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National Agriculture in the Classroom

Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix


Lesson Plan

Growing a Nation Era 4: Into a New Millennium

Grade Levels

9 - 12

Purpose

Students will engage with the Growing a Nation timeline to explore the significant historical and agricultural events and inventions from American history during the years 1970-2000. Students will recognize the importance of labor in agriculture and determine how the implementation of technology in agriculture increased agricultural production.

Estimated Time

90 minutes

Materials Needed

Activity 1: Event Exploration

  • Growing a Nation timeline and necessary projection equipment or computer lab
  • Demonstration of Learning Strategies

Activity 3: International Trade, Interdependence, & Sovereignty

  • Household Survey activity sheet
  • Into a New Millennium documents

Activity 4: Trip to Planet Zorcon

  • Planet Zorcon PowerPoint
  • Plastic storage bin with lid*
  • Gallon-sized Ziploc bags,* 1 per group plus extras to hold resources
  • 1–1½ cups of the following "resources": wheat seeds, cotton balls, corn, toothpicks, soybeans, pinto or brown beans, shell macaroni, spiral macaroni, elbow macaroni, paper clips, black beans, amber pebbles, sequins, 1" roofing nails, silver balls (foil or other material), white beans, and 2" pieces of spaghetti*
  • Duct tape*
  • 8' x10' tarp*
  • Plastic spoons,* 1 per group
  • Plastic cups,* 2 per group
  • Zorcon Research Staff ID Badges,* 1 set per group
  • Resource Inventory activity sheet, 1 per group
  • Calculators (optional)

* These materials are included in the Planet Zorcon Kit, which is available for purchase from agclassroomstore.com.

Vocabulary Words

inexhaustible resource: natural resource that can last forever regardless of human activities

nonrenewable resource: limited natural resource that cannot be replaced or reproduced (within a generation)

renewable resource: natural resource that can be replaced by human efforts, although the supply of these resources can be reduced without proper management

sustainable agriculture: a system that can indefinitely sustain itself without degrading the land, the environment or the people

Did You Know? (Ag Facts)
  • It takes 3.3 acre feet of water to grow enough food for an average family for a year.
  • An acre foot of water is about 326,000 gallons.
Background Agricultural Connections

Into a New Millennium (1970-2000) is the fourth story event in the Growing a Nation online interactive timeline. The timeline provides a chronological presentation of significant historical events focusing on the important role agriculture has played in America's development. Growing a Nation uses a graphic organizer (timeline) and online multimedia resources to bring depth and meaning to historical events. The interactive timeline and lesson plans merge seamlessly with existing American history textbooks and high school history curricula.

Our country has witnessed sweeping changes—from the untamed wild times of Buffalo Bill to the technological era of Bill Gates and Elon Musk—but food has never lost its central role in our lives. Food not only sustains life but also enriches us in many ways. It warms us on cold, dreary days, entices us with its many aromas, and provides endless variety to the everyday world.

Food is also woven into the fabric of our Nation, our culture, our institutions, and our families. Food is on the scene when we celebrate and when we mourn. We use it for camaraderie, as a gift, and as a reward. We are all aware of how food has changed. What Americans often forget, however, is the remarkable system that delivers to us the most abundant, reasonably priced, and safest food in the world. The American food system—from farmer to the consumer—is a series of interconnected parts. The farmer produces the food, the processors work their magic, and the wholesalers and retailers deliver the products to consumers, whose choices send market signals back through the system.

The “conservation movement” promoted by Teddy Roosevelt, Jon Muir (naturalist, preservationist), and Gifford Pinchot (conservationist, head of U.S. Forest Service) in the early 20th Century gave way to the “environmental movement” punctuated by Rachel Carson in the 1960s and continuing on through the environmental activism of the 21st Century. Evaluating the effectiveness of presidential administrations and how they have addressed social and environmental issues is at the core of educational history standards. In voting for a president, Americans learn about the candidate’s environmental positions and may need to sort through environmental “facts” and “opinions.”

