Why agriculture is important for teaching STEM

10 June 2021

Primary school teacher Kathryn Horan describes why using agriculture to teach STEM subjects is so important.

Disengaged learners are found in every classroom, especially when it comes to STEM subjects. As a teacher, I found there were some children who had tried and failed so many times in these subjects that they had now given up. To them, these subjects were dull, irrelevant and frankly too difficult – to be endured, not enjoyed.

With an estimated shortfall of over 173,000 appropriately-skilled STEM workers in the UK, there has been lots of discussion about increasing children’s motivation when it comes to STEM subjects by presenting problems in real life scenarios. Dan Meyer, the creator of Three Act Maths, claims we need to do more than simply framing dull tasks in a real-life context. The tasks themselves need to be more interesting and meaningful – something that children might want to do when they grow up. Meyer calls this ‘real work’ within a real life context; a philosophy that I believe is a highly effective way to engage reluctant STEM learners and give them a purpose for their learning.

Agriculture relies on STEM

Agriculture is perfectly positioned to achieve this because science, technology, engineering and maths are all subjects deeply embedded in the sector. Furthermore, agriculture is a subject that every student in the country can relate to – we all eat food produced on farms every day.

The National Farmers’ Union’s education programme is a great example of this. For example, Farming STEMterprise is a cross-curricular project that takes primary school children through each stage of setting up their own farm shop business by considering seasonality and nutrition, conducting market research, growing ingredients, budgeting, calculating expected profit, designing responsible packaging and more. Practical science and design and technology lessons, closely tailored to each year group’s programme of study, are incorporated throughout the projects and opportunities for applying real maths skills to engaging contexts are embedded at each stage.

Attitudes quickly changed

When I used it in my own classroom, I quickly saw first-hand how children’s attitudes changed when they started being treated like adults. Not only did their enthusiasm far surpass what I’d seen previously, but they had a much more ‘can-do’ approach to difficult topics and their problem solving was all the better for it. Within the business context, they hardly even noticed that they were using STEM subjects and had become incredibly keen young entrepreneurs!”

Kathryn Horan, Chartered Science Teacher (CSciTeach), Pudsey Waterloo Primary School

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