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June 21, 2007   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
June 21, 2007

Area Organization Director Tommy Martin, right, talks about catfish farming with Jennifer Collins, center, and Madonna Choat, teachers at Webster Elementary School in Colbert County. Ninety teachers attended the Ag in the Classroom Summer Institute where they watched tons of catfish as they were seined from a pond in Perry County.
TUSCALOOSA - Summertime means vacation time for many elementary school teachers in Alabama. But for 90 teachers who attended the annual Agriculture in the Classroom Summer Institute, it means an opportunity to hone their teaching skills and take new ideas into their classrooms next fall.

The oohs and ahs, smiles and laughter from teachers who participated in the institute in Tuscaloosa June 18-20 were a sure sign they liked what they learned.

Workshops included hands-on activities teachers can do with their students like making butter, chemical reactions used to make glue and arts and crafts projects used to demonstrate the water cycle and how plants grow.

Jennifer Collins teaches first grade at Webster Elementary School in Muscle Shoals in Colbert County. She said the institute was the best in-service program for teachers she's ever attended.

"Everything was interesting, and I learned a lot that I can actually take back and use in my classroom," she said. "We did a session on making a pig from a plastic jug. My class already does a lot of things with Charlotte's Web, so that will be a really neat activity to incorporate in my classroom.

"The most interesting thing we did was when we watched them seine the catfish ponds. I've had catfish to eat, but never really thought about how it gets to the restaurant. The whole process was so interesting to hear about, then to see them actually harvest the fish was very interesting." Jean Wyatt, a first-year, third-grade teacher from Centre Elementary in Cherokee County shared similar thoughts.

"I really enjoyed the catfish farm," Wyatt said. "It was really exciting to me. I never really thought about how they catch the catfish, and how they feed and take care of them."

Wyatt said the make-and-take workshops definitely are something she will use in her classroom next year.

"Since I've only been teaching one year, the make-and-take sessions will be very valuable. I especially liked the one involving the water cycle. That's something I can definitely use in my classroom. We also learned about different crops like cotton and soybeans, what they're used for and ways they're incorporated into our everyday lives. As a young teacher, I appreciate all the materials and ideas that I can take back and make my classroom more interesting. When students are interested, they learn more."

Both Wyatt and Collins said they plan to encourage other teachers they know to attend the institute next year.

"I've already thought of two teachers at my school who would really benefit from this program," Collins said. "I grew up around farms, but never realized how much we can incorporate agriculture into our classroom. This is a great program."

Alabama Farmers Federation Women's Division Director Kim Earwood is chairman of Alabama Agriculture in the Classroom. She said this year's summer institute was one of the best the organization has ever hosted.

"In addition to the workshops, teachers loved the farm tours," Earwood said. "They also witnessed first-hand how devastating this year's drought has been to our farmers. In addition to taking ideas back to their classrooms, I think they now have a genuine appreciation for our farmers and the jobs they do. Plus, I think the farmers we visited with are excited about teachers using agriculture as a way to teach science, math and other courses."

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