Angela Eyth’s math classes had a new twist last school year. On top of the usual standardized test prep and lessons on multiplication, students learned about growing apples, making cider, dairy farming and beekeeping.
They got to try their hand at spinning wool. They also built bluebird houses.
“They didn’t just learn facts,” she said. “They were able to take what they learned and apply it to their daily lives. They analyzed things. They internalized these new experiences.”
Eyth’s unique approach earned her recognition as Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s 2020 Teacher of the Year. Eyth is a fourth grade math teacher at Summit Elementary School, in Butler County.
She received a $250 cash prize, a cash voucher for classroom supplies and a scholarship to attend the 2021 National Ag in the Classroom Conference, in Iowa. The runner-up was Wendy Stoner, a first grade teacher at Conewago Township Elementary School, in Adams Township.
The award is presented annually to a teacher who has participated in the Pennsylvania Friends of Agriculture’s Educator’s Ag Institute. The institute is a weeklong program hosted in State College.
It’s a combination of farm tours, hands on activities and lectures meant to teach non-ag teachers more about the industry and give them ideas for how to incorporate ag and environmental science into their classrooms, said Charlene Espenshade, executive director of the Pennsylvania Friends of Agriculture Foundation.
Eyth attended the institute during the summer of 2019, at the urging of her principal. It was unexpectedly life changing, she said.
She’d been teaching for 28 years in the same building. Eyth taught kindergarten for 14 years and fourth grade for another 14 years. The ag institute made her see her classroom through new eyes.
Each month of the next school year, she planned a different lesson and activity connected with agriculture or environmental science. She worked with Amy Metrick, the county’s Pennsylvania State University Extension youth educator, to connect with different resources in the local agricultural community.
They adopted a calf, named Bingo, through Discover Dairy’s Adopt a Cow program from Zahncroft Dairy, in Womlersdorf, Pennsylvania. They got video updates about the calf’s growth through the year and had a virtual chat with the farmers in April.
Each month, Eyth created a display for the main hallway of the school to correspond with what they were learning in the class, so the entire school could be involved.
She noticed her students were paying much more attention to the world around them. They discussed what type of apples they had in their school lunches.
Eyth was just about to start an after-school agriculture club in March when the pandemic hit and schooling went remote. Even though they weren’t together, the students continued to think about the things they learned in Eyth’s class.
“The whole time we’re remote, my kids are giving me updates about the birds,” she said. The conversation during online classes would often turn to what birds were inhabiting the birdhouses they’d built.
They talked about what the birds were doing, what color their feathers were and other birds they would see outside, like Baltimore orioles. One student even did extra research and worked with his father to build a feeder specifically for Baltimore orioles.
“I had kids who would still email me over the summer and give me updates on the birds,” she said.
She’s continuing to incorporate agriculture into her class in the same way this year, although she’s had to adapt this year as schools grapple with how to deal with the pandemic.
They just adopted another calf through the Discover Dairy program. Eyth shared the birth announcement over video chat with her students. They made guesses as to how much weight the calf would gain over the next couple of months, and the students had to give reasoning for their predictions. Then they looked at three different routes from the school to the dairy.
“We figured out how long it would take to get there on these different routes,” she said. They discussed average speeds you could drive on scenic back roads with traffic versus the interstate.
“You can bring in so many things even with a math background,” she said.
(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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