A New Look at an Established Industry
Agriculture Tourism, a combination of two of Alberta's top industries, presents the growing number of people living in the city with the opportunity to experience rural Alberta. Events such as Farmers' Markets, farm tours, agriculture festivals or fairs, country vacation farms and market gardens are examples of agriculture tourism where people have the opportunity to learn more about life outside the city.
Agriculture tourism is especially effective in helping to inform young people about where their food originates and the important work done by people at each stage of food production. To date, much of this teaching is done informally by parents taking their children to agriculture tourism events.
Formal education (K-12) presents a relatively new opportunity for agriculture tourism. While the Classroom Agriculture Program has been highly successful in coming into classrooms across the province to talk to students, it is not always a simple process for teachers to take students out of the classroom to learn about agriculture. This is where producers and ag tourism operators can play an important role in broadening student awareness and understanding of agriculture.
Alberta teachers are required to follow the official Programs of Study which specifies what they are required to teach. For example, in Social Studies there are agriculture-specific topics that require teachers to teach children about the industry. However, in other subjects, it can be difficult for teachers without personal connections to rural Alberta to find ways to bring their students, curriculum and agriculture together at the same time.
Educational Agriculture Tourism provides an excellent way to combine educational requirements in many subject areas with Agriculture Tourism to give meaningful and educational first-hand rural experiences to students. Experiences that children might otherwise never have. This document is intended to help ag tourism operators assess the possibility of attracting school groups to their farms. The focus below is on formal K-12 education in Alberta. There are also further opportunities possible in attracting groups such as play schools, scout and guide groups and families where the formal curriculum is not such a critical issue yet the same activities can still be used.
If you are interested in exploring the possibility of hosting school groups, several key considerations are listed below. There are also links to more information which will assist you in creating exciting, memorable, field trips for children.
How to Connect with Provincial Curriculum
Curriculum fit is the most important concern for teachers as they plan educational activities and lessons.
It is important to look for multiple ways to connect your activities to the Alberta curriculum. And it is a bonus if you can tie each activity to requirements in several subjects such as math, physical education, science, social studies, language arts, music or art. Also, think about how one activity might be modified in order to appeal to students at different grade levels.
An overview of the Alberta programs of study can be found on the Alberta Education site. As you read these documents, think about how your farm could help teachers provide students with unique learning experiences. Alberta Education also has curriculum summaries for parents that provide a clear summary of specific topics for all grade levels.
Talk to friends who are teachers. They can become an informal focus group and a major asset as you put your ideas together. Ask them how they think your trip connects to specific learning requirements.
Determine which curriculum topics your activities are designed to meet, and then be ready to show teachers how this will help them teach. This will help attract teachers to your farm!
Check school district requirements for field trips. Alberta Education provides links to contact information for all school districts in the province.
Have fun when exploring the potential of your operation! You are an expert in a vital industry. Share your passion for farming!
For example, animal tracking and astronomy can be tied to grade 6 science. Many junior high classes are now learning to use GPS units and you could develop geo-caching sites around your farm. Teachers can tie physical education to an agricultural setting through skiing, skating, tobogganing, cycling, and cross country running. A variety of nature awareness games can also be conducted in an agricultural setting. Outdoor cooking and other camping skills go well with outdoor education lessons. Be creative in sharing your love of the land. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination!
Build on Best Practices in Agricultural Tourism
Alberta Agriculture and Food has a wealth of information regarding how to get started in agri-tourism.
The Ag-Info Centre in Stettler can be reached at 310-FARM (3276). There you will find people to help with your business planning.
For ideas about how to structure lessons, check out lesson plans and web links at Alberta Agriculture and Food's Ag Education page.
Teacher Professional Development
Teachers are always looking for new ideas that will improve their skills. Teacher training is a useful way to start the educational process. As teachers come to a greater understanding of agriculture, they are able to pass this on to their students in everyday lessons back in the classroom.
The Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) plays a major role in teacher training and professional development. They offer ongoing conferences and workshops that are essentially educational trade shows where teachers learn about novel ideas and exciting new ways to teach. The ATA has a list of teachers' conventions in each region. Key dates and contact information is included on this site. You can book booth space at these conferences to advertise what you offer teachers, or you could even present workshops. Some conventions even provide teachers with field trip opportunities where they have a chance to experience hands on learning just like their students.
ATA Specialist Councils are another very useful way to reach teachers. Specialist councils are made up of teachers who have expertise and interest in specific subjects. Teachers attending these conferences are experts who often quickly see the potential in new ideas. Contact information can be found on each council site. Information about dates and locations of upcoming conferences is also included.
The Beginning Teachers' Conference brings new teachers together each fall.
For more information, contact Barnett House in Edmonton at 780-447-9400, or toll free in Alberta at 1-800-232-7208.
Summer can be a great time to reach local teachers. Offering familiarization tours for teachers at a time when the demands of the classroom are set aside can help you develop solid connections for the upcoming school year. The teachers will develop a comfort level with you and your farm that will give them confidence to bring out students during the school year.
Teachers planning school staff meetings, team building activities, socials and retreats often look for new and exciting places to gather. Contact local schools to make them aware of ways you might help them prepare a memorable gathering.
Networking Within Schools
Teachers who have visited your operation will share their discoveries with co-workers. These teachers are also prospective clients. Contact teachers you know or their school's office staff to help you arrange a time to speak to other teachers about what you offer.
If teachers attend Aggie Days, AMAZE-ing Agriculture, or a similar agriculture education event in your area, suggest ways that your operation can strengthen and extend that learning.
Connect with other ag tourism operators in the area to see if you can work together to offer teachers a full and varied field trip opportunity. This could include stops at public sites such as local museums or agriculture related businesses, and then a farm visit could build on that information.
Provide local maps and a list of phone numbers of agriculture operators in the area to make it as easy as possible for teachers to reach key people.
Some things to think about:
- Signage at key intersections
- Finding, training and retaining staff that are comfortable working with children is both important and challenging.
- First aid training for staff along with cell phones or radio for them to stay in touch with emergency help is essential to an emergency plan.
- Washroom facilities, hand sanitation stations, drinking water and shelter to protect children from both rain and sun help make the field trip an enjoyable and memorable experience.
Field trip funding is a major concern for teachers.
Financial support for transportation would go a long way to encouraging teachers to take that all-important first trip to the country. Talk to your local agriculture society and agriculture businesses about the possibility of cooperating to sponsor transportation for classes taking agriculture tours.
The internet is a fantastic tool for ag tourism operators. For example, it can provide tips to save you the trouble of rediscovering ways of working with groups of children. Some European farms have been doing this work for years and sites like Farms For Schools also has useful checklists that reflect their experience.
Ask visiting teachers for copies of lesson plans or activity ideas that you can share with other teachers. Be sure to give credit to the teacher who developed the idea!
Conduct trial runs of your activities to check timing, equipment, and employees and to uncover unexpected bugs in the plans.
Set up a pre-trip meeting or telephone call with the teacher. Review any questions either of you have about:
- activities and timing of events
- behaviour expectations
- appropriate clothing for the students given the expected weather
- modifications for special needs students
- supervisor-student ratios depending on student age and experience
- medical considerations such as allergies
- language or cultural needs of the students
Contact the teachers after the trip to find out what worked best and what might need slight changes.
Ask for feedback from parents and students also. Their responses give you a valuable way to assess your program and provide testimonials to help you attract future visitors.
Set up self-guided activities if the teachers have their own plans for the facility. A scavenger hunt using GPS is one example.