Monday, May 25, 2015

#teachagtech -> How to Use Wordpress or Blogging in the Classroom

How to Use Wordpress and Blogging Platforms in the Classroom

How to Use Wordpress and Blogging Platforms in the Classroom.  In many of our classes, our students create work they should keep for future career aspirations.  As our society evolves into a digital and virtual society, it is imperative we teach good digital citizenship techniques (you can see a great resource here) and personal branding.  E-portfolios/blogs will be key in the future for various careers and to ensure our students can market their talents and skills.  Even if our students end up in a career that would not necessitate an e-portfolio or blog, it is prudent to expose this form of communication so our students know where their future customers, consumers and community members look for information.  

There are many platforms to choose from when considering a platform for your students' e-portfolios/blogs.  Obviously, we are limited to what our school district technology policies will permit.  However, even if you are in a district with very strict policies, you as the instructor could use a platform to showcase various class material where you can direct students if needed.  

Here are some key points to remember when guiding your students to showcase their material:

1.  Do not include personal information on main pages - they should not post pictures of themselves and addresses.  Mandate they keep a professional, appropriate level of personal information on their site.  If a student wants to include a digital resume, there are many options within different platforms where they can "lock" and "keep private" personal information and distribute that access information as they seek jobs.  

2.  Be professional.  Ask your students what they would think of walking past a storefront and seeing pictures of what is posted on their friends' feed on Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook.  Ask them if they would want to hire and spend their hard-earned cash on that individual/business after seeing those images.  Relate it to their own lives and discuss how these personal marketing slip-ups can be very costly now and in the future.  Remind them that just because they deleted a picture doesn't mean Facebook did - once it goes on the internet, it is there forever.

3.  Be organized and create a site that is easily navigated.  Take a moment and discuss visual elements of media with students.  Look at web pages that are effective and not.  If you are creating a site as an informational repository for your classroom, it is very important you make it easy to read and find information.  Otherwise it is just another webpage that can actually cause you more problems when a parent is looking for information and can't find it.  

4.  Create a place where students can interact.  Many of the platforms provide the opportunity for "comments" or classroom feeds.  Allow students to constructively critique peer's work - allow them to take course content where it makes sense to them.  The more they can create their own understanding of concepts, the higher the likelihood of them retaining the information.  

5.  Allow yourself to have fun and encourage your students to create.  This may be one of the first times you encourage your students to own their very own piece of internet real estate - allow them to explore and showcase their very best.  

I am very fortunate to be working in a district that supports integrating technology and the exploration of ideas to increase the technological experiences for our students.  Currently, I was given the privilege of creating a Wordpress site where Ms. Slates and I could showcase the work of our Plant Science classes.  I challenged my students to create their own e-portfolios where they had to take pictures of their work created in my Floriculture class and describe what they did - in the hopes they could use this later for job seeking.  It was amazing to see the creativity and intensity from students - they loved showcasing their work to the world.  I spent several class periods teaching the Wordpress platform, but also explaining digital citizenship, personal branding, marketing and photography.  (Obviously, the marketing components fit into learning about the business side of the floral industry - it may not work for all courses/curriculum.)  Wordpress is very easy to start and use; however, my goal in this situation was for students to be able to take these portfolios with them when they graduate.  Many times when students create blogs/portfolios/websites under the school district servers, they disappear when they graduate.   My goal was to create spaces where they own their materials.  Obviously not all districts will permit this and to some extent there is risk involved.  

There are other options other than Wordpress, such as Google Sites, Wix, Weebly and Pathbrite.  Hopefully, this will give you some ideas about how to go about creating and implementing this communicative tool in your classrooms.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

#PSUAgEd2Miss: Day 6 - Historical Exploration! Gettysburg to Vicksburg

Editor's note: This is a continuing series on our third annual Teach Ag! Society Domestic Study Away to Mississippi to help with financial literacy and supervised agricultural experience. 

Day 6 - Today was the last full day of our journey through the state of Mississippi. With a no "fixed" plans, we took the opportunity to be tourists and check out the city of Vicksburg!

After a crazy educational and busy week, our crew seized the opportunity to sleep in! We woke up to a delicious home-cooked meal, courtesy of our peers, and used our quiet morning for some meaningful reflection. First we discussed the previous day's stops and the ways we can create and use industry connections in our programs. One of the reoccurring themes of the trip is the importance of the connections we make, so we closed the reflection with a look on the connections we have made with each other this past week.

After the relaxed morning we loaded up the trusty #TeachAg! "spaceship" and drove to Vicksburg. The city, which borders the Mississippi River, is most known for the Civil War battle that took place there. We stopped at the battlefield visitor center, and took a driving tour of the battlefield. Unlike Gettysburg, the battle most of us are familiar with, the Vicksburg campaign lasted several months in 1863, as the Union army dug in and surrounded the city in attempt to occupy it. When the Confederate army surrendered on July 4th, 1863 (One day after the battle of Gettysburg ended) the Union was able to gain total control of the Mississippi River.

Speaking of the Mississippi River, that was our next stop on the day! We stopped at an overlook to get a view of the mighty river and get some wonderful pictures. We then drove across the bridge into Louisiana, allowing us to hit two states in one day! (Maybe next year we will have a #PSUAgEd2LA?) After a brief discussion on resources available to us from state welcome centers, we crossed back to Mississippi for dinner. One more catfish dinner and some frozen yogurt was the perfect ending to the day.

Tomorrow we fly home, and even though we are sad to see the journey end, we know that our experiences in Mississippi will have a lasting effect on our teaching careers!

Submitted by:

Nathan Repetz, 2017 Student Teacher
Janae Herr, 2016 Student Teacher

Sunday, May 17, 2015

#PSUAgEd2Miss: Day 5 - Delta Dawn: Exploring Agrarian Roots

Editor's note: This is a continuing series on our third annual Teach Ag! Society Domestic Study Away to Mississippi to help with financial literacy and supervised agricultural experience. 

Day 5 - As our trip nears its end, our focus shifted from school based agriculture education to the unique industries in Mississippi. On Saturday, we had the chance to visit and engage with many people involved in these numerous industries all across the state!

We began our day at CHS, INC. in Greenville, Mississippi.  CHS is a farmer owned cooperative working to help America’s farmers be more successful by supplying them with fertilizers. At this facility in Greenwood, fertilizers are brought in and shipped out on barges, trains, and trucks. We had the opportunity to talk to manager Chad Henson about the company and its role in agricultural productions. CHS was a generous financial supporter of this trip and other experiences, so it was great to see what their company does!

Our day continued at Delta Research and Extension Center(DREC) where we had the opportunity to learn more about Mississippi agriculture, specifically rice production. We learned about rice management and even had the opportunity to visit rice fields. While visiting DREC, we engaged with Farm Bureau experts, and DREC employees. This experience expanded our knowledge on crops grown in the Mississippi Delta.

Another unique (to us!) crop grown and produced in Mississippi is cotton. Saturday afternoon,  we had the chance to visit Staplcotn. Staplecotn is a cooperative offering cost effective marketing, warehousing, and financing for cotton producers in many southeastern states. We had the opportunity to visit with Russell Robertson who was the representative for Human Resources. Mr. Robertson informed us on cotton production and how Staplcotn works with producers to ensure safe and economical sales. We also had the chance to see how they class cotton.

One of our last stops of the day was at the Nobile Catfish Farm ( During this visit, we had the chance to visit with Will Nobile, a third generation catfish farmer. Will gave us a tour of his hatchery and his catfish ponds. During this visit we saw the process of catfish production, starting with eggs masses and resulting in large ponds containing thousands of catfish.

To conclude our day, we spoke with a local Mississippi native, Mike Hurt from Yazzo City,, who gave us valuable insight on life in the delta. We had the chance to engage in conversations regarding the economy, education systems, and agriculture in the delta. We also had the opportunity to enjoy authentic Mississippi crawfish!

