For Dianna Deniston, agriculture is part of her life, away from teaching, and recently it found its way into her classroom.

Deniston of Garden City, Kansas, was named the 2015 Janet Sims Memorial Teacher of the Year by the Kansas Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom. The award recognizes teachers who instill a passion for learning about agriculture within their students. KFAC honors one teacher a year who has integrated ag education in their pre-existing curriculum. Deniston is an instructional math coach at Victor Ornelas Elementary.

“My interest is there and I just appreciate the opportunity,” Deniston said. “I keep saying agriculture, especially in Finney County, is all around us. Everywhere you look you see agriculture.”

Deniston has spent 41 years on the farm, raising dairy cattle, hogs and beef cattle with a little bit of farming sprinkled in. She hopes her students can experience “life on the farm” even if it is just for a school day.

“We’ve got the corn plant over here with ethanol and the kids see the trucks hauling grain. They see the combines out in the field. They see the tractors in the fields, the animals, but they don’t have experience with them,” she said. “The careers with agriculture are so abundant, and so maybe it will open a few doors of interest.”

Ag Math Day

Two years ago, Deniston attended a summer learning opportunity at Kansas State University hosted by the KFAC. Finney County Farm Bureau helped Deniston attend, and when she returned, the idea for an Ag Math Day emerged.

“I was presenting to them and we talked about how we could get agriculture to the kids. Get the kids to the farm and we can’t—we don’t have the funding for field trips,” Deniston said. “The cost is too much to get all of our kids out to the farm. They said they’ll bring the farm to me, and that’s how it started.”

The school district in Garden City encourages the teachers to look at the learning aspect in everything.

“So I knew I had to incorporate curriculum with the agriculture and I’m the math instructor here or math coach, so it was easy for me to fit math with agriculture,” she said. “And it fits so well. The real world application.”

During the Ag Math Day event, Nov. 6, students visited a number of stations ranging from farm equipment to animals. Each had some sort of math application. For example, in the crops and grains station, students measured bushel weights and measured stalk heights. The kids were new to bushel weights, she said.

“The height fits what they’re already doing in the classroom with measuring— centimeters, meters, inches and feet,” Deniston said.

In another segment, the students assembled edible soil and learned about measuring ingredients.

“The edible soil is fun for the kids to have something to eat, a snack, but they’re also talking about measuring the smaller amounts,” Deniston said. “Using dry ingredients—1/4 of a cup, 1/2 a cup, a cup, and just re-emphasizing that with them.”

A pumpkin patch allowed them to look at and compare attributes of the pumpkins and order them in a certain manner. They also studied heights, weights and circumferences.

“Farming is a team effort. The kids are using a timer to time the kids with the activity so they’re thinking about time,” she said. “The emphasis is actually that the farmer is so important to many businesses and that those businesses are important to the farmer, and that they work together as a team to be successful. So that’s why farming is a team effort.”

In other stations, the students looked at wheat germination, sunflowers and rabbits. Each section was tailored to discuss math specifics. With the livestock stations—chickens, goats and horses—Deniston offered lesson plans to presenters to help fit the age level of students they would be talking to.

“I gave them lesson plans that fit the age level of the kids they’ll be talking to so they would know the math those kids were having, so they can relate it as much as possible to these kids,” she said. “But they also came with their own ideas of what they want to share with the animals.”

Many of the students participated in a “tractor pull” with small pedal tractors.

“There we’re talking about distance, resistance and weight,” she said.

A full-size tractor and sprayer helped the students differentiate the size and weight of farm equipment.

“We compare the tires they put on their cars and the size of the tractor tires. The weight the tractor tire can hold, because of the size can hold more weight,” Deniston said. “Just again just using the math in real world.”

It’s not all fun and games at Ag Math Day, Deniston warned, but the fun sure helps.

“We’re trying to make it as hands on as we can. That raises the level of interest,” she said. “It’s just more involved. Kids are more engaged. Some may really take a lot from it. Others will just enjoy the experience, and I know the teachers really appreciate it.”

Deniston hopes the teachers take some of the experiences back to their classrooms and do some research and writing activities.

“(I hope) they can apply the math a little more. They can relate it to—remember when you did this on ag math day,” she said.

The Ag Math Day is truly a team effort, Deniston said.

“One person could not do this. It takes so many people coming together to make it successful,” she said. “The Farm Bureau members and their support. Jennifer, she worked right along side with me in all the planning and setting up. The college students coming out and the real farmers that will be here.”

Jennifer Gerber, Finney County Farm Bureau county coordinator, helped Deniston with the logistics of the event and comes to the school about three times a year.

“We’ll do more if they’ll let her,” Deniston said. “The fourth graders go to Friends on the Farm in January. Finney County Farm Bureau also sponsors that, and they do something similar to this.”

Real world application for the students in events such as Ag Math Day and Friends of the Farm is so very important to the students, Deniston believes.

“I’d like to do it yearly,” Deniston said. “It’s just a matter of people buying into it and continue to support it. From the community. No one’s told me ‘no’ yet.”

National competition

Since Deniston won the KFAC Teacher of the Year, she will travel to Louisville in June 2015 and her trip will be sponsored by High Plains Journal. There she will have the opportunity to attend workshops and other learning opportunities. Cathy Musick, KFAC executive director, believes Deniston has a good chance of winning the national award.

“I just think the work that Dianna has done is exemplarily and so I think she has a good shot at it,” Musick said. “They will pick five to six national teachers of the year from across the U.S., and Kansas has had in the past only one winner.”

In fact, Deniston is the first teacher to win the KFAC award from southwest Kansas.

Even if she isn’t chosen for the national award, Musick said, Deniston will still attend the national event.

“She’ll have a chance to chose from 50 or so different workshops that she can bring back information to share with teachers in Kansas,” Musick said. “Usually we have our state teacher of the year help present at our summer institutes. So she’ll get a chance to share this idea, plus other ideas that she gains at the national conference.”

For more information about the Kansas Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, visit www.ksagclassroom.org or call 785-320-4350.

Kylene Scott can be reached by phone at 620-227-1804 or kscott@hpj.com.

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