I am in Des Moines, Iowa for the National Agriscience Integration Institute through Thursday. That's a big fancy name that basically means I, along with two other individuals involved in Ag Ed from Arizona, are here to develop a plan to integrate more Agriscience in our state. You may ask, how did I stumble upon this involvement? I will tell you...even though you probably weren't really wondering that.
Three years ago I applied to be a part of the National Agriscience Teacher Ambassador Academy; it was a phenomenal experience that literally changed the face of my approach to teaching. The entire focus of the original conference was to learn how to integrate more Agriscience instruction into agriculture classrooms through the use of Inquiry Based Instruction (IBI). The "Ambassador" part of the title came along with the expectation that we would return to our home states as reformed teachers, prepared to persuade our colleagues about this new and much better philosophy as an additional tool for our toolbox. That's all well and good until the rubber met the road.
Though I thought I understood my role three years ago, actually rolling out the plan became a bit more tricky. How do I, as one teacher, start a cascade effect among my colleagues about the importance of incorporating this method of teaching (inquiry)? To make it an even more dynamic problem, how do I affect change on the university level so that new Ag teachers have also been instructed about how to use this method?
And Wa-La, we have the creation of the current conference that I am attending this week. Operationally defined, each team of three from 11 different states, including the Great State of Arizona, will work as a team to develop a plan to integrate Inquiry Based Instruction (IBI) in their respective home states. For those of you not involved in agricultural education or education at all, there's a lot of gobblety-gook vocabulary that I am throwing around. To boil it down though we are trying to provide teachers of all experience levels with a new method of teaching. We aren't asking them to throw out everything they have and start over; we are asking them to incorporate this method slowly. Methodically. Purposefully.
Inquiry based instruction can literally TRANSFORM the learning in a classroom. Students are forced to take ownership of their learning, and suddenly their learning becomes much more meaningful. In inquiry based instruction, there is a continuum of both student self-direction and direction from a teacher. The teacher simply must provide appropriate amounts of information and context to place students at an appropriate place on the continuum that allows them to inquire or investigate from there. Teachers change hats and become facilitators for awhile, then change hats again and provide additional context for what they students have discovered. It's a really interesting approach to learning that I hopefully will continue to utilize more in my own classroom.
With that said I want to elaborate a bit on the title of this post; I did not know exactly what to expect coming into "part two" of this conference series. I fully understood that inquiry based instruction was at the heart of both, but I did not know that we would be developing strategic action plans to incorporate this method into our home states. I was able to participate in and observe some brilliant conversations today that revolved around how individuals become agents of change and the difficulties they may encounter. As Arizona's only "official" (I use that term loosely) Agriscience Ambassador, I have been given a huge opportunity to influence the introduction of this methodology on a state-wide approach. I am really excited to see what unfolds through the work of our team over this next week.
I realize that pedagogy and teaching philosophy probably don't rock your world as much as they do mine. I am glad I can share my excitement through this blog though, and am even more excited to see my own passion for teaching grow. I entered this career three years ago with some huge strings attached about how long I would teach and why I was teaching. God has been so faithful though; in three years I have become increasingly thankful for this profession, my colleagues and especially my students. My interest in the science and art of teaching continually grows as well, and I aspire to better myself as a professional. And now, as I prepare to enter year four I am excited to see how God continues to use me as an Agent of Change in more ways than one.