Overall, we had a great day engaging with partners and many agriculture industries across Mississippi. We all gained new insight about Mississippi, which we will be able to implement in our future. We are grateful for all the experiences we shared and are sad to see our #PSUAgEd2MISS trip come to an end.

Submitted by:

Laura Metrick, 2015 Graduate, @Its_LauraBeth

Jenna Timmons, 2016 Student Teacher, @jitimmons

Saturday, May 16, 2015

#PSUAgEd2Miss: Day 4- MSU Bulldog Pride and Mantachie Mustang Motivation

Editor's note: This is a continuing series on our third annual Teach Ag! Society Domestic Study Away to Mississippi to help with financial literacy and supervised agricultural experience.

Day 4 - We started off the day by leaving our hotel in Columbus (MS) bright and early at 7 a.m. for another adventure filled day.  The Teach Ag! Society began the tour by visiting the Dairy Barns at Mississippi State University (MSU). As that Pennsylvania is one of the top dairy states in the nation, this tour gave us the opportunity to expand our knowledge on how others run their dairy operations. During our tour, we observed a Mississippi State University Veterinarian palpating and had the opportunity to learn about the unique (to us!) practice of using alfalfa in their total mixed rations!
After the Dairy Barns, we made our way down the road to the Veterans Memorial Rose Garden. We spoke with the director of the gardens, learning about the history of the garden and future plans. This one rose garden contains over 300 different types of roses that are being managed with little to no pesticide usage.

A fascinating part of the tour was seeing a new tea research project. A MSU Graduate Researcher decided to experiment with some 'organic' ways to control weeds in tea fields, and that is where the geese come in. Turns out that tea tastes very bitter to geese! When released into tea fields, they eat the weeds and grasses around the tea plants, but not the crop itself. This is the first time MSU has turned the geese out into the new Tea test plots and the University is pleased with the progress being made even though they've had these young goslings for just under six weeks.

The last part of our tour consisted of us visiting with the School of Human Sciences Department at MSU. We were given information about all of the programs offered in the Human Sciences Department, which included Agricultural Sciences and Fashion Design (just to name a few). Our group was also given the opportunity to discuss each major in the department with a few of the staff. We ended our time at MSU over lunch with a discussion on the Agricultural & Extension Education major and how it paralleled to the program offered at Penn State.

Now you might be saying wait, back up, Fashion Design and Agricultural Sciences are housed together? That is correct, the instructor for Fashion Design spoke with us about the reasoning and shared a passion, which is communicating with students the importance of farmers to their industry. He also spoke about the importance of communicating to farmers how crucial the fashion industry is to their production practices and profits, particularly highlighting the cotton crops grown around the state. Though an unusual pair at first, you cannot dispute the logic of the two areas working together for agricultural awareness.

Next we boarded the vans and began travelling the 2 hours to Mantachie High School for our final school visit. The large group of students was very willing to share their Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) knowledge with us along with learning some ways to incorporate accurate recordkeeping through the Agricultural Experience Tracker (AET).

Once we finished our lesson, we made our way to tour the Agricultural Education program at Mantachie High School. The two-teacher program offered rather interesting classes, two of which were Meats and Forestry. You could tell, from the minute you set foot in the room that there was pride in everything that they do. There was not a single wall in the building that did not have an award hanging on it. Both of the agricultural teachers showed a passion and dedication to the program and the community. 

This concluded our SAE programming across the state, a challenging endeavor that has not only provided those who attended and participated (students, teachers, parents) with some small knowledge, but has positively impacted each of the Penn State Domestic Study Away participants.

Submitted by:

Deanna Miller, 2015 Graduate, @Deannapsu15

Samantha Sessamen, 2016 Student Teacher, @smsessamen

Friday, May 15, 2015

#PSUAgEd2Miss - Day 3: Great Coasts and Great Schools! The power of Agriculture

Editor's note: This is a continuing series on our third annual Teach Ag! Society Domestic Study Away to Mississippi to help with financial literacy and supervised agricultural experience.

