5 Ways to Engage Today’s Agriculture Students

By Emily Kuhn

You may have noticed that there are some unique differences between the Generation Z students that sit in your agriculture classroom today and the millennials you previously taught. Today’s students are even more tech-savvy, can multi-task even faster and, if you can believe it, have an even shorter attention span than their predecessors. They read less than 20% of text; think in 4D, not 3D; and are used to immediate feedback.[1]

The standard classroom model where an educator stands in front of the class and lectures simply doesn’t work for these students. Generation Z students want to be successful – in fact, the desire to change the world is a hallmark of this generation – but they will disengage with the discussion if they don’t feel connected or if they don’t see the relevance.

Did I mention that Generation Z students are used to immediate feedback? Current technology has made them used to finding out anything, anytime, anywhere – the world is literally at their fingertips. Today’s agriculture students don’t just want to hear about a topic, they want to see it, touch it and feel it.

How do you engage today’s students in agriculture education?

1. Replace lengthy PowerPoint presentations with brief presentations that incorporate polls, activities and hands-on demonstrations every few slides.

2. Use videos, online activities and group work in addition to the textbook. By varying their focus, you’ll help keep it.

3. Use hands-on learning aids like our new Animal Models and Plant Science Models. These larger-than-life models can be taken apart and put back together as students explore each animal’s internal and external anatomy.

4. Don’t forget that “Why” is as important as “What.” As one of my colleagues recently informed me, Generation Z students need to know that what they’re learning is relevant, and by answering the “Why” question with evidence-based reasoning before teaching the “How,” you’ll assure them that the concept you’re about to teach applies to real life.

5. Incorporate soft skill development whenever possible. Your students will come to you with a varying degree of these skills, but you know all employers will look for them. Collaborative work helps build communication skills, assignment tweaks and activity changes help build flexibility, open-ended questions help build problem-solving skills and reflection activities help build critical thinking skills. (Our Employability Skills Program can help, too.)

With nearly 60,000 high-skilled agriculture and related job openings expected annually in the U.S. over the next five years, it’s more important than ever to ensure that today’s agriculture students are engaged. By creating an interactive, hands-on learning environment where they can engage in active learning opportunities, you’re setting your students up for success.

[1] https://growingleaders.com/blog/six-defining-characteristics-of-generation-z/

Upgraded Recently? How to Assess the New Features of RealCare® Baby 3

By Melissa Priester, Illinois FACS Teacher and Realityworks guest blogger

My school was fortunate to replace our RealCare® Baby II models with the latest generation Baby, RealCare Baby 3, earlier this fall. Because we upgraded every single one of our Babies, I felt that my students needed to be assessed, as the latest generation Baby also monitors ambient temperature, time in a car seat and clothing changes. To assess my students on these new features – and help ensure that they were all being used – I created two separate grading rubrics: One details the possible ways students can get points deducted from their grade, and the other details all possible ways students can earn points towards their grade.

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In addition to crying for care throughout the day and night, RealCare Baby 3 monitors ambient temperature, time in a car seat and clothing changes.

  • View my Baby Report Grade Deductions rubric here.
  • View my Baby Grade Sheet here.

To assess the new information recorded by Baby, I deduct 1-5 percentage points on the rubric as follows.

Baby Temperature: -1% for every 10 minutes Baby is out of the safe range. I feel that this allows students to properly adapt to the temperatures they may encounter.

Clothing: Baby must be changed at least every 8-10 hours. This allows the student to not have to change the baby while in school.

Car Seat: Baby must be out of the car seat for a minimum of 5 hours. Again, I looked at making this possible for the students who choose to take the Baby over the school week. I choose to take 1-5% points off depending on the amount of time Baby is in the car seat. I have not seen any negative with this yet, but I could assume that if the car seat detectors are not installed correctly, that could alter your data.

Again, these deductions are in addition to points deducted due to missed care opportunities and mishandling events already recorded by baby.

Additionally, I included in my rubric points for student’s daily journal entries, taking a minimum of 2 photos of Baby and taking Baby out in public. These all allow students who have difficulty with Baby to make up some lost points.

Extra credit: I also offer extra credit for those that take brief videos of themselves daily, expressing their frustrations and excitements of the day on camera.

By using these rubrics, I feel that every student now has the chance to earn the best grade possible, while I ensure that all the great new features of RealCare Baby 3 are being used.

Melissa Priester is in her 13th year of teaching Family & Consumer Sciences at the high school level in Illinois. She has a master’s degree in Education Teaching Leadership and a bachelor’s degree in Family & Consumer Sciences.

