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Four Illinois agriculture educators, including Dr. Andrew Baker from WIU's School of Ag, participated in the National Agriscience Integration Institute (NAII) this summer. According to the NAII sponsor, DuPont and Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., the institute is a special project of the National FFA Foundation and is "designed to promote and enhance inquiry-based science in environmental and agricultural education programs while supporting students to attain science and national agriculture content standards." Pictured are: Baker, professor, WIU School of Agriculture (ag education); Heather Obert, ag teacher at Dakota High School (Dakota, IL); Andrew Thoron, University of Illinois, assistant professor of agricultural education (Urbana-Champaign, IL); and Jess Smithers, district three Facilitating Coordination in Agricultural Education (FCAE) field adviser (Springfield, IL). Photo courtesy of Andrew Baker.
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School of Ag's Baker and Agriscience Educators Take Part in Natl. Agriscience Institute

September 16, 2010


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MACOMB, IL --This fall semester, Andrew Baker, professor in Western Illinois University's School of Agriculture, is employing new instructional methodologies for his students studying agricultural education and to be ag teachers. After taking part in the National Agriscience Integration Institute (NAII) this summer (June 27-July 1), he and a group of fellow agriscience-education colleagues in Illinois are among several U.S. educators participating in a new endeavor between education and the agriculture industry to enhance agriscience education. According to the NAII sponsor, DuPont and Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. (a DuPont business), the institute is a special project of the National FFA Foundation and is "designed to promote and enhance inquiry-based science in environmental and agricultural education programs while supporting students to attain science and national agriculture content standards."

In a DuPont and Pioneer Hi-Bred press release, Larry Gossen, NAII manager and senior team leader for state relations with the National FFA, identified the goals of the NAII program: "The first goal of this program is to better integrate inquiry-based instruction into agriscience programs. Using a hands-on, real-life approach to learning science with agriculture as the content sets this program apart from any other. Our second goal is to bring together a team of higher education faculty and state leadership along with our agriscience teachers to create a plan for inquiry-based programs in their state."

Gossen added the NAII -- in its second year -- hosts 10 states annually, utilizing the team agriculture education concept. Baker and his agriscience education team members -- Heather Obert, ag teacher at Dakota High School (Dakota, IL); Andrew Thoron, University of Illinois, assistant professor of agricultural education (Urbana-Champaign, IL); and Jess Smithers, district three Facilitating Coordination in Agricultural Education (FCAE) field adviser (Springfield, IL) -- traveled to Johnston (IA), Pioneer headquarters, for the five-day institute in late June, a few months after the team was assembled.

"Jess applied for our team to attend, and he then organized the team, once our team was accepted to attend. While at the conference, the participating teams had to devise a state plan to try to integrate the inquiry-based instruction, or IBI, concept into the state instructional methods. So, we had to develop a plan and an integration plan for the entire state. We decided we would focus our efforts on beginning teachers in Illinois," Baker explained.

He noted that his team already has several activities planned for this year's academic calendar and added that the attendance at the conference has empowered the team to carry out the plan.

"We are presenting at the Illinois Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers (IAVAT) Student Branch Workshop on Friday, Oct. 1 and Saturday, Oct. 2 at the University of Illinois, as well as at the Beginning Teachers Workshop Friday, Oct. 8 and Saturday, Oct. 9 in Springfield [IL]," Baker said. "We also plan on integrating the IBI concept at the IAVAT Student Branch Workshop when Western hosts the conference in February 2011. The team is currently developing a workshop planned for the IAVAT summer conference, as well. We are very excited about sharing our knowledge with educators in Illinois."

In addition to working on a wide-ranging plan for the state, Baker said attending the conference enables him to demonstrate and present a new form of instructional methodology to his students (who are studying to be agriscience teachers) and help them develop necessary problem-solving skills, so they can instruct their future students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers.

"At the NAII, we were actively engaged in the IBI concept. We were taught how to integrate this concept into the classroom, and we were assigned several lab activities, which we have been able to take home and put into practice. The IBI concept is not centered on the idea of a student just getting the right answer; it is about the process the student goes through to get from point A to point B. It focuses on how students can acquire problem-solving skills. I see one of the goals of the program as being able to develop students who are excited about science and who will be prepared with problem-solving skills for the many agriscience-based employment opportunities available now and in the future. We need more scientists," Baker said.

He added that having the opportunity to participate in the NAII provided him the chance to be engaged in cutting-edge educational concepts, as well as build his own skills, so he can help prepare his agricultural education students for the changing and increasingly technologically and scientifically advanced agriculture industry.

"The NAII was an exceptional conference to attend. It gave me an opportunity to be involved in a conference that developed my own skill set as a teacher and take part in a valuable collaboration between education and industry, which, hopefully, will help agriscience education in Illinois prepare students for the many opportunities in the agriculture industry."

According to the DuPont/Pioneer Hi-Bred release, NAII is an extension of the National Agriscience Teacher Ambassador Academy (NATAA) held annually in July at the DuPont-owned Chesapeake Farms, Chestertown (MD). The academy is a professional development program through which agriculture teachers learn new inquiry-based teaching techniques to improve science learning. The learning is reflected through improved student scores (performance) on standardized science tests. All NATAA ambassadors are invited to be a part of NAII training when their state is invited.

"Three or more persons make up a state team, including at least one agriscience teacher ambassador, a teacher educator and a state education staff person. Because of the size of the teams and the customized approach of the program, a maximum of 10 state teams are accepted each year. It is hoped that agriculture teachers and state education officials from all 50 states will be covered in the next five years. Teams from Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mississippi, Arizona, Maine, Virginia, Rhode Island, Alabama, Kentucky and New Jersey attended the 2010 program," stated the DuPont release.

For more information, contact Baker at (309) 298- 1246 or AJ-Baker@wiu.edu. Learn more about WIU's School of Agriculture at www.wiu.edu/ag/. For more information about the NAII, contact Tara C. Stewart at (302) 774-4335 or at Tara.c.stewart@usa.dupont.com.

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg (WIUNews@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations