Why our recent Hydroponics Educational Systems award means so much

On April 28, Fast Company announced the winners of their 2020 World Changing Ideas Awards. Their annual awards program focuses on social good; the 3,000 entries from this year represent innovative businesses, policies, products and concepts that are helping to make the world a better place. Leaders in social entrepreneurship, philanthropy, venture capital and activism select the winners. Our Hydroponics Educational Systems received an Honorable Mention in the Education category of the awards. We couldn’t be more thrilled.

Designed with education in mind

Our Hydroponics Educational Systems were inspired by teachers. Before we debuted these systems last year, teachers in all areas of education – agriculture, Family & Consumer Sciences, science and STEM – had been telling us how important it was that they teach STEM concepts, sustainability and modern agriculture in their classrooms. They wanted to incorporate the farm-to-school movement into their programs. We created our Hydroponics Educational Systems to help teachers engage their students in all those topics – especially students who had never been to a farm, grown their own food or even seen green lettuce before.

Teachers can use our Plant Lab Educational Hydroponics System and Plant Producer Educational Hydroponics System to start growing fresh, healthy food in their classrooms right away. Their vertical design and built-in water, air flow and grow lighting are ideal for growing in a classroom. Each system also includes lesson plans, teaching resources and starter materials.

To meet teachers’ varying growing needs, we developed two different systems. The larger Plant Producer system can grow production-level quantities of greens while the smaller Plant Lab system lets users experiment with different quantities of plants on each of the unit’s three levels.

Growing student engagement year-round

As a company, our mission is to provide educators with products that engage students in workforce needs while improving social, emotional, and physical health through interactive technology. Our Hydroponics Educational Systems are a great example of our mission. We’re thrilled at the recognition from Fast Company’s 2020 World Changing Ideas Awards, and we’re proud to be helping teachers “grow” the farm-to-school movement and address other important concepts year-round.

Click here to read the original post, published on Realityworks’ blog on April 28, 2020.

As the skills gap widens, CTE gets a necessary investment proposal from the President to address the workforce challenge our country faces

By Timm Boettcher, President & CEO of Realityworks, Inc.

This week has been nothing short of a GIGANTIC week for Career and Technical Education (CTE). On Monday, February 10, CTE received well-deserved recognition in the President’s State of the Union address. In that address, President Trump stated, “My budget also contains an exciting vision for our nation’s high schools. Tonight, I ask Congress to support our students and back my plan to offer vocational and technical education in every single high school in America.” Following that address, President Trump did just that. In his budget recommendations to Congress, released shortly after the address, the President called for an additional $900M in investment in CTE.

WOW. You may be asking yourself, “what is this CTE and why such a huge increase and bold move?” Well, the answer is quite simple to me and frankly, LONG overdue. I’ve been working with CTE programs for more than 23 years. I will start by first explaining it with a phrase I borrowed from my good friend Doug Majors, CTE President at Meridian Technical Center in Oklahoma. He said, “There isn’t a day that goes by that you could live without CTE.

The impact of CTE

Now, you are probably saying, “really?” But the answer is 1,000% yes. CTE programs in our country produce the workforce our businesses need to run effectively and the resources we need to live every single day. They produce many of the folks you need at the hospital, like a CNA. In fact, CTE programs produce the talented individuals in factories across the country that run the machines and even the robots that build the goods we consume, like the car you drive. On top of that, CTE programs produce the automotive technicians that you need to repair these high-tech cars. CTE programs produce the professionals we need in our certified childcare centers. And really, what is more important than having a properly trained professional care for our children?

The list goes on. CTE also produces the professionals we need in our restaurants. (And I’m not in favor of giving up going out to eat!). Speaking of going out to eat, CTE produces the talent that grows and raises all our food – and we need that. CTE produces the plumbers, carpenters, and electricians we need to build our homes. And who doesn’t want a safe, well-built home? CTE produces all sorts of technicians from manufacturing to electronic to computer programming. Look around – do you have an electronic device near you, in your hand, or your pocket? Yeah, CTE was instrumental in making that.

As I look around the plane I’m taking from Minneapolis to San Francisco today, I realize CTE was instrumental in building this plane. I sure am glad that a high-quality CTE program trained the folks that built this plane.

Everywhere we look, we see examples of CTE

By now, you’re probably saying, “wow, CTE is everywhere!” And you’d be right. This country was built by our forefathers who were apprentices – and apprenticeship is a big part of CTE as well. In CTE I can get work-based learning experiences and explore careers to make sure the career path I am choosing makes sense for me. Pretty awesome.