Thursday, May 14th, 2015
What scenery did your day start with? Ours was a drive along the Gulf of Mexico shoreline from Ocean Springs towards Gulfport. Reminiscing and still digesting an evening of fried catfish, Dr. Foster’s insightful aunt, Cindy Ricketts (a community newspaper woman), and a powerful reflection conducted on a pier, our team was ready to cease our day packed full of opportunities to learn, absorb, and grow. During the day, we had three places to visit: 
  • The Port of Gulf 
  • Forrest County Agricultural High School, and 
  • Newton County’s Career and Technical Center (CTC).

Mississippi Port of Gulf
We are continually amazed by how big agriculture is across our nation and world wide. At the Port of Gulf, We witnessed the impact of international trade on the state of Mississippi. The port is very important to not just the local community, but many companies based around our country. The many tenants at the Port includes Dole Fruits, which we enjoy in Pennsylvania.
The Port is tremendously innovative through tragedy. Ten years ago Mississippi was in the pathway of hurricane Katrina. Katrina destroyed many homes and businesses including the port.  The day after Katrina struck cargo boxes from the port were found 200 yards away and thousands of international good scattered across the coast, making it hard to clean up and keep going with production.

Today, ten years after hurricane Katrina, Mississippi has recovered 80% from this tragedy. The construction contracts have had a significant impact on the local economy by supporting design and construction jobs. The restoration construction is expected to be completed in 2017. Through tragedy the Port found ways to improve their business to keep international agriculture in our country. Dole fruits has signed a contract with the Port of Gulf till 2039, that means they will be bring products into our country at that port for 24 more years! This is a huge impact on importing international agriculture products.

Forrest County Agricultural High School
When some think of high school, typically they think of classrooms and teachers giving lecture. At Forrest County Agricultural High School, the dedicated agriscience instructors take learning to a whole new level. The teachers expect the students to learn with more hands on methods, most of the students take time to work in one of the many facilities, which range from barns and greenhouses to planting fields.
The students that we encountered today were all very passionate about the work they were doing at the school and were very eager to talk about everything they were doing. Some students were talking about working with the goats and cows, while other spoke about working in the greenhouse and planting strawberries.
These programs that the school has set up show a type of learning that we don’t typically think of. Experiential learning has so many benefits like leaving high school with experience they can use for their future careers. The students understand that what they are learning is important and they plan to take the skills they have gained with them for their future career.

Newton County Career and Technical center (CTC)
Newton County CTC truly exceeded all expectations. We had the unique opportunity to work with their Junior FFA Chapter. The Mississippi Junior FFA Association is unique to this state!. The dedicated Newton Junior members, their parents and two accomplished, progressive, and impacting teachers, Mr. Clark and Ms. Wagner were raring to go. Jenna Timmons and Katie Andrews facilitated our SAE workshop with the students and their parents both attending and learning. After we ate a delicious a homemade dinner from the parents, Janae Bickhart took a 30-minute timeframe to teach the students and parents about the proficiency award and the best practices and procedures to filling out the application.
We were in a unique situation with having the two co-teachers of Newton were also president and president elect positions for Mississippi Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers (MAVAT). Due to this we were able to take utilize our time with them picking their brains for information and advice.
Here are FIVE nuggets of Knowledge we received:
1.  Be real with you students from the first day of school
2.  Always make time for yourself and your family
3.  Only one what is right
4. Join your professional organizations. If you expect your students to be leaders you must show them that you are too.
5. Do not be afraid to ask for help
After a long day, we all got together at Sonic (Shout out to Dr. Mom!) for our evening reflection. We decided to focus on individual self-reflections followed by group reflections. It really seemed to sink in with us just how much all of these teachers truly care about their students and how much we would all love to someday be able to talk about our students with such passion as all of the teachers we have met.
Great Things await tomorrow in Day 4!

