A case for CASE

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, April 30, 2014
High school teacher Zachary Morris laid out a relatively new agriculture curriculum to the West Liberty school board Monday, April 21.

Entitled the Curriculum for Agriculture Science Education, or CASE, it's a hands-on method for teaching agriculture he has recently begun employing in the classroom.

"I will not lecture more than 10 minutes during any classroom period," said Morris, "In 10 minutes I introduce the overall concepts... then they apply it hands-on, in a lab, or an inquiry based project."

Basically, the program emphasizes the "doing" aspect of agriculture, shifting from the traditional lectures in the classroom to real life proactive and critical thinking.

For instance, students don't just learn when to plant a seed. They learn how to plant it, how it grows and how it responds to the environment through a series of hands-on projects.

Each class period they break into groups and participate in interactive lessons inside and outside the classroom, using the latest equipment and technology.

"We're now seeing peer discussions," said Morris, "We're seeing all those individual discussions and it's not all teacher centered, it's student centered, and that's where the learning really takes place."

At the same time, the entire curriculum is mapped out online for students and teachers, with daily lessons and suggestions. There's no need for a textbook.

CASE is field tested by teachers, all of which have gone through it themselves in order to get certified in its various fields, including Morris.

He emphasized that this new way of learning not only helps his students retain knowledge, but practice all the tools needed to stay on par with national and state standards.

"Every single lesson, every single assessment, every single power point is aligned with the Common Core in math and science and the English language arts," said Morris.

The program is layered in such a way that each lesson builds upon the last, meaning students need to remember what happened in order to continue.

Because of its interactive nature, there aren't written finals in any of Morris' classes in the traditional sense. Rather they do a project or presentation representing the fruits of all they have learned over the year.

For every lesson there is either an activity, project or problem, with all materials needed and information listed online.

For activities Morris gives them a little bit of instruction and then lets them go, working with the groups one on one when they need it. For projects they take all those activities and apply it to a subject that interests them.

"Then we have problems like open inquiry where I say that, like at the end of our soil unit, you have these materials…you need to create a lab and demonstrate some sort of soil erosion," said Morris.

According to him this prepares students for the full circle of college, the involvement not typically talked about in high school, such as labs and internships.

However, the equipment isn't cheap. CASE is not a required curriculum, in fact, it’s pretty new in the world of learning. Therefore, the tools and materials needed for its interactive nature aren't funded by the school.

Most of it is bought through the $45,000 worth of grants written by Morris. There are more than thirty types of sensors, several kinds of bio-chambers and other tools similar to industry standards. On top of that, seeds and yearly materials are needed.

"There has been a lot of money that's been going into this idea and this process," said Morris. "I probably have $25,000 worth of technology down in my room, and I plan to add more because it's a good supplement."

"I refuse to stand up there for 50 minutes," he added. "It's just not doing my kids any good at all."

To him traditional teaching methods just don't do it for agriculture. While viable for other fields, animal and plant science needs to be hands-on.

CASE challenges students in a new way. For those that see the world in black and white, they must accept that there can be several answers. It requires cooperation, thinking and a will to learn. It also encourages good behavior.

"I have had to send zero kids to the office this year, I have had to kick zero students out of the classroom," said Morris. "The on task behavior is exceptional, it's unbelievable."
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