Work Base Learning In Agricultural Education

Posted By: Buddy Deimler Ag Education Initiative,

Work Based Learning (WBL) has been a part of the Agricultural Education program from the very beginning. In Agricultural Education we call Work Based Learning – Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE), and each student enrolled in an Agricultural Education program is required to develop a supervised agricultural experience program. SUPERVISED by their agricultural education teacher or industry expert, AGRICULTURAL because the purpose of our program is to teach agricultural science and prepare students for careers and/or continuing education opportunities in agriculture, and EXPERIENCE because, well, the right experience can be the best teacher.

Students in an animal science program might have an SAE program raising sheep or working for a local dairy, milking cows. A student in a plant science class might have an SAE raising alfalfa on a piece of ground that their family leases to them or they might work for a local farmer moving sprinkler pipe or hauling hay. If a student is in a Horticulture/Landscaping class, their SAE might be the operation of their own small landscape installation and maintenance business. In 2021 10,743 Utah students participated in SAE programs generating a total income of $5,133,259 with a non-current asset ending value of $20, 002,511. That is a lot of experience.

Why do we believe that experience is the best teacher. Let me give you an example. When you are teaching landscape installation in class, you might have a unit on calculating the area of the space around a house so that you can purchase sod. Or you might calculate cubic feet or cubic yards to determine how much concrete or aggregate is needed to cover an area to a desired depth. In the classroom, if a mistake is made in the calculation and the answer you get is either too much sod or too little concrete or aggregate, it is just a mistake, a wrong answer, no harm done.

But if your supervised agricultural experience program is owning and operating a small landscape installation and maintenance business, then that calculation becomes critical. Order too much and the excess material eats into your bottom line. Order too little and you have to order another load which adds cost to the job and chews up your margin.

Now when the teacher is talking about calculating area (Length X Width) the problem is real to you. You have experienced this before. You know how important this discussion is. You listen carefully because you realize that getting the wrong answer means less money in your pocket. Real life experience really is the best teacher.

The phrase, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Probably originated in the 1960’s. Educators were focusing on the importance of “doing” to increase student understanding. That wisdom is especially relevant in our classrooms today. When a student hears the lesson from the teacher, they will almost always forget what was said. When they watch a demonstration of a principle, the student will remember the demonstration, but they may never discover the application of the principle. But when they do it, in the real world with real world applications and outcomes, they not only remember, but they also understand and can apply that knowledge across many disciplines. That is why Work Based Learning or Supervised Agricultural Experience is so important in our classroom today.

You can be a part of the Work Based Learning solution. Offer to speak in classes, provide student tours, internships and externships, and where you are able, provide jobs for students who learn best by doing.

Buddy Deimler, Education Specialist, Agricultural Education

Utah State Board of Education