important?
    (I know they are there, but I don’t know what they mean – trigonometric, logarithmic, exponential identities…)

These are all simply varieties of the same SEED. Let them choose and explore. In a dream world, let them participate in the inquiry process for several SEEDS before choosing an appropriate SEED for themselves.

Planting the Appropriate Seed

Students plant the SEED and care for the SEED and soil until it germinates into a seedling. Students begin by writing an Essential Question based on the inquiry session. They share their question to the group in order to illicit additional questions from their peers. John Buch and Shaun Martin stress the importance of being questioned in order to create a better question. (A future post on questioning?)

  • “How does culture impact our identity?”
    What is culture?
    Who determines the identity – the person or the culture?
    What if the identity is negative by cultural standards?
    Do all culture act the same regarding individuals?
    Which culture will you examine?
    Will you look at multiple cultures? Multiple identities in that culture?

After these sessions, students will work with their advisor to create a specific and “perfected” Essential Question to plant and nurture. The student will work directly with the advisor to plan and carry out their work – individualized project management. Teachers sounding boards to help students find the content mentors in the building to assist them. They will also co-create a plan for sharing their knowledge with their peers in order to contribute to the learning environment. Lastly, students will predict and share how one might harvest this knowledge in order to contribute to their communities beyond the school – how they might use this knowledge to solve a real problem and share with an authentic audience.

This is learning.

Sharing the Germination

After a short but intense period of time learning, students will share their seedlings with others who planted a variety of the same SEED. Instead of content experts showing students the interconnectedness of knowledge, students will share with each other. This is a time to practice formal communication and providing feedback and reflecting on their own learning. (Formally Informal if you will).

They contribute to the knowledge base of their academic community and share how that knowledge might help their communities – offering new ideas to their peers and finding a seedling they might like to nurture to full Harvest. Once students share their knowledge, they do not own it. It becomes collective knowledge where anyone is free to apply it.

At this point, students begin by selecting a new SEED to plant while they may also decide to Harvest another. A slow progression to growing multiple crops in the same bed, all in different stages of development.

Nurturing the Harvest

In order to survive and benefit others, seedlings must be nurtured and harvested. Students can choose the knowledge that inspires them, and apply that knowledge to solve a real problem. A seedling is a core idea – after studying, sharing, listening and providing feedback, students may choose to graft seedlings together in order to better their community.

After learning about DNA and Genetics, the power of labels and stereotypes, and how literature can change how identities can be accepted, a student may decide to write a children’s story about a group being labeled negatively in their community in an attempt to educate young children.

While student learning happens during the germination of ideas, here students can create lasting impact by applying elemental knowledge to accomplish real work. See Will Richardson’s thoughts on that. They may never choose their own seedling to harvest – that is okay. Either way, they explore to create something monumental.

Selling the Bounty

We do want our students solving real problems for real people and presenting them to authentic audiences. This is our Farmer’s Market. Students can “sell” their ideas, their solutions, to people who might be able to help them do just that. While no guarantee of success, students can publicly show their bounty – claim their ideas and solutions – share their knowledge – accept the questions and praises – change their world.

Too often their ideas remain locked within the walls of a single classroom, with only a teacher to examine the merits of their hard work. I am not the purveyor of all great work. They need to reactions and feedback of those invested in the same problems that fascinate them.

It’s not impossible to envision a school – a public school – that honors this kind of learning. If given a chance, what SEED would you plant and harvest?