Teddy Roosevelt condemned the view that America’s resources were endless, and made conservation a primary concern. Roosevelt, Pinchot, and most Progressives believed in using experts and scientific and technical information to solve problems. For Roosevelt, conservation meant that some wilderness areas would be preserved while others would be developed for the common good. Carson’s book resulted in the Water Quality Act of 1965. President Johnson said, “There is no excuse. . .for chemical companies and oil refineries using our major rivers as pipelines for toxic wastes.”In 1970, President Nixon consolidated 15 existing federal pollution programs into the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In the 1980s, the environmental movement began to struggle with the balance between the environment, jobs, and progress.

The things we use every day come from the earth. Nearly all of our daily activities use some kind of resource that is grown on a farm, harvested from the wild, mined, or extracted from deep below the soil. Nonrenewable resources cannot be replaced within a generation, so once they are gone, we have to make do without them. Fossil fuels and soil are two important nonrenewable resources. Both are formed very slowly by natural processes and both play central roles in our lives. While the act of using fossil fuels depletes the supply, this is not necessarily the case with soils, which can be managed for long-term use. Erosion destroys topsoil, but good management can prevent erosion.

Soil that is managed well can support many years of cropping. Crops are a renewable resource because they can be managed or replenish themselves regularly. For example, a tree farm can be managed so that some trees are ready for harvest each year. After trees are cut down to be turned into paper or lumber, more trees are planted that will renew the supply several years in the future. Crops like wheat and corn are planted and harvested within a single growing season, so they can be used up and then renewed each year.

Some resources are considered inexhaustible, meaning that human activities will not affect the supply; they can last forever. Sunlight, water, and air are examples of inexhaustible resources. People cannot destroy these resources or create more of them, but we can affect their quality. Pollution can render air unbreathable and water undrinkable. Because we depend on natural resources to survive, it is important that we use them carefully. There are many careers in the field of natural resource management that seek to maintain the quality and productivity of earth's resources.

Whether a resource is nonrenewable, renewable, or inexhaustible, it needs to be managed to the best of our knowledge to maintain the sustainability of the resources we need to survive. Sustainable agricultural practices seek to sustain farmers, resources, and communities by promoting farming practices and methods that are profitable, environmentally sound, and good for communities. Sustainable agriculture fits into and complements modern agriculture. It rewards the true values of producers and their products. It draws and learns from organic farming. It works on farms and ranches large and small, harnessing new technologies and renewing the best practices of the past.

Sustainable agriculture is:

  • Economically viable: If it is not profitable, it is not sustainable.
  • Socially supportive: The quality of life of farmers, farm families, and farm communities is important.
  • Ecologically sound: We must preserve the resource base that sustains us all.
Interest Approach - Engagement
  1. Have a class discussion using the following questions. Use this discussion to assess the prior knowledge of your students and to introduce them to the lesson.
    • Does America need to farm in the 21st Century?
    • Who supports the 2% who grow products on farms and then ensure a finished product arrives as food, clothes, shelter, or energy? (Another 9% of the population works in the roles of scientists, specialists, processors, business professionals, etc.)
Procedures

Activity 1: Event Exploration

  1. Using a projector, mobile devices, or computer lab, review the Growing a Nation: Into a New Millennium section of the multimedia timeline. The Growing a Nation events and sub-events are designed to be adaptable to a variety of teaching strategies. Each Main Event contains Sub-events that explore American history for a greater understanding of the time period or historical cause and effect relationships. The sub-event tiles ask higher order questions to not only expand student knowledge, but also to increase their comprehension to the level of application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
  2. After students view selected events and sub-events, assign or allow students (or student pairs) to choose a sub-event tile. Students can work off of a computer or mobile device or take a screenshot of the selected sub-event and print.
  3. Ask the students to be prepared to answer the questions on their tile by either using the Think, Pair, Share strategy or by using one of the attached Demonstration of Learning Strategies. You may want to choose a particular strategy to use with the entire class or cut the strategies into strips and ask each student to pick one or two. If the student or group of students is allowed to pick two, ask them to choose the learning strategy they prefer and put the other one back. Keep in mind that some Demonstration of Learning Strategies will be a better fit for some of the event topics than others and that some take more time than others. Some strategies may need to be grouped depending on the available time.

