With a large majority of Americans being two or more generations removed from farms and agriculture, it is rare that children get to have a first-hand experience in any aspect of the industry.
About five years ago, the Ohio Soybean Council (OSC) and soybean checkoff program took on an initiative to get agriculture into classrooms around the state by training teachers on curriculum and providing them all the materials necessary to hatch chicks in their classrooms. The program, known as ChickQuest, has become quite popular and continues to involve new teachers every year.
“I keep thinking the workshops won’t fill up, but here we are with another one sold out. We do three or four workshops a year and train between 175 – 200 teachers,” said Jeanne Gogolski, a project leader with Education Projects and Partnerships. “It’s been amazing; teachers know it’s a good program and it spreads by word of mouth. It’s also part of OSC’s GrowNextGen curriculum that helps teachers around Ohio understand and teach agriculture.”
The program originated as a few classroom activities the Ohio Poultry Association organized in counties with egg production. The programming was well received and revamped curriculum project was taken on with Ohio 4-H and Education Projects and Partnerships (EP&P) was hired.
The expanded curriculum includes 18 lesson plans filled with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) based curriculum designed to provide one activity per school day for students until day 21 when the eggs should begin to hatch. Included in the lessons is egg production and nutrition information that also highlights the soybean industry’s role in animal agriculture.
Gogolski credits the success to the many partnerships and organizations supporting ChickQuest from OSC and the United Soybean Board to Meyer Hatchery in Ashland, Ohio and Extension Agents from The Ohio State University who have proved to be a great resource for the project and often help relocate the chicks to homes or farms once they have hatched.
“Teachers leave the training with everything they need including incubators, lab equipment, log books for students and a coupon to order fertilized eggs,” said Gogolski, who worked on the curriculum and is a facilitator for the workshops. “We stay in touch with them after the training and help them to repeat the curriculum on their own each year.”
While workshops in central Ohio continue to fill up, some of the biggest success stories come from Akron and Cleveland City Schools. After Akron’s science coordinator attended the workshop, they decided all their third-grade teachers should be participating in ChickQuest. Each year, any new teachers attend the workshop to ensure all third graders, around 1700 students, will participate in the curriculum. Last fall, 25 teachers in Cleveland City Schools took part in the training and many more are eager to participate.
The ChickQuest project is a great way for students to learn about food production, agriculture and the life cycle of animals. For many, it’s the first time they learn the difference between eggs that will hatch and ones that are in their refrigerator and their only connection to agriculture.
It occasionally leads to some unlikely lessons for the classes as well. One teacher reported the class buried a chick that had not survived and it led to an emotional bonding experience for the class as they comforted each other. Another classroom ended up with a chick that wouldn’t let the others access the food bowl which sparked a spontaneous and open discussion about bullying.