Submitted by:

Katie Andrews, 2016 Student Teacher, @klandews_24

Matt Holt, 2016 Student Teacher, @mholt5595

Heather Wasson, 2018 Student Teacher, @heatwasson

Thursday, May 14, 2015

#PSUAgEd2Miss - Day 2: SAE SuperStars! Loyd Star and Ocean Springs

Editor's note: This is a continuing series on our third annual Teach Ag! Society Domestic Study Away to Mississippi to help with financial literacy and supervised agricultural experience.

Day 2- Wednesday May 13th started with leaving the beautiful Mississippi FFA Center located in Jackson, and heading out to Loyd Star Agriculture Academy. This unique and historical agricultural program was built by the creative and industrious students of Loyd Star Attendance Center several years ago. Our team was all impressed by the metal work the students were able to work on in the agriculture metal fabrication shop. From metal art to fire pits, the projects and designs were student chosen and implemented.

Penn State Students sitting on the front porch of the Mississippi FFA Center

The Penn State team was also able to talk to the students at Loyd Star about SAE (Supervised Agriculture Experience’s) and how keeping records are important for future successes. Many of the students are already engaged in employment, hobbies, or projects that could easily be transformed into an SAE project. The students interests ranged in these categories from logging, cattle ranching, raising a horse, taking care of their pet, and working at restaurants. The students were also able to draft goals and discuss different options relating to SAE’s with the Penn State students. Deanna Miller and Janae Bickhart did an excellent job facilitating discussions between the Loyd Star and PSU students. In fact, we also had Roger Hanagriff, the creator of AET (Agriculture Experience Tracker) speak with the students via webinar! It was awesome to engage with the students and have them show us their projects and tell us about their program from their personal experiences. Next, we piled in our vans and made the trek down to Ocean Springs High School to continue our SAE shenanigans.

Students at Loyd Star listening to a presentation about SAE’s from Penn State Students
After a scenic drive to eastern Mississippi, we visited Ocean Springs High School and their brand new aquaculture program. The new class, which is five and a half months old, encourages students to implement and design projects with aquaculture and hydroponics, otherwise known as aquaponics. Mr. Bryan Butler provided the materials and instructions and let the students fully construct the facility. Learning by doing. It was powerful to see the glowing interest in the students eyes about how much the program meant to them. Hopefully becoming a chartered FFA in the near future, we left feeling that we had made an impact on each and every one of the students at Ocean Springs.

A student and the Oceans Springs teacher, Mr. Bryant, examining one of their aquaponics systems.

That evening we checked into our hotel rooms and then headed down the street to Aunt Jenny’s Restaurant to get a taste of southern cuisine. We were able try the savory seafood that Mississippi is famous for. We also engaged in fellowship and reflected on our day visiting different programs across the state, and inspiring rising SAE superstars!

Submitted By:
Sarabeth Royer, 2016 Student Teacher, @sb_royer 
Mason Tate, 2016 Student Teacher, @mttate18

(Late) #TeachAgTuesday: Essay Finalist Spotlight on Libby Baker- Mikesell

Every Tuesday until PA FFA Convention, we will be highlighting one finalist from the Essay Contest. Each finalist created a video for their submissions answering the question "What do you enjoy about agriculture education? OR What do you like about your agriculture educator?" Each finalist did a fantastic job and we want to show off their videos until our special surprise at State Days when we announce the winner! Our third student to be highlighted is:

          Libby Baker- Mikesell
         Greenwood High School
         Teacher: Krista Pontius
           Class: Agriscience
        Lesson: Plant Physiology
Check out her video below! 
To learn more about starting on the path to having a career that makes a positive impact on the lives of students across the globe by becoming an agricultural educator, please contact the agricultural teacher education program at Follow us on Twitter at TeachAgPSU, on Facebook, or on our blog!

Olivia Murphy-Sweet
Blog Editor
2016 Student Teacher