Green Tick: Farming STEMterprise
“A key strength of the resource is the relevant and motivating narrative provided by the entrepreneurship approach to learning about this aspect of farming.”
“The farming and business context breathe life into the content and ensure that every lesson is closely connected to the everyday world of farmers and consumers.”
This resource, produced by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), provides lessons for primary school pupils across Years 3, 4 and 5 (ages 7-10) in England and Wales and Primary 4, 5 and 6 in Scotland and Northern Ireland (7-10). As the title suggests, the resource uses the context of farming and the production of food products to develop pupils’ learning within the areas of STEM and business education. The wide range of classroom activities and supporting materials support learning across almost the whole curriculum, with the key areas of numeracy and literacy effectively integrated into the core STEM and business-focused lessons. Across each of the three series of lessons, pupils learn about and engage with the growing of vegetables, herbs and fruit for the purpose of preparing food products that are then sold within their business model. The thinking behind the resource is encapsulated in the authors’ comment (Year 3, Stage 2): ‘Giving the children the responsibility for caring for their own crops provides opportunities for them to experience the challenges of farmers and business owners in a very simple way. For example, if the crops do not grow, they will not have enough ingredients to make their products, which will leave them with nothing to sell.‘ Pupils are further challenged to consider business issues, including costings, profit, packaging and marketing, to create a feasible business plan. The resource therefore provides opportunities for pupils to apply their knowledge, understanding and skills to real life situations and thus adds purpose and meaning to learning tasks across science, technology, numeracy and literacy. Learning about and for everyday life is the cornerstone for this collection of lessons, which pupils and teachers alike should find engaging, rewarding and enjoyable. The resource could be adopted for a scheme of work over a period of time or, alternatively, teachers could incorporate specific lessons and activities into their existing teaching programmes.
The resource consists of attractive PowerPoint presentations, with some embedded videos, lesson plans and supporting worksheets in the form of pdf documents. Each of the three year groups include 10 ‘stages’ and an overall summary chart of the content covered across each year. Year 3 introduces the resource by challenging pupils to set up their own farm shop business, grow their own ingredients, and design and make a brand-new flavoured bread product in order to ‘save the children of the UK from their lunchtime boredom’. The opening lesson, Becoming a plant expert, begins with slides and interactive activities to revise and extend pupils’ awareness of the connection between plants, and also explores the structure and function of each part of the plant. The hands-on activities of planting, watering and monitoring the seeds and seedlings and the entries into the ‘Bean Diary’ allows for developing the key science skills of observation, measurement and recording. Independent research and the acquisition of literacy skills are supported by attractive data cards on various types of plants, with classroom activities that require discussion, critical thinking and effective group work. Knowledge of plants is progressed to the level of ‘Expert 2’ in the fifth lesson (Stage 5), where pupils investigate the importance of water, light, roots and leaves to plant growth. In the following lesson (Stage 6 – Plant Expert 3), pupils dissect a flowering plant whilst learning about the process of pollination, before creating their own sculpture of a flowering plant from recycled materials. The creation of products for selling, in the form of savoury bread and dyed carnations, provides opportunities for exploring business concepts such as marketing, costing and budgeting.
The Year 4 programme opens with a look at the human digestive system and the types and functions of our teeth. Activities such as creating a model of the digestive system from junk materials and creating tooth maps provide opportunities for pupils to consolidate and extend their learning and for teachers to assess their understanding. Informative and well-constructed slides on heathy eating and nutrition allow for a discussion of seasonal availability of fruit and vegetables and provide a sound rationale for the importance of supporting local produce. A quite novel investigation of the relative melting points (which melts faster) of butter and ice cream enables pupils to engage with the challenging concepts of freezing and melting to explore the properties of the states of matter. The investigation is also strong on measurement, recording and data interpretation. Having prepared their own healthy breakfast drinks or tartlets, pupils embark on business-related tasks involving budgeting, profit calculations and the design of market strategies.
The context of food manufacture provides a relevant context for progressing pupils’ understanding of seeds in Year 5 and should make the tricky concepts of sexual and asexual reproduction on plants more accessible, and easy to understand. Hands-on activities involving strawberry runners and the growing of spring onions from their root cut-offs should create great interest and sustain engagement on this usually challenging topic. At Year 6, there is also clear evidence of progression in the challenge required within the budgeting and marketing tasks.
A key strength of the resource is the relevant and motivating narrative provided by the entrepreneurship approach to learning about this aspect of farming. Throughout the programme, pupils are required to work within their teams to make decisions and solve problems. A number of active assessment strategies are used throughout, such as the ‘Chocolate Bar Challenge’ for accessing and assessing prior learning, and the ‘Vertical Relay Starter’ (based on ‘Talk-less Teaching’ by Isabella Wallace and Leah Kirkman) for demonstrating knowledge acquisition. The materials throughout are attractive and thoughtfully produced and include some excellent video clips. The resource also includes a good range of investigations, which could sit alongside schools’ current enquiry-based science programmes.
Curricular and cross-curricular links
Links to the National Curriculum (England) are specified within each lesson. The nutritional aspects of the cross-curricular theme of ‘health and well-being across learning’ within the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence could be addressed by the focus on healthy eating, as could the concept of budgeting and costing (curricular areas ‘Mathematics and Personal Finance’; Social Studies – people in society, economy and business) and the content related to plants (Science – Planet Earth). Money also features in the Northern Ireland Primary Curriculum (Number – Money). There are also strong connections between the science and technology content and the Welsh curriculum’s ‘Knowledge and Understanding of the World Around Us’ and to the science strand of the Northern Ireland’s ‘World Around Us’ area of learning. As well as developing science and business-related knowledge and skills, the resource supports the development of numeracy and literacy skills. The tasks provide authentic and progressive tasks involving addition, subtraction, multiplying, fractions and proportions, data collecting and handling and the drawing of bar and line graphs. The range of writing genres is also called upon, such as instructional, persuasive and creative.
Areas for development
Whilst the resource should prove effective in supporting engaging and stimulating lessons across all three year groups, its impact may be enhanced by some modifications. At times there is a lack of consistency between lesson titles used on the lesson document and PowerPoint and the headings in the overall summary ‘scheme’. There are a few typos in the text and the video for Year 3, Stage 2 relates to a sensory farm and not to the conditions required to grow carrots. The resource sheets for Year 3 Stage 5 duplicate ‘water’ and don’t include pupil sheets for ‘roots’ or ‘nutrients’.
Aside from these minor edits, I feel greater guidance for teachers with respect to the timing of each activity, background subject knowledge, and classroom management of the activities, including health and safety when using ovens, hot water (melting butter) and ironing (beeswax). Reports on the teaching of primary science consistently identify the limited time available for science within the teaching timetable, and teacher confidence in both subject knowledge and science pedagogy, as factors that can restrict the quantity and quality of science teaching. An estimated time for each section of the lesson and, where appropriate, some background content knowledge would go a long way to enhancing the appeal of this valuable resource.
Overall, I feel this resource will make a valuable contribution to the primary school and provide teachers with ideas and materials to support pupil learning across a number of curricular areas. The farming and business context breathe life into the content and ensure that every lesson is closely connected to the everyday world of farmers and consumers. The resource could be adopted for a scheme of work over a number of weeks or, alternatively, given the wide range of content and activities, teachers could incorporate specific lessons and activities into their existing teaching programmes. Either way, pupils and their teachers will be the winners.