14131 Views (as of 05/2023)
  1. Joseph Kern
  3. Emporia State
  1. C. Matt Seimears, Ph. D.
  2. Chair, Professor
  4. Emporia State

Integration of Computing in Rural Agricultural Education

NSF Awards: 1742519

2019 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12

The Agricultural Applications of Computer Science (Ag-ACS) project is exploring the impact of a modular physical programming curriculum that puts computer science and computational thinking skills in the hands of the students who will one day lead science and agricultural industries.  Small schools can rarely support computer science elective courses, so 20% of the country's students are simply missing out because they are growing up in rural areas.

The Ag-ACS project targets rural students and engages them in computer science applications that solve problems embedded in their science or agriculture course content.  Plant science lessons can be enhanced by having students program a temperature control system or an irrigation system for optimum plant health. Animal science lessons can lead to developing a daylight-controlled chicken coop door.  Field ecology can be aided by smartphone apps created to track local wildlife data. These curriculum modules are being piloted by a cohort of new-to-programming pilot teachers who teach anywhere from 5th grade to high school, in a variety of content areas. The impact of these activities on students’ attitudes toward programming and computer science careers and the independent projects developed by students, along with pilot teacher feedback, will contribute to an understanding of the feasibility of this model of teaching computer science and computational thinking that reaches a wider audience than traditional programming initiatives.

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Discussion from the 2019 STEM for All Video Showcase (17 posts)
  • Icon for: Joseph Kern

    Joseph Kern

    Lead Presenter
    May 13, 2019 | 01:29 a.m.

    Hi, thanks for viewing our project.  We are finishing our first year of piloting our agricultural challenge modules, so they are still in development and are not ready for prime time just yet.  But via this handy Google Doc, you can view our introductory material.  We go into detail about the Ag-ACS project's research arm, then introduce students to computational thinking, fundamental programming skills, and basic Arduino skills.  Pilot results and more content will be added to this document as they are developed, so complete the survey linked in the document to sign up for update notices.  

  • Icon for: Gillian Puttick

    Gillian Puttick

    Senior Scientist
    May 13, 2019 | 11:23 a.m.

    I'm really struck by the range of technologies that the project is drawing on and the real-world applications around which you are designing curriculum. Congratulations!

    I'm curious to hear more about the challenges that you have faced so far in recruiting teachers, and what challenges they face as they engage with the materials.

  • Icon for: Joseph Kern

    Joseph Kern

    Lead Presenter
    May 13, 2019 | 12:21 p.m.

    Recruiting for our training wasn't extremely difficult.  At the start of the project my wife was an Ag teacher, so she was able to post a survey that was available to every ag teacher in the state to get some input as we designed our approach.  Then we put a call out through the same channels for teachers to apply.  Ag teachers are not known to be the most progressive group of teachers, and they tend to be about the busiest and most project-laden teachers I've seen, but we got a satisfactory number on board for this scary new venture.  We presented some of our content at a state science teacher conference and filled the rest of our quota.  We had one person who wasn't able to make our initial summer training, who went radio silent in our efforts to get him caught up.  Another teacher dropped out after our pre-pilot semester, in which we did a small test of curriculum and assessment tools before training the full cohort.  I knew this teacher personally, and she had a ton on her plate already, so it was understandable that she didn't feel like adding more.

    Almost all of our teachers began implementing our content toward the end of the school year, so we actually haven't gotten a wealth of feedback from them yet, although I did observe each of their classrooms, and we will be analyzing classroom videos and teacher reflections to get a better idea of how things went in the long-run.  The biggest challenge that teachers and students seemed to face with the projects wasn't the programming, as much as it was dealing with electronics issues... There are sometimes a lot of wires going to a lot of places, so even with instructions, errors are made.  I don't know whether to feel bad about this as a frustrating barrier to learning about coding, or good that students are learning how to methodically troubleshoot complex systems.  

  • Icon for: Annmargareth Marousky

    Annmargareth Marousky

    K-12 Teacher
    May 14, 2019 | 02:24 p.m.

    Thank you for sharing your very exciting project! The integration of computer science into agriculture is something my team is interested in since we feel that students need to be more aware of the role computer science can play in industries that are not traditionally viewed as "tech". We will continue to watch for your lessons as they become ready for "prime time'. Best of Luck!