I applaud the President for his bold proposal. I think it is desperately needed to make sure we maintain a strong, vibrant, healthy economy. We have to be careful in how we do it and that it doesn’t come at the cost of something else that is needed but I will tell you, investment in CTE is absolutely needed – just remember the need for CTE in your daily life the next time you grab a bite to eat, get in your car or on a plane, head to your hotel, your home, or office, or use a computer. CTE helped build it all, and without CTE, you simply wouldn’t have it.

This blog was originally written on February 14, 2020 for Realityworks, Inc. Click here to see the original.

How My Students Use a Classroom Garden to Grow Food for School Lunches

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on WeAreTeachers.com on January 21, 2020. You can see the original post here.

At the beginning of the school year, I had an idea: What if my students started a classroom garden that helped supply food to our school cafeteria? The students would have a hands-on, purposeful opportunity to learn about plant science. Plus we’d help our food services department cut costs.

I asked my administrators if I could test out a new plant lab garden system from Realityworks. I’m only in my second year of teaching, but they trusted me, and my request paid off. Now, the whole school benefits from nutritious salad greens that my students grow right in our classroom garden.

Engaging Students From the Start
When students entered my classroom in the fall, the first thing they noticed was the flashy and futuristic-looking equipment. They were immediately curious and excited to learn about this state-of-the-art indoor garden.

The process of growing produce was simple. The starter kit included everything we needed to grow 42 beds of butter lettuce. The kit came with seeds, reusable growing cups, Rockwool, and starter nutrients that have lasted us the whole year so far. It also came with a user guide, LED grow lights, fans, a water pump, and a seven-gallon water tank.

Teaching the Future of Agriculture
Through this hands-on classroom garden project, my students learned exactly how to grow food through a modern system of indoor gardening called hydroponics. Farmland is all around our school, so it’s hard for my students to imagine that hydroponics is rapidly becoming a popular way of growing food in our country. But this project helped.

In a nutshell, hydroponics is an alternative farming technique that’s great for areas that don’t have a lot of cropland. It eliminates the need for soil. Instead, it uses a water pump to circulate nutrients through Rockwool growing cups that hold plants. This helps grow healthy vegetables just about anywhere. Plus it allows farmers to easily maintain optimum growing conditions for their indoor crops.

Keep reading the original post by clicking here.

High schools using simulators for livestock training

From proper ear tag attachment to artificial insemination, there are tools that add value to class time.

By Willie Vogt | November 19, 2019 | This article was originally published on FarmProgress.com.

The days of the high-school field trip to the farm may be numbered. Or more limited. With falling budgets and rising concerns over liability, students don’t get the same “real-world” chance to engage with agriculture on a deeper level than a corn maze.

Yet agriculture offers opportunities for future high school and college grads in a range of industry roles. What’s a teacher to do?

For agriculture teachers at the high school level, new tools are opening opportunities for teaching and informing students about agriculture. One tool is a simulator, which can offer students a noninvasive experience, yet provide real-world benefits.

“I use the AI simulator,” says William Fritz, Mount Pleasant High School agriculture education instructor, Rolla, N.D. “We’re in an area where there isn’t a lot of livestock. I have 69 students and only four have livestock; they’re mostly grain farmers.”

Fritz notes that Rolla has 1,300 residents, and there are many even in the small town who have never been near a cow. And with fewer cattle in the area, providing students access is a challenge. “It’s easier to [use the simulator] than trying to line up a farmer that allows us to practice AI in their cattle.”

The simulator Fritz acquired is from Realityworks, an Eau Claire, Wis., company that makes training tools for health science, agriculture and other career and technical education programs. The AI simulator, or Bovine Breeder as it’s called, and the Bovine Injection simulator, offer students the chance to try out artificial insemination or ear tagging in a way that’s educational and risk-free.

For Fritz, the simulator — which is a life-size cow rear end in his classroom — is a way to keep students engaged. When it first arrived, there were the occasional snickers and bawdy comments, but as students get more engaged, Fritz says they’re learning a real-world skill.

“Most of the cattle producers around here use bulls,” he says. “When I teach the AI unit, I share that this is a career where you can make a living. Many don’t have a clue that an [AI tech] is an actual job.”