Activity 2: Should this Product be Banned?

  1. Relate the following to the class:
     
    A high school freshman doing a science project asked 50 people if they would sign a petition demanding strict control or total elimination of the chemical “dihydrogen monoxide” because it:
    • can cause excessive sweating and vomiting
    • is a major component of acid rain
    • can cause severe burns in its gaseous state
    • can kill if aspirated
    • contributes to erosion
    • decreases the effectiveness of automobile brakes
    • has been found in tumors of terminal cancer patients
    Forty-three of the people surveyed said they would sign the petition, six were undecided, and one said “no.” Yet, if the student had called dihydrogen monoxide by its common name (water), the results would have been a unanimous “no.”
     
  2. Perception and context are critical to good judgment. Most issues require an examination of validity, context, and trade-offs. Review with students the following:
    • Validity:
      Was the research conducted properly and are the conclusions easy to understand?
      Is the disclosed information true?
      Has the research been replicated?
      Has the research been published and peer-reviewed?
    • Context:
      How is the data used? 
      Is the whole picture being provided?
      What other factors or variables were left out of the research?
    • Trade-offs:
      Are the solutions worse than the problem?
  3. Read the paragraph below and discuss the concept of risk with the students.

    We get in our cars knowing there is a risk that we might be involved in an accident. We ingest tons of chemicals in the form of prescription drugs. Society often looks for a safety guarantee when, in fact, nothing we do is risk-free. We can do certain things to minimize risks. We can wear seat belts and drive defensively. We can take medicine only when we absolutely need it. But, even with these measures, we realize that nothing is 100% safe.

    Risk is the chance of injury, damage, or loss; the degree or probability of loss; the act of exposing oneself to a risk or taking a chance. Scientists and government officials usually address risk in terms of probability for populations, not individuals. The scientific classification for risk may range from low to high to absolute. However, individuals often associate the word “risk” with “danger” instead of “probability."

    As in other sectors, the science-based processes of risk assessment and management help determine reasonable agricultural and environmental risk levels. These processes measure and characterize risk, estimate the probability of occurrence, and predict the nature and magnitude of potential adverse effects. For example, scientists may assess various risk factors from pesticide residues in or on the foods people buy and develop management strategies to control residues. Risk managers integrate social, economic, and political factors into risk assessment results.
     
  4. Ask the students to work in small groups to identify the following product and to do a risk/benefit analysis to reach a reasonable conclusion about whether the product should be banned. The product:
    • contains a chemical that causes cancer in laboratory animals
    • causes serious injury to millions of people
    • kills 40,000 people a year
    • kills millions of animals a year
    • causes fires when ignited
    • requires tremendous resources for production
    • causes major air pollution problems
    • produces toxic gases
    • causes billions of dollars in property damage every year
    • destroys millions of acres of land for roads to facilitate it
  5. Ask each group to discuss its analytical process and conclusion with the entire class.
  6. Explain to the students that the product referred to is an automobile, and its risks are an acceptable part of American life because individuals believe they have control over the risks and because there often is not an acceptable alternative to the automobile. This is the type of critical thinking that needs to be used when looking at all kinds of issues.

