Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom builds interest with virtual field trips, online activities


Groups of kids pile on a yellow bus with excitement and anticipation on their faces as they await their destination. While this field trip scene may not be possible for quite some time due to the ongoing pandemic, there are virtual field trips and other alternative activities that teachers can use to keep students engaged in their classrooms.

Whether Illinois educators are teaching their classes in-person, virtually or a combination of the two, Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom (IAITC) continues to offer free, educational resources that support teachers and their students.

The Illinois Center for Agricultural Engagement’s IAITC program has worked to bring agriculture into the state’s curriculum since 1981. In a typical year, the program works through local ag literacy coordinators to offer hands-on learning activities and educational resources that teachers can integrate into their classrooms.

This year, however, the coronavirus changed the way many teachers are working with their students, prompting programs like IAITC to develop new, online education tools for teachers to use this fall.

The program’s lineup of activities includes virtual field trips, hosted over Zoom, which teachers can sign their classes up to attend. Each experience is also recorded and housed on the IAITC website for later viewing. So far, the program has taken students to the Brookfield Zoo, an apple orchard and a pumpkin patch in Illinois. Teachers interested in joining next month’s look inside a pig farm with Bruce Brinkman Farms in Monroe County on Nov. 5 can sign up for the virtual field trip at https://iaitc.co/fieldtrips.

Other online resources include a series of virtual interviews with ag book authors, weekly featured classroom lessons and interactive activities designed for students learning at home.

Mary Zumwalt, a fourth-grade teacher at Altamont Lutheran School, has watched all of the virtual field trips and author interviews with her class. After each activity, her students journal about what they have learned and share their thoughts during group discussions.

“Even though we aren't able to do field trips outside school, this way of doing field trips using Ag in the Classroom’s virtual resources has been amazing,” said Zumwalt.

IAITC also offers opportunities for teachers in need of professional development hours. These monthly workshops, called “PD in Your PJs,” provide educators with the tools to develop lessons that meet various state learning standards and center around different ag topics each month.

“My team and I, along with our ag literacy coordinators, are working hard to stay connected with teachers while finding new and meaningful ways to maintain outreach with local students,” said Illinois Center for Agricultural Engagement Director Kevin Daugherty.

While everyone has been impacted by the global pandemic, agriculture education in Illinois remains a priority.

Recent gifts to support the IAITC program include a $90,000 donation from the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and a $70,000 donation from the Illinois Soybean Association. An additional $170,000 donation was collectively contributed by the Illinois Farm Bureau family of companies, which includes COUNTRY Financial, GROWMARK and Prairie Farms Dairy. These funds allow IAITC to offer programs and supplies at no cost to educators across the state.

“We know our educators have a lot to worry about right now,” said Daugherty. “We’re committed to providing teachers, students and families with the resources they need to keep students engaged in learning.”

For more information about IAITC resources, visit www.beyondthebarndoor.wordpress.com or contact your local ag literacy coordinator.

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