Getting past the ick factor

A simulator is a simple way to avoid some of the challenges of working with actual cattle. Yet Fritz informs even the novice student that the simulator is a tool, and that working live animals can be different. However, he also notes that the simulator is accurate when it comes to AI training.

“I’ve had experienced people check it out, and they tell me it’s very real,” he says.

And that’s what Whitney Judd, Coalmont, Tenn., a CTE teacher in agriculture, is finding out with the two Realityworks units she has in her classroom. Both the Bovine Breeder and the Bovine Injection Simulator are available to her class.

“With the injection simulator, you use water in a syringe — and you can keep reusing those, and the ear tags,” she notes. “Students can learn that skill.”

Noting that Grundy County is an economically disadvantaged area of Tennessee, any insight into jobs has value. Yet Judd ran into the problem of not being able to take students to farms for practice. Like Fritz, she needed an alternative.

Judd’s school has a career in tech education program, and a Perkins educational grant offers money for teaching tools. “I have a very proactive and supportive CTE director,” she says. “She wants high-end, quality, top-notch supplies, and she wants our kids to get those experiences — to go out and be able to do better in society.”

The Perkins grant is the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Act of 2006, which provides federal funding to states and discretionary grantees for improving secondary and postsecondary career and technical education programs. It’s a source of outside funding teachers can access, provided they create a valid use case.

That CDT coordinator support and the Perkins grant helped Judd acquire the Realityworks tools. The higher upfront cost can challenge some schools, but teachers see the value. Add in the fact that you’re not facing the liability of taking students off campus by bus to a busy farm with live animals, and these tools offer value.

Fritz also used Perkins grant funding to acquire that class’s Bovine Breeder. “I knew that the money might be available, and I planned ahead to ask for it. I’d seen the system in a trade show,” he says.

Hitting the sweet spot

“We’ve hit a need educators have,” says Jamey McIntosh, Realityworks product marketing manager. “We continue to hear story after story about the need for students. Less come from the farm, and things you once assumed they knew or expected to understand, they don’t. We have to go back and teach that stuff.”

In a world where even small-town youth are more removed from the farm, dropping a cow reproductive system simulator in their midst can be a challenge. Fritz notes that he did have a couple male parents concerned about the simulator during conferences earlier in 2019. “But their wives told them to get over it,” he says. “The kids are surprised about how artificial insemination actually works.”

For McIntosh, the key to these products is their value in an education environment more directly concerned with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. “This hits STEM because it has a big science component,” he says. “For the breeder, there’s the science of the reproduction cycle of the cow. For the injection simulator, they can learn about the process, but also about why cows are injected or tagged.”

Judd notes she has her vice principal’s sons in her class. “He’s excited, and so are other parents,” she says. “Kids graduate, then they come back; and when they see the simulator, they say wish they could have had that hands-on experience.”

You can learn more about the tools at realityworks.com.

This article was originally published on FarmProgress.com on November 19, 2019. You can see the original post here.

Beyond Industry Partnerships: How Postsecondary CTE Programs Are Achieving Success

By Timm Boettcher | Originally published in the October 2019 issue of ACTE’s Techniques magazine. ACTE members, log in to read the complete article.

Ask Cody Waits, Director of the Office of Skills Development for the Arkansas Department of Commerce, how important it is for a successful postsecondary career and technical education (CTE) program to be responsive to workforce needs, and he won’t hesitate to answer: It is vital.

“It’s vital to the success of not only the program, but also to those who participate in the program,” said Waits. “If postsecondary CTE programs are not responsive to workforce needs, they are preparing program participants for skills or jobs that are not available. If they get it right, they
create a pipeline of talent for companies to source talent and can create corporate confidence that economic developers can leverage in competitive situations.”

Strong partnerships between education and industry are key to getting it right. In the almost two decades that I have been working with representatives of education, industry and workforce development programs, I’ve seen firsthand the great things that can happen when administrators, teachers and businesses collaborate. Education–industry collaboration helps postsecondary programs tailor curriculum to match industry requirements; it helps businesses connect with future employees through tours, speaking engagements, job shadowing and work experience opportunities; and most importantly, it helps ensure that students learn the skills needed for employment in high-wage, high-skill and high-demand jobs.

However, successful postsecondary CTE programs must be living, breathing entities that constantly reinvent themselves.

Successful postsecondary CTE programs in action

To ensure his Pinellas Technical College (PTC) – Clearwater Campus students are prepared for what lies ahead, campus director
Jakub Prokop created a community engagement program. Prokop says the program is helping to foster a deeper level of collaboration between the Florida college and its business and industry partners.