3 Ways to Make Connections in Your Classroom

By Melissa Priester

We all know that when you have a personal connection to something, you tend to remember the information better. In my family relations class, connections are key. One way I get students to connect is through authentic discussion.

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Seven years ago, I had the opportunity to design and implement a Family Relations & Parenting class. At the time, there was a real need for a class that focused on healthy choices and tackled teen issues head-on. Since then, the class has molded itself to meet the needs of its students each year.

The unit that I focus on is healthy relationships. There are three ways I ensure that the unit is effective and instilled in their ever-maturing and growing brains:

Trust: It is crucial to a successful discussion that students have trust in their teacher and their classmates. In the beginning of the semester, I conduct a trust vs. mistrust activity to show students how it feels when students gossip. They also sign a pledge to not gossip about anything heard or talked about in class. Between these two activities and and my efforts to demonstrate my own trust in them, the students and I have some very real conversations.

Preparation: I always study up on the most recent trends, stories and terminology about the subject I’m focusing on that day. Students will make connections from social media and TV, and it’s therefore vital to the direction of your discussion that you know what they are talking about. If you are unfamiliar with it, jot it down and look it up for the next day.

Communication: If at any point you become concerned about a student or a fad that might be going on within the school, talk to your deans, counselors and the student’s parents.  I also like to communicate with parents through handouts, student/ parent interviews and other activities that get family members involved in the curriculum.

The best discussions occur authentically. Writing prompts, statistical information and quotes may help focus student’s comments, but being caring, understanding, and honest will keep them talking.

How do you ensure authentic communication in your own FACS or Health class? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Melissa Priester is in her 13th year of teaching Family & Consumer Sciences at the high school level in Illinois. She has a master’s degree in Education Teaching Leadership and a bachelor’s degree in Family & Consumer Sciences. 

Babies Can Teach Us a Thing or Two About Kindness

By Denise Bodart, RealCare Product Manager for Realityworks

It seems that every day we hear stories about bullying in our schools and online. Many schools are trying to think “outside the box” and find creative ways to teach students important life skills like empathy, tolerance and the importance being kind to one another. This week, The Washington Post published a story about an innovative program from Canada called Roots of Empathy. Developed 20 years ago in Canada, this program is now being implemented in the United States to help curb bullying by bringing real infants intoclassrooms.

From the article: “Roots is built on a simple notion: When babies bring their huge eyes, irrepressible smiles and sometimes unappeasable tears into the classroom, students can’t help but feel for them. The idea is that recognizing and caring about a baby’s emotions can open a gateway for children to learn bigger lessons about taking care of one another, considering others’ feelings, having patience.”

(Click here to read the full article from the the Washington Post.)

Using infants to teach nurturing, sharing, cooperation and patience is not new to Realityworks. In fact, RealCare Baby has been used to teach these types of life skills in many settings in the past two decades.

In correctional facilities: RealCare Baby is used in parenting programs in correctional facilities to help teach responsibility. Inmates work with Baby and get hands-on practice in the best way to care for and nurture a dependent human being. This practice also helps prepare inmates who will be released into home settings with young children.

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In juvenile court systems: RealCare Baby is also used successfully as part of sex education and relationship courses offered in juvenile court for at-risk youth.  Participants must care for Baby and experience what it’s like to put someone else’s needs first.

In babysitting classes: RealCare Baby is a great hands-on tool for groups like the Red Cross, which offers babysitting classes. Participants will learn how to patiently care for infants in a risk-free setting until they feel confident.

In the classroom: RealCare Baby is used in 62 percent of school districts in the United States to teach a variety of skills. The Parenting curriculum in particular has lessons on nurturing, attachment and infant care. Because RealCare Baby is so lifelike, students who interact with Baby and participate in lessons taught from the curricula walk away with greater patience, understanding and empathy for others. The Basic Infant Care curriculum has a lesson specifically on soothing a crying infant and handling stress. Patience and perseverance are taught as students learn how to manage this challenging situation.

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Around the world: RealCare Baby is used in over 90 countries worldwide.  Because infants cannot talk, their universal language is crying. Knowing how to handle a crying infant calmly is important anywhere there are babies! Baby also teaches students responsibility and how to care for someone else.

To learn more about using RealCare baby to help teach empathy and kindness, visit our website

How have you seen RealCare Babies being used successfully to teach empathy and kindness, or where would you like to see them used? Tell us in the comments below!