February 2000 // Volume 38 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW1

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Creating Agriculture Awareness through an Interactive Learning Experience: Incubators in the Classroom

The poultry Extension staff at Purdue University has implemented an Extension program for fourth-grade elementary students. The program, called "Incubators in the Classroom", offers interactive experiences by which students can learn about various aspects of agriculture. Interactivity is accomplished through interaction with teachers/educators, CD-ROMs, and other learning materials. The overall programmatic goal is to increase agriculture awareness and enhance education among fourth-grade students. The program was re-vamped in May 1997, and to date has directly reached more than 15,000 students. Presently, the investigators are seeking ways to critically evaluate the program. Critical evaluation is the only objective method of assessing the true impact of this endeavor.

Ryan A. Meunier
Extension Graduate Student
Internet address: rmeunier@purdue.edu

B. Allen Talbert
Associate Professor of Agricultural Education
Internet address: btalbert@purdue.edu

Mickey A. Latour
Poultry Extension Specialist
Internet address: gator@purdue.edu

Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana


One challenging aspect of educating children is to gain and retain their attention. From past experience, the investigators know students are seeking hands-on experiences in their classes and educational experiences. Therefore, it is important to ask how do we develop these hands-on teaching modules and at the same time, enhance the learning potential of students? Also, how can we better focus students on the importance of agricultural education?

The first two questions are extremely important to educators and present a difficult task. The first question has been approached via live animals (baby chicks). The latter question will be approached through implementation of learning materials; these technologies created at the university level (through interaction between college professors, students, and communities) will further positively impact the students' views of education.

From this approach, the "Incubators in the Classroom" project was designed to enhance the awareness of agriculture through an interactive learning experience. "Incubators in the Classroom" provides incubators, fertile eggs, and educational materials to Indiana elementary classrooms. The program draws connections between products and the importance of education in the advancement of agricultural products.

It is hoped that this approach will further illustrate that learning can be fun and exciting. Collectively, these learning materials will provide a better understanding of (a) the relationships that exist between math, science, and products, (b) the importance of learning, and (c) higher education's role in the research and development of products.

The question is often asked, why target young school children? Super, et al. (1957) state, that it is around the 4th grade that children are exceptionally receptive to concepts. Therefore, it is essential to convey important messages during this time period. Further, Super, et al. (1957) suggest that little to no exposure to a particular subject at this stage of development generally resulted in little desire to learn about this subject later in life. Hence, the enhancement of active learning coupled with a university at this stage is important to ensure that future adults understand the importance of education and how it impacts the world.

Description of Learning Materials

The program, "Incubators in the Classroom," offers the following materials: (1) incubators for incubating chicken eggs, (2) a teacher's lesson guide to incubating chicken eggs, (3) a lesson guide covering egg formation within the hen reproductive tract, (4) a lesson guide for housing, brooding, and handling chicks safely, (5) a story-line agricultural learning guide (hardcopy and CD-ROM), (6) The Developing Chick Embryo CD-ROM, and (7) an embryonic developmental poster.

The 18 incubators are capable of incubating up to three dozen eggs. These are non-commercial incubators used only in classrooms and by educators within the State of Indiana.

The teachers lesson guide to incubating chicken eggs provides insight as to how chicken embryos develop and how to properly care for hatching eggs. This publication also provides information about the science and technology discovered through artificial incubation of chicken eggs. Specifically, the students learn how artificial incubation of chicken eggs has been applied to save wild bird species.

The egg formation guide provides educators with information regarding how, when, and where the process of egg formation takes place within the hen reproductive tract. This publication helps educators and their students understand the biology and anatomy of how an egg is formed within the hen.

The lesson guide for housing, brooding, and handling chicks safely provides teachers/educators with information about safely raising chicks. Specifically, this publication addresses (a) sanitation, (b) space, (c) feed and water, (d) brooding and housing temperature recommendations, and (e) safety issues.

The agricultural learning guide (hardcopy and CD-ROM) is a bilingual (English and Spanish) publication in which agriculture is seen through the eyes of two chicks, Chirp and Shelby. These chicks travel around the farm and continually question their parents and other animals about agriculture. Within the story, the chicks soon discover the many aspects of agriculture. Chirp and Shelby also discover that humans are engaged in educational studies at colleges, where people can learn exciting things and assist in the discovery of new technology. The goal is for children, both English and Spanish speaking, to develop a better understanding of the food and fiber chain and how a college education helps in the development of products for humans.

The Developing Chick Embryo CD-ROM was created to capture the process of incubation. The CD-ROM captures the fascinating development of a chick embryo in a 21-day period. The CD-ROM is similar to a VHS tape, except the user can easily navigate the CD-ROM, dictate how fast the embryo grows, and more closely monitor the developmental process by using Object QuickTime Virtual Reality© technology.

The embryonic developmental poster contains a series of color pictures and information covering the developmental process throughout the incubation period. The poster works well in combination with the CD-ROM, especially in a large group setting. The need for a poster is two-fold, (a) educators indicated a technology access barrier (computer with a CD-ROM), and (b) the poster can be displayed on a permanent basis for all students to view.

Results & Discussion

The project, "Incubators in the Classroom," has been tremendously successful in terms of acceptance by educators since it was implemented in May 1997. Since that time, the program has directly reached more than 15,000 school children. Specifically, the program has been delivered to 275 elementary classrooms, two state fairs and a farm progress show, eight daycare providers, five home schools, and 15 county Extension offices. The tremendous response for the program, in terms of popularity, has caused an interest in assessing the true impact of this program.

Currently the authors are visiting with educational experts at Purdue University in a quest to generate an agriculture awareness evaluation instrument. In addition, the team is pursuing effective avenues of educating youth through agricultural examples. Once a plan is drafted, the authors will be working with local elementary schools to further refine the program and it's learning materials. Past experience shows that successful programs include input by teachers/educators.

During the developmental process of new materials and evaluation techniques, a review committee of elementary teachers and Extension educators will be selected so that all contents are evaluated for language and subject matter. In addition, a questionnaire/survey response will be developed in order to assess participants' views of agriculture pre- and post-exposure to the program. The questionnaire/survey administered to participants prior to the program will provide some insight as to their knowledge and perceptions about agriculture prior to the implementation of the program. Likewise, the questionnaire/survey following the program will give the investigators some indication of the change in student perception towards agriculture following implementation of the program. The questionnaire/survey administered following intervention will also assess the program's learning materials.

In addition, the investigators will evaluate the program based on geographic locations and population sizes (rural vs. suburban vs. urban). For example, to test whether pre- and/or post-evaluation scores differ among children in rural versus suburban versus urban populations of Indiana. This type of evaluation will give investigators insight on how and where the to focus the program.


The authors thank The Indiana State Poultry Association, The Turkey Market Development Council, Purdue University, and The Purdue Research Foundation for financial assistance.


Super, D.E., Crites, J.O., Hummel, R.C., Moser, H.P., Overstreet, P.L., & Warnath, C.F. (1957). Vocational development: A framework for research. New York: American Book - Stratford Press.