Want to Build a Triple Crown Program? Let Your Students Have the Reins

By Brown, Nicholas R. | The Agricultural Education Magazine, May/June 2011 | Go to article overview

Want to Build a Triple Crown Program? Let Your Students Have the Reins


Brown, Nicholas R., The Agricultural Education Magazine


As a new agricultural education instructor at my own Alma mater, my goal was to build a Triple Crown program. I wanted to create a balanced agricultural education department that excelled in classroom and laboratory instruction, incorporated innovative Supervised Agricultural Experiences (SAE) and featured a premier FFA chapter. My goals were clear, I was full of energy and ambition, but, at the same time, I often found myself overwhelmed with the challenge of fitting in with other teachers at my high school. How was I going to accomplish my goals and still practice those traditional instructional techniques that were the norm with my colleagues? How was I going to lecture five hours a day, prepare quizzes, give students homework and model the teaching techniques I knew my high school English teacher was using in the building next door?

Eveiy day when I went to my classroom, I carried with me a knot in the pit of my stomach. I faced the challenge of knowing what I wanted to do, but fearing that it was wrong. For a whole semester, I used behaviorism, a teacher focused learning theory, which is based on delivering tangible, scientific facts to students, when I taught. I was well-equipped with classroom technology skills, lecture skills, and sound pedagogy. But as a behavioral teacher, I suffered, and I felt my students did not learn all I wanted them to learn. On those days that I employed constructivism (Doolittle & Camp, 1999), a studentcentered teaching and learning theory, that allowed my students to work individually, complete team projects, plan FFA activities, and develop their SAEs, I felt guilt because I knew that other teachers would think that I had not performed my duties for the day.

Yet in spite of my guilt, my gut told me that my students were not enrolled in agriculture education classes because they wanted to listen to great lectures and take detailed notes to prepare for an occasional quiz or exam. Rather, I was convinced that my students were enrolled in agricultural education to escape the behavioral teaching techniques they experienced in their core academic subjects. My students were looking for classes that allowed them the freedom to create their own learning environments and experience personal growth. In 1999, Doolittle and Camp argued that career and technical education instructional goals must change: we not only needed to teach our students basic job skills, but we also were responsible for teaching our students to be higher-order thinkers who could solve problems and collaborate with other professionals. I recognized this need, and worked to design the Triple Crown Approach, a teaching system that systematically incorporated behavioral teaching methods, constructivist techniques, and an assessment component that provided for academic accountability.

A Brief Hindsight

During my ten years of agricultural education experience, I have observed that teachers struggle with identifying the student outcomes of agricultural education. Are we developing students who will complete our programs and directly enter the agricultural industry, or are we developing students who will seek higher education and develop careers that may or may not be involved with agriculture?

In 2009, Roberts and Ball argued that agricultural education actually produces two student products. With the first product, agricultural educators train students to go into the world and act as free thinkers. These student products of agricultural education develop careers that may move into and out of the agricultural industry. They take with them a valuable basic understanding of agriculture that will serve them for a lifetime, and they make valuable contributions to innumerable facets of the national and global economy. With the second product, our programs produce the people necessary to create a vibrant agricultural industry in the United States of America. They are solid contributors to our nation's gross domestic product (Roberts & Ball, 2009). …

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