  • Icon for: Lynn Cominsky

    Lynn Cominsky

    Professor and Chair
    May 14, 2019 | 02:30 p.m.

    I think you should feel good that students are learning how to troubleshoot. It is one of the results of which we are the most proud, with our Learning by Making curriculum. Your Ag experiments seem rather engineering oriented compared to our science experiments, but are a great complement to the work that we are doing with LbyM. I am surprised to read that your students can program Arduinos. Scratch is basically a graphical version of the Logo language that we use, and a much better intro to computer programming than the Arduino IDE. We have not had any luck (in over 10 years and 3 different projects) getting anyone other than professional programmers to create new Arduino code. Thanks for watching our video

  • Icon for: Joseph Kern

    Joseph Kern

    Lead Presenter
    May 14, 2019 | 04:09 p.m.

    Two things have helped implement Arduino, and we saw it with both the teachers and students:

    1) We used the Tinkercad platform to bridge the gap between Scratch and Arduino.  It's shown briefly in the video (@ 1:03).  Users can build breadboard simulations or use pre-built Arduino setups, then code them with Scratch-type blocks or with C+ Arduino code.  Or the cool thing is that they can use the Blocks & Text setting to build code with blocks and see it instantly translated into C+ text.  Some of our pilot teachers had to start by building their projects with blocks and copy/paste the Tinkercad text code into the Arduino IDE to send to their real Arduino and make it work.  It was a longer process, but it got them to a point where they could do it on their own once they saw how to type out what they had previously blocked out.

    2) The tutorials explicitly model the fact that you don't have to "create new Arduino code" to make something new.  I am not very good at writing a program out of my head.  I always forget a ton of steps, like where to put "PINMODE" or how to structure a for() loop.  So the tutorials model how to find base code from Arduino's built-in examples or its online tutorial resources, and borrow the pieces that need to work together to make the project function... Want to make a servo work based on temp readings?  Open the "Knob" example and the "LoveOMeter" example, and put them together.


  • Icon for: Lynn Cominsky

    Lynn Cominsky

    Professor and Chair
    May 16, 2019 | 06:51 p.m.

    I have been teaching TinkerCad for my sophomore level college course, which uses our campus Makerspace. I had not thought about using it with the Arduinos, we were using it for 3D printing. I will check that out!

    Also the chicken coop door idea is very popular - our local high school Makerclub that spun off my college program did that as one of their projects, and our Learning by Making students are also fond of the idea! As someone who lost my chickens to a very smart racoon, even with doors, I appreciate the design work!

  • Icon for: Matt Fisher

    Matt Fisher

    May 14, 2019 | 03:14 p.m.

    This is a wonderful effort to connect STEM skills to an area (agriculture) that is too often overlooked! I'm interested in learning more about student response to the modules. What have they enjoyed the most? What have they found most challenging? Has there been any aspect of the student response that has come as a surprise to the project leaders?

  • Icon for: Joseph Kern

    Joseph Kern

    Lead Presenter
    May 14, 2019 | 05:31 p.m.

    We're still waiting on our post-implementation data for our first year, so any conclusion so far won't be very generalizable.  One thing that we saw with the pre-data for classes of 8th grade students was that about 18% had "correct" attitudes toward aspects that contribute to CS success.  This includes questions relating to a growth mindset, tenacity in problem-solving, and an interest in CS topics.  Their answers jumped to over 40% in the post-test, and this was just based on going through the introductory module, not the ag challenges.  Is 40% a good result? We'll have to see, but it's definitely a good amount of growth.  The teachers who supplied this data also did a great job of using Computational Thinking vocabulary with the kids, which showed up in the buy-in of students and their own use of reflective terminology when working.

    I hope to be most surprised by interesting independent student projects.  This week I had to shoot some emails back and forth with a teacher who was helping his student troubleshoot his fishing reel alarm.  (Sense motion = LED on)  The cool thing is that using this sensor wasn't part of our curriculum, so he brought in outside resources and concepts to apply to something he found useful.  

  • Icon for: Katie James

    Katie James

    May 15, 2019 | 04:03 p.m.

    Interesting project! We are working with teachers on infusing GIS into career and technical education pathways - several of those pathways are agriculture focused. How have you approached selecting Ag-relevant STEM topics?

  • Icon for: Joseph Kern

    Joseph Kern

    Lead Presenter
    May 15, 2019 | 06:16 p.m.

