September 21, 2011

Virtual classroom: Texas third graders visit rural Nebraska

By Mark Jagels, District 2 farmer-director on Nebraska Corn Board

I had an interesting call from our middle son, Brett, early last week. Brett and his wife, Kristin, recently moved to Austin, Texas, where he is teaching third grade at St. Paul's Lutheran school.  He asked me if I would help him with his lesson on Friday, showing his third graders where their food came from, with a virtual classroom on our farm.
My wife and I thought, “Wow! What a terrific way for us here in Nebraska to help educate some kids over 1,000 miles away about the crops we grow and the livestock we raise.” With the technology we have today, even for a person that struggles with all the advances of technology, what an opportunity this was. 

Brett helped me get our Motorola Xoom tablet ready for a virtual classroom tour of our farm. Friday morning came and I got online via iGoogle video. I walked around our farm, showed them equipment we use, started a tractor, walked in a corn field, showed them ears of corn, shelled a couple of ears of corn, both yellow and white, showed them our shop, grain bins, cows, calves and the feed they eat, all live via the video on the Xoom. 

Mark shared live images with the virtual classroom, like
equipment, cattle, corn, grains bins and baby calves.
I described some of the different jobs we do on the farm and how we do them, trying to put it in terms they could relate to.

Some examples were: one acre is about the size of a football field; one bushel of corn weighs the same as some of the 56-pound third graders; if 200 of the third graders stood on a football field, that is what our corn yields per acre; it would take 21,000 third graders to fill one of our grain bins, and many more examples of thinking like a third grader. I then went in the house and got on Skype to visit with them about questions they had.  Wow, was that an eye opening experience!

They asked a lot of great questions about the equipment, crops, livestock and general questions about rural life in Nebraska. For example, “how many ears of corn are on one stalk”, “how many stalks in an acre”, “how many stalks in an average size field, how many hours a day do you work”, “what do you do with the corn”, “what items in the grocery store come from your farm”, “how much does a baby calf weigh”, “what does a calf weigh when you take it off the cow”, “what does a cow weigh”, “do you process cows on the farm”, “how many cows and bulls do you have”, “do cows and calves get sick”, “what do you do if they get sick”, “what do you do besides farm”, “is farming hard”, “do you like Nebraska football” (is there another team?). 

They even asked some questions about the reproductive side of livestock that I had a tough time putting in terms for a third grader. I was very impressed with the quality of questions they asked and the interest they showed in what we do and how we do it. Brett asked if we could do this again throughout the year, showing harvest, field work, winter, calving, planting, irrigating and more – to help educate his third graders on the importance of livestock and grain production.

Wow, virtual classrooms showing Nebraska agriculture, both crops and livestock to third graders in Austin, Texas. Thanks Brett, for keeping in touch with Nebraska!


  1. From the 3rd Grade in Austin,
    We really appreciate you taking time out of your busy day to show us around the farm and give us a tour. We really liked seeing all the different things you did, we liked seeing the equipment, corn, and cattle that are on your farm. We hope to do it again and see how you process the corn that you grow. Thank you for taking time and answering all of our questions. We may have some more for you to answer next time we do this. We hope to see you again. Thanks again.
    GO BIG RED!!!!!! (from Longhorn country)
    The 3rd Graders at St. Paul Lutheran School Austin (with the help of Brett Jagels)

  2. This sounds a lot like the Nebraska Farm Bureau's Ag-In-The-Classroom program. We are paired with a class in another part of the state and get to educate them about what we do, field questions, and hopefully visit them to get a more hands-on feel to things. Sounds like you are doing a great job, both of you.