For rural STEM schools, engaging business partners can be difficult. One often untapped resource in our rural communities is farmers!

Growing STEM in Rural Communities

The idea of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as a key pedagogy for high quality teaching and learning has really been catching on throughout the US and around the world. One of the key tenets for STEM as pedagogy, or key instructional methods, is connecting with community / business partners to offer authentic and engaging problem based learning opportunities. As I travel throughout the US learning more about how schools are implementing STEM and engaging partners I hear amazing stories about businesses partnering with schools to offer terrific opportunities for student learning.

International businesses such as Google, IBM and Toshiba are great partners for schools in their community and around the world. Unfortunately, partnerships with these giants in STEM innovation are simply out of reach for most schools, especially schools in rural communities. Many rural school and district leaders have shared their frustration that they just don’t have big businesses in their communities that can offer students hands on opportunities in STEM fields. Without partners, it is very hard to develop truly authentic learning experiences for students to grow in their passion and understanding for STEM.

Just recently I discovered an amazing, but often untapped resource in our rural communities – farmers! One of KnowledgeWorks’ partner schools is New Hope Christian Academy in Circleville, Ohio. New Hope is in the midst of developing Ohio’s first private, Christian STEAM early college high school (opening Fall 2013) and is also transitioning its K-8 program to a STEAM approach. One of the partners New Hope brought to the table was a local farmer, Ryan Wilson, who has children attending New Hope. Mr. Wilson operates Wilson Farms, a 3,800 acre farm in the community, and throughout the day he provided amazing insight into the role that science, technology, engineering and math play in the day to day operations of his farm.

Mr. Wilson shared with our team about how genetic research has changed the way he runs his farm and several of the challenges he faces in ensuring healthy crops. He also explained to us that his tractor actually drives itself in the field – he never touches the wheel! It drops seed within six inches of where it needs to be planted. Ryan simply makes the adjustment on his tractor computer and the tractor and planter follow the new parameters entered. He even showed us a terrific website for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that provides the most accurate data available related to weather patterns. Mr. Wilson demonstrated how he uses this website to help him make decisions regarding when to spray, plant and harvest.

Our design team members’ brains were whirling with idea for collaborations and partnerships with Wilson farms by the end of this conversation. Our team is already talking about how students might assist him in testing out cover crops to determine which ones will provide the best harvests at the lowest costs and how he might “guest teach” lessons on data analysis / probability using the NOAA weather website.

Are you interested in starting or expanding STEM initiatives in a rural community? If so, I highly recommend you begin by having some conversations with your local farmers. Their wealth of information is beyond belief.

Are you in a rural community and already partnering with your local farmers? I would love to hear more about your collaborations so we can share information with our rural partners!

Guest post by Michele Timmons, a former Manager of Partnership Development and Technical Assistance Coach for KnowledgeWorks.

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