    For selecting our topics, we basically tried to think of projects that could apply to the standard courses that nearly all ag programs have: Animal Science, Horticulture, and Ag Mechanics.  We pitched several ideas to the pilot teachers, and we used their feedback to select what we would tackle with our modules, in a way that would balance the types inputs and outputs used, and possible programming complexity... When to introduce variables, "While" loops, functions, etc.  While adding the CS components to something like Animal Science requires a bit of a shoehorn, all of our hands-on modules would fall right into the Advanced Ag Mechanics course.  Most of our science teachers are implementing this in engineering-based "STEM" courses, although we do have a biology teacher using it in his horticulture class, which operates a greenhouse and outdoor growing area. 

    As for GIS, there is SO MUCH in ag operations and support services, but SO LITTLE training for ag teachers to enable their students to use it. Your project looks like it really delivers high-level analysis of so much data (and your students have a very impressive ease with the vocabulary and concepts of data literacy, so props on that).  That's definitely the type of data analysis that ag producers are using on a daily basis to make decisions.  I like the potential of the MIT App Inventor tool to enable students to develop spatial skills with GPS, since students can develop apps that use a phone's location data.  In addition to the one shown in the video, we show how to make a "Tree Tracker" app that lets users enter specimen data into a database and mark their tree specimens on an interactive map.  It's probably on the low end of GIS outcomes, but there is potential there.


  • Icon for: Peg Cagle

    Peg Cagle

    math teacher & math department chair
    May 16, 2019 | 04:11 a.m.

    It is exciting to see a high-tech project being designed specifically for students in rural schools, which often do not offer access to CS. It is also impressive to see the wide range of expertise being used to inform and conduct the work, including both STEM and non-STEM teachers, along with informal educators. I applaud the use of existing intuitive platforms such as Scratch, and the creation of gentle curricular "on-ramps" for non-CS teachers to confidently offer rich CS learning opportunities to students. I am curious to know what sort of independent projects students have proposed or that teachers anticipate might be proposed in the future.

  • Icon for: Joseph Kern

    Joseph Kern

    Lead Presenter
    May 17, 2019 | 09:28 a.m.

    That info is still tied up in this year's final data that we will be sorting through in the next month or so.  We are really looking forward to next year to see what students come up with in a 2nd round of implementation, where some will get a 2nd dose.  And we are starting to plan for a project showcase next year, partly inspired by some of the ideas we saw here in the Video Showcase.

  • Icon for: Jill Denner

    Jill Denner

    May 17, 2019 | 11:54 a.m.

    It is so great to see the integration of computing and agriculture. This approach will have great relevance for our rural students in California too. Thank you!

  • Icon for: Kevin Fleming

    Kevin Fleming

    Graduate Student
    May 17, 2019 | 02:59 p.m.

    Great project - this has a lot of value to a wide array of schools looking to integrate more agriscience and/or technology into their curriculum. 

  • Icon for: Christopher Lee

    Christopher Lee

    May 19, 2019 | 08:02 p.m.

    I'm from upstate South Carolina, but I've lived in urban environments most of my life. Having a foot in both worlds, I can see how your work can be used to stimulate urban youth's interest in agriculture and teach them computer science and engineering. These are career paths that many urban youth never consider. There are some programs that try to introduce the students to agriculture or to CS/engineering, but I've never seen anyone who has tried to do both at the same time. Your project provides a hands-on approach where they are learning with a purpose. The students can eventually pursue careers in agriculture, start technology-enabled urban gardens, advocate for locally sourced food, participate in sustainability initiatives or use their Ag/CS skills in any other countless number of ways.

  • Icon for: Joseph Kern

    Joseph Kern

    Lead Presenter
    May 20, 2019 | 09:51 a.m.

    One of our "rural" schools has basically been swallowed up as a Kansas City suburb over the years.  When I observed the horticulture teacher's class I was very pleased to see the focus question written on the whiteboard: "How can we use urban gardening to connect our community with healthy foods?".  One of our advisory panel members has a big focus on urban agriculture and is excited about what we are doing.  So while our foundation was meant to even the playing field for rural students through a culturally-relevant introduction to CS,  the urban applications of our curriculum are on our radar as a possible investigative route when we go for a 2nd round of funding. 

  • Further posting is closed as the event has ended.