“In today’s changing student demographic, we found that there are
extra steps we can take to prepare the next-generation workforce,” said Prokop. “This new approach to community engagement will provide multiple levels of benefits for all stakeholders while bringing current industry standards into the classrooms and labs of PTC.”

Beginning this year, students considering PTC will start seeing logos and
information about the community engagement program’s business partners — businesses they might someday work for — on the college’s website and in recruitment materials. Current students will hear about those business partners through email and other college communications.

In return, those business partners will participate in an annual event
during which they will interview recent or soon-to-be graduates. The program will not only provide the curriculum and equipment feedback PTC
has regularly gotten from its business partners, but will incentivize prospective students and motivate current ones.

“Postsecondary education can be difficult because students often have a
life they’re managing as well — kids and spouses, etc. Our population, generally, they’re weak in the ability to set things aside and focus solely on their education,” said Prokop. “With this program, we’re building internal motivation and persistence in our students, while keeping our business partners at the forefront of their minds.”

Log in to ACTE’s online member portal to continue reading this article, which was published in the October 2019 issue of “Techniques” magazine.

Students learn new skills, help create new beginnings for others

Originally posted on October 11, 2019 by Lowe’s writer Samantha Pence | Read the original article here

What if you could make an average of nearly $60,000 per year without a college degree? That’s the current median salary of an electrician in the United States. Those who have been working in the field for years can earn even more, ranging up to six figures. With the current workforce nearing retirement age, it’s predicted three million skilled trade jobs will be open by 2028.

Currently, only five percent of parents in the U.S. expect their high school-aged students to pursue a career in the skilled trades. For those not interested in attending a four-year college, skilled trades are an alternative worth considering.

“Working in the skilled trades allows young people to be more creative, to play an important role in solving challenging problems with their own hands and using their talents to make our societies stronger and more vibrant,” said Jennifer Weber, Lowe’s Executive Vice President of Human Resources. “After gaining enough experience, skilled trades are the ultimate path to entrepreneurship and to creating opportunities to own your own business and become your own boss.”

Click here to continue reading the full article, which was published on October 11, 2019

Early Childhood Education Learning Lab opens at KCC

Posted September 16, 2019 for The Daily Reporter | Click here to read the original article

BATTLE CREEK — Early Childhood Education students at Kellogg Community College have a new space to hone their skills on campus this fall.

KCC’s new Early Childhood Education Learning Lab is a traditional college classroom refurbished earlier this summer to resemble a preschool classroom that will help train students to become educators. ECE officials at KCC say the new space supports national accreditation standards and provides students with better opportunities to apply their studies in a controlled environment where they can safely experience the types of situations they might face in the workplace.

Ann Miller, manager of Early Childhood and Teacher Education at KCC, said the new lab will serve as a training ground, giving instructors better opportunities to support individual learning with immediate feedback in a more clinical, consistent setting.

“We really wanted an opportunity to have a hands-on experience for the students in an environment that is safe for them to be able to explore and come up with different learning concepts and best practices,” Miller said. “And we’re intentionally aligning the space with what our students are expected to need in the field.”

This article was originally written for The Daily Reporter. Click here to read the complete article.

From a Maker Fair to a Fab Lab: How a Western Wisconsin school district is helping students develop in-demand skills

By Timm Boettcher, Realityworks President & CEO

In the first of this two-part series for ACTE’s Industry Connect blog, we profile a Western Wisconsin CTE program that’s doing some exciting things to engage CTE students.

Excitement was palpable as Altoona elementary, middle and high school students crowded into the middle school gym on April 25. The students were there to display a variety of handmade, interactive projects for the Western Wisconsin school district’s fifth annual Maker Fair. For the participants, the fair was an opportunity to show off projects that many had made using skills learned in the district’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses, like graphic design, woodworking and coding. For the organizers, the fair was an opportunity to celebrate how far the district’s CTE program has come since their first Maker Fair in 2014.

“When I started in 2014, I was the tech ed department,” said School District of Altoona Technology Education Teacher Jeffrey Ballentine. “Enrollment had been declining steadily since the mid-90’s, and we knew we had to make some changes. A makerspace was the first initiative we started, and with that initiative came a Maker Fair.”