Activity 3: International Trade, Interdependence, & Sovereignty

  1. Ask the students if they or their families have ever purchased a product made in a different country.
  2. Encourage discussion by mentioning the brand names of various products such as Volkswagen (Germany), Sony (Japan), Toyota (Japan), Nintendo (Japan), Panasonic (Japan), Hyundai (South Korea), Adidas (Taiwan), Nokia (Finland), Barilla (pasta, Italy), Nestlé (Switzerland).
  3. Ask the students to name American brand names; examples include: Levi’s, Microsoft, Google, McDonald’s, Heinz, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Ford, and many more. Although these companies and their associated brand names are owned and/or operated in a particular country, each has substantial interest in the economy of one another. The products they produce may also require raw ingredients or inputs from each other or other countries around the globe. This is what is meant by the “global market” or “globalization.”
  4. As a homework assignment, ask each student to complete the survey page of the Household Survey activity sheet. The world map will remain blank until the next class session.
  5. When the class has completed the survey, make a chart on the whiteboard giving the names of the countries and the brands.
  6. Ask the students to think about the results of the survey. Were they surprised by the number of products they found in their homes from other countries?
  7. Review the Into a New Millennium documents “Where Your Food Dollar Goes,” “American Agriculture’s Share of World Production,” “What We Sell to the World. . . What We Buy from Other Nations,” and “Our Top Foreign Markets” with the students to provide context for the products they use every day.
  8. Have the students mark the world map to indicate from which countries or states their families have products. Connect the dots from the countries or states to their home state.
  9. Ask the students if they see any trends. Electronics, automobiles, food? Discuss with the students that some countries specialize in producing goods at a price Americans are willing to pay. The U.S. government has trade agreements with many countries, but not all. The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an international, multilateral organization which sets rules for the global trading system and resolves disputes between its member states, all of whom are signatories to its approximately 30 agreements.
  10. As closure for this activity, ask students to create a concept map selecting one household item on their survey and then make the connections that product has to other resources, businesses, and careers. Can the students trace the product back to the farm or another natural resource such as oil (plastic)? Does the product’s principle ingredient come from another country? You may want students to identify the location where the connections on their concept webs occur.
  11. Finally, as a class, discuss again the questions noted in the Interest Approach — Engagement section of this lesson.

Activity 4: Trip to Planet Zorcon

Note: This is a very busy activity! Be sure to have plenty of space, and conduct this activity where students will not disrupt other classes. Review the directions carefully and note the preparation time that is required.

Preparation

  1. Tape the tarp onto the floor in a central area. If you are doing this in your classroom, move all the desks against the walls. Draw a large circle (at least four feet in diameter) onto the center of the tarp to represent Planet Zorcon.
  2. Copy enough Zorcon Research Staff ID Badge sets for your class, printing each set on a different color of paper (for the purpose of clean-up; same colors go together). There are five badges per group, so if you have 30 students, you will need six sets. You will also need some students to serve as Government Inspectors—if the number of students in the class is not evenly divisible by five, you can assign the remaining number to this role.
  3. For each group, place one set of Zorcon Research Staff ID Badges, 5 spoons, and 2 cups in a gallon-sized Ziploc.
  4. Fill another Ziploc with the "resources" (see the Materials list).
  5. Print or set up a computer/projector to project the Planet Zorcon PowerPoint to guide you through the following activity.

Trip Organization

  1. Form cooperative-learning work groups of five students each. Have one student pick up a bag of materials, ID badges, spoons, and cups. Instruct the groups to select a badge "job title"—Project Director, Surveyor, Data Collector, Security, or Resource Specialist.
  2. Have the surveyor for each group pick up a Resource Inventory activity sheet for their group and have the data collector fill in the name for each person's role.
  3. If you have an odd number of students in your class, assign three or four students as Government Inspectors. Have the Government Inspectors check to see that each sheet is filled out properly. The role of the inspectors will be to oversee each trip and to monitor behavior on Earth and on the other planet. They are allowed to give fines for improper behavior, which includes things like pushing, yelling, theft, and talking back to the government. Fines may range from one piece of any resource up to an entire trip's resources. Before they give a fine, they must check with the head of the government (the teacher).
  4. Discuss the Resource Inventory activity sheet. Remind students of the differences between renewable, nonrenewable, and inexhaustible resources. Ask them to place an RN, or in the first column on their activity sheets to indicate whether each resource is renewable (R), nonrenewable(N), or inexhaustible (I).

Trip 1

  1. Explain that this activity depicts life on Earth in the year 2094. Most of Earth's resources have been depleted, and nearly all water is polluted. A new planet, Planet Zorcon, has been discovered that has plenty of resources and is completely pollution-free. At this point, dump all the resources onto the circle representing Planet Zorcon.
  2. Have the Surveyors line up at least 15 feet away from the planet with a plastic cup and a plastic spoon. Indicate that their task is to travel from Earth to Planet Zorcon and collect as many resources as they can. They must pick up the resources with the spoon, one piece at a time, and place the resources into their cups. On the signal "GO," they should run to the planet and begin collecting.
  3. A Government Inspector should be sent to the planet to monitor behavior, levy fines, and time the duration of the resource collection—20 seconds for Trip 1.
  4. The Surveyors can travel at their own speed on their trip back to the earth. The group should help count the resources and provide this information to the Data Collector who should record the counts on the "Resource Inventory" activity sheet.

