The Importance of a Hands-on Education

hands-on-workBack in October, the website Edutopia posted an absolutely fantastic video titled “Learning STEM Through Agriculture on a Nebraska Farm.” It’s worth a watch for sure, even if agriculture isn’t an industry that you’re interested in pursuing.

Why, then, is this video so great? Well, it features members of the Loseke family using STEM skills every single day to run and operate their ranching business. From veterinary science and nutrition to agriculture and meteorology, the ranch functions as an isolated example in which STEM is completely crucial in making sure that this ranch can operate as desired.

Sure, Elisabeth, Erika and Cort aren’t spending their day with fractions or chemistry experiments, but their STEM skills are admittedly as strong as most scientists or engineers in many ways.

Teen Elizabeth Loseke says that she grew up in a “science laboratory”: a 1500-acre farm with a 4000-head-cattle feed lot. “I feel incredibly blessed that I had the opportunity to grow up on a farm where I learned critical thinking and problem solving along with math, biology, and physics.” Located in Columbus, Nebraska, her parents farm the ranch with help from their degrees in animal science and nutritional science. Planning feed rations (which takes strategic thinking) and understanding nutrition for cattle as opposed to humans, looking at cattle from an immunological standpoint, and more all come into play during just one day on the ranch. Elizabeth spends her days vaccinating the animals and using computers in every aspect of operations. If it sounds advanced beyond the years of a typical teenager, it is.

And that, Elizabeth says, is the problem. “People like me make up less than two percent of the American population, so not every kid has the same opportunities I did. How can urban and suburban kids get the same kind of hands-on education and learn from farmers without actually growing up on a farm?” The solution, she thinks, is to actually integrate this type of learning into every day school curriculums. This means integrating science into math problems (calculating ratios of ingredients in feed rations to teach percentages) and including basic farm accounting in elementary mathematics.

You can read the full list of her suggestions here, but what this brings to mind as we head into a New Year is the importance of integrating hands-on learning into whatever you do, especially if you’re interested in a STEM career. If you’re considering a technical program that clocks only hours in the classroom, you might want to consider a program at a college that spends time in the lab, actually working on skills that will be used in an eventual career. Learning opportunities are found everywhere, and from elementary school on, it’s important to stress that these STEM related skills can be used just about anywhere and for anything– that’s why it’s so important to take advantage of them when you can.

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photo credit: FirstHattiesburg via photopin cc