Agriculture has been separated from science education, study suggests

Agriculture has been separated from science education, study suggests

STEM education often leaves out agriculture, according to University of Florida researcher

University of Florida Institute of Food and Ag Sciences research Katie Stofer says agriculture has been effectively separated from other sciences.

Stofer, an agricultural communications professor who surveyed 29 science museums in cities of all sizes across the U.S., found that the word "agriculture" is unlikely to appear, even though exhibits may relate to ag or ag practices.

Related: AGree releases plan for food and ag research reform

Researcher Katie Stofer found that science museums across America, for the most part, do not use the word “agriculture” in their exhibits. Image courtesy of University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

To make the list of large science museums in the survey, the facility needed a budget of at least $10 million annually and at least 200,000 visitors. The results showed that none of the facilities included the word "agriculture" in an exhibit title or description, but Stofer says about 45% of the 316 exhibits could be categorized as "probably" agriculture related at the least, based on exhibit titles and descriptions.

Stofer said the results will help show educators and museum officials about agriculture's role in teaching science, technology, engineering and math.

"Museums are fundamental places for the public to support efforts in public education," Stofer said, "yet, many science museums do not explicitly highlight Ag-STEM connections through exhibits."

Bringing 'agriculture' into STEM education
Researchers in agriculture and environmental fields use science to solve global issues, including hunger, disease and water conservation. Stofer points out in her study that scientists and other experts must find ways to feed 9 billion people globally by the year 2050.

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"This is the crux of the food security challenge facing the world, a challenge that crosses applied fields like agriculture as well as underlying basic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math," Stofer said.

For much of the 20th century, agricultural education was separated from science and math -- and to some extent from technology and engineering -- in secondary schools in the U.S.

While STEM classes were considered college preparatory courses, agricultural education was considered a pathway to a vocational career after high school graduation, Stofer said.

Related: Paper describes 5 ways to boost lagging K-12 ag education

This separation persists even in 2015, and could be one reason for the scarcity of STEM-skilled, particularly Ag-STEM-skilled employees, in the American workforce, she said.

Rebranding science museum exhibits with agriculture-related words, like "plant diseases" or "nutrition" would help, Stofer said.

"We've got all this information about science; we're just not contextualizing it around agriculture, but we could," she adds.

Source: University of Florida

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