Trip 2

  1. Have each group discuss what they would like their Surveyor to collect on the second trip. For the second trip (Trip 2), the Surveyor can collect any way he/she wants but must use the spoon to pick up resources and must put the resources in the cup. Time for this trip is 20 seconds. "Ready, set, GO!"
  2. Return and record data. Levy fines as needed. Have the Project Director in each group lead a discussion on what the group members should "do" or "make" with their resources and write their ideas on the back of their activity sheet. The group should outline a plan for how best to use the renewable, nonrenewable, and inexhaustible resources and what to collect on the next trip.

Trip 3

  1. For Trip 3, the government has issued some restrictions and students will have only 10 seconds to collect resources. The Resource Specialist will accompany the Surveyor. Both can bring a spoon and all resources must fit in the cup. They should pick up one resource at a time on the spoon. Heavy fines may be levied if any group uses this method of collection. "Ready, set, GO!"
  2. Return and record data. Levy any fines, if needed.

Trip 4

  1. Indicate that Trip 4 is the last trip the government is going to allow to Planet Zorcon. This time anyone can go to collect, and 15 seconds will be allowed for collection time. The only restrictions are that the resources must fit in the groups' cups, and the fine for any personal injuries will be a loss of all resources. Each person may take a spoon.
  2. Tell students that the unknown mineral (spaghetti), has been identified as a rare mineral with special properties. Water is the largest part of its crystal structure. When the crystals are exposed to Krypton gas, the water is released as pure water. When returned to the air, they recrystallize and recharge by absorbing water from the air. The mineral can be used indefinitely. Only pieces that are not broken will count.
  3. Suggestion: Some of the Government Inspectors and group Security people may need to stay on Earth to guard the previously collected resources. The others should travel to the planet.

Activity Discussion

Discuss the activity covering the following topics:

  • What did you collect? Why?
  • What challenges did you experience?
  • What role did the government play?
  • How evenly were the resources distributed?
  • What does the new planet look like now?
  • Would you be able to live there?
  • Why didn't anyone think to protect the planet?
  • Are the damages your fault or the government's fault?
  • What careers are there in natural resource management?
  • Did you need a security person?
  • What was your main motivation for the last trip?
  • Which resources were most valuable? Why?
  • Can you restore the new planet to its original condition?
  • What resource specialists would be needed?

Conclusion

The future of our planet depends on human behaviors that we can control and our reaction to things we can't control, such as the weather and earthquakes. If no action is taken to manage how we use natural resources, nonrenewable resources can be exhausted, the quality of inexhaustible resources can be damaged, and the ability to replenish renewable resources can be lost. Managing natural resource use requires managing human behavior, which is a complex endeavor. There are many careers available in natural resource management ranging from research and education to policy development and law enforcement.

Concept Elaboration and Evaluation

After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

  • Perception and context are critical to good judgment. Most issues require an examination of validity, context, and trade-offs.
  • National security, sovereignty, overseas competition, and environmental concerns affect the U.S. economy.
  • Whether a resource is nonrenewable, renewable, or inexhaustible, it needs to be managed to maintain the sustainability of the resources we need to survive.
  • Sustainable agricultural practices seek to sustain farmers, resources, and communities by promoting farming practices and methods that are profitable, environmentally sound, and good for communities.
Sources

Growing a Nation was funded by USDA CSREES cooperative agreement #2004-38840-01819 and developed cooperatively by: USDA, Utah State University Extension, and LetterPress Software, Inc.

Activity 4: Trip to Planet Zorcon adapted from What will tomorrow bring? from the International Office of Water Education, Utah State University.

Author

Debra Spielmaker & Courtney Clausen

Organization Affiliation

National Center for Agricultural Literacy

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