Bioscience, genetics, ecology revolutionizing ‘Ag Ed’ class

Erin Richards:

In Craig Kohn’s classroom at Waterford Union High School, students use traditional Punnett square diagrams to study animal genetics.

But they also use 80-pound Foster, the living, breathing class Holstein calf, and talk about his genetics and which of those traits they can predict his offspring may have generations from now.

Using Foster requires more post-lesson cleanup in the school’s agriculture education classroom, but students say Kohn’s lessons bring science alive. It is fun, real and far more engaging than memorizing facts and formulas.

The approach represents part of a revolution in agriculture education that is under way across Wisconsin and the United States.

The so-called “cows and plows” high school curriculum – animal science, plant science and mechanics – once dominated by farm kids in Carhartt jackets and Wranglers has morphed into courses that cover turf management, wildlife ecology, landscape design, biotechnology, organic farming, genetic engineering, sustainable water, biodiesel production and meat science.

The developments have exciting implications, from a wave of new student interest in agri-science to ample post-secondary career prospects.

Many school leaders are harnessing the potential of the programs. The Hartland-Lakeside School District is designing an organic farming charter school; state agriculture officials hope a similar urban agriculture school could take root in Milwaukee.