How To Plan And Prepare For A New Ag Ed Course You Know Nothing About

February 16, 2015

It seems every Ag teacher I know has been "given" a new class to teach that is not only out of their comfort zone, but totally out in left field from their realm of knowledge.  Once you make it through the initial 5 stages of loss and grief, or at least most of the way usually after Denial and Anger subside, then step up and use this guide to organize your thoughts and make the course you would want to teach. 


1.  If you aren't on Pinterest.  Do that right now.  No really. Pinterest is not just for crafts and hobbies. It is a gold mine of ideas.  So create a board just for this subject.  For our example, let's choose "Plant Science".


2.  On Pinterest, start searching for Ag teachers you know. They are out there, I promise - I currently follow over 2,400 teachers. See what class related boards they have. Follow those and search "Pins" for various areas of plant science.  You are looking for specific ideas, such as:

  • 12 different house plants that are easy to propagate
  • How to make a greenhouse with recycled materials
  • Germinating seed labs
  • Phototropism and gravitropism
  • Monocots and dicots

       You want specific ideas that you want to cover and students need to understand. 


3.  If you have a textbook, then use it to find what topics are covered and try to find activities on Pinterest that will get you out of the book and into the lab as quickly as possible.

4.  Don't worry about state/national standards yet.  Focus on the content you want to learn and the students need to know.  You'll find that once you have an abundance of topics, then you'll see that many of them will cover the broad standards required by the government.   

5.  Once you have a group of subjects and follow a nice group of people, then start getting more specific.  Look for new and different ways to teach each subject.  I've seen ideas where students place lima beans in wet paper towels and place them in old CD cases so that they can watch them germinate through the clear plastic.  That's a low prep, very cheap lab that gives a hands-on way to teach germination.

6.  Now that you have ideas and activities for your ideas, then start fleshing out your units on an index card or envelope.  You want quick and simple.  Don't spend time on detail or a lot of decision making.  Write the lessons you want to cover for that unit and set the card down.  Not much room for detail and that's great.  That means you'll finish each unit quickly.

7.  Don't feel like you have to use all the ideas anywhere closely related to germination together in the same unit.  You may cover the tropisms in another unit in the following month.  This will allow you review germination as a part of tropisms.  Reinforcing content is key, but use similar lessons spaced throughout the year to reinforce without having the "Reviewing germination from week 3" day.  That's not nearly as exciting as making mazes for your lima beans to navigate for phototropism.  Plus, while working the lab you ever so subtly discuss how the seed is germinating without saying "Hey lets review germination and dampen the good vibe going on this lab!"

8.  The unit plans should tie together into a course outline that you need to create on the back of an envelope.  Yep that's right.  Forget perfect or pretty, you want Done.  Accomplish the task of making the course outline in a very brief form on a napkin or index card first.  So it shouldn't take long because you do not have room to get wordy.  Once you have this quick outline, then you can expand where you want onto a Word document. 

9. Now, unfortunately, you are to the point that you must accomplish two things:  tie these lessons to state/federal standards and flesh out the lesson plans to keep the administrators happy.  Stay with the notecard/envelope method.  Keep this task simple to begin with.  So you can roll through a bunch of the lessons without getting bogged down in the details. 

10.  Essentially you are done.  Keep checking Pinterest for more and better ideas.  Don't discredit ideas from Elementary grade teachers. Often you can take a fairly simple idea and scale it up for older students. Take pictures of your labs and activities pin them for others facing what you are facing now. 

You can do this without a ton of effort or gray hair.  Use faculty meetings to jot down notes on your cards or any other spare minutes you have in your day.  Don't let down time be your dead time.  Accomplish this project in these spare moments so that you don't have to agonize over this project on your weekends.