In 2014, Ballentine was teaching one section of CTE courses to fourth-and fifth-graders and one section of CTE courses to ninth- through 12-graders each day, while middle school students received no CTE instruction. He typically saw no more than 10 students per class, and coursework focused on a more “modular” approach.

“Back then, we’d set up stations – a hydraulics lab station, a woodworking station, etc. Students would complete small tasks at each station, but not usually a complete project,” recalls Ballentine. “While they learned skills, this approach didn’t seem to carry as much interest with students – it didn’t give a real-world experience for them.”

To give Altoona students more real-world experiences, renew interest in CTE programs and address a growing skills gap in business and industry, the district started shifting toward a more project-based learning approach.

“When I speak with industry leaders in our area, they’re saying they want our kids to be able to do things like use a ruler, a tape measure, implement math into a program to operate a machine – things that require hands-on learning experiences,” said Dan Peggs, Altoona School District Superintendent, who was principal of Altoona Middle School when the shift towards more project-based learning was made. “Project-based learning is a way to let students flex a variety of tech ed ‘muscles,’ learn needed skills, work with tools and technology… in a way that suits them.”

Grants Enable Program Growth

In 2014, the district applied for and received a $20,000 state education grant to enhance science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) offerings for fourth- and fifth-graders, including a makerspace – and subsequent Maker Fair. This initiative gave Altoona students a chance to invent and create projects using resources like computers and audio/video editing tools.

“It’s a popular movement,” said Ballentine. “It’s about sharing how you made something and what your experiences were.”

The movement was so popular, in fact, that the next year – in conjunction with a $23 million referendum to remodel several district buildings – the School District of Altoona applied for, and received, a $25,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). The grant’s purpose: to create the Altoona Intermediate and Middle School Fabrication Laboratory, or Fab Lab, in what was previously an elementary school multipurpose space.

“We’ve received several smaller grants, and we get some donations from our community,” said Ballentine. “But without that WEDC grant, I think that our Fab Lab would have been turned back into a gym, and we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

A project-based learning environment designed to provide students with the skills needed to create products and develop skills needed to meet workforce demands, the Fab Lab initially began with a laser engraver, a 3D printer, a vinyl cutter and Lego robot. In addition to equipment, the grant also enabled the district to add a second CTE instructor, Bill Steinke, so courses could also be offered at the middle school in response to increasing demand.

“Our administration believes in hands-on learning, and as a technology and engineering teacher myself, I believe in providing educational experiences that engage kinesthetic learners,” said Ballentine. “Research shows that kinesthetic learning better engages learners and bridges the gaps between theoretical learning and practice.

More student engagement meant higher demand for CTE classes. According to Ballentine, enrollment in the School District of Altoona’s CTE program has increased almost 5 times since the Fab Lab opened its doors in October 2016. That year, 14 sections of CTE courses were offered; during the 2019-2020 school year, Ballentine, Bill Steinke and Sarah Steinke, who joined the department in 2018 to teach fourth- and fifth-graders, will together offer 20 CTE courses. Classes now range from metal fabrication, building construction and welding to graphic design, mechatronics and digital fabrication. Fab Lab equipment has been added to as well; recent additions include traditional tools like welders, as well as a vacuum former, a 3D mill and a plastic injection molding machine.

“Not only do we have more sections available, but we have more kids per class,” said Ballentine, explaining that the district is also seeing more female students enrolled in CTE courses than ever before. “The key is to get them in early, continue them in the coursework.”

Stay tuned next month, when this article continues with a review of the industry partnerships that are helping to ensure program relevancy and reactions from Altoona students, whose CTE experiences are growing

Schooled in ag: School gives students a hands-on education

By Holly Kays | Published August 29, 2019 for the Smoky Mountain News | Click here to read the original article

With a new school year just begun, the 300 students who participate in Waynesville Middle School’s robust agriculture program now have an array of new woodshop equipment at their disposal. “In two weeks this will be like Santa’s little helper’s woodshop,” Noal Castater, agriculture teacher at WMS since 2010, said in an interview the Friday before the first day of school.

The equipment, which includes 17 pieces of woodworking equipment and eight engines, was purchased last spring thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Carolina Farm Credit Corporate Mission Fund. Out of 100 applications, 40 received funding, with an average award of $3,800.

Woodworking, power tool use and small engine repair are lifelong skills, said Castater, and it’s important for students to gain at least a rudimentary grasp of them.

Continue reading the complete, original article on SmokyMountainNews.com by clicking here.

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