As the students walk into the lab at the Locust Trace AgriScience Center in Lexington (Fayette County), they’re met with tables of food – old food.
Samples of raw hamburger, slices of cheese, chopped apples and loaves of bread all sit on tables ready to be examined. Some of the samples are only a few hours removed from a refrigerator, but most of the food samples have spent days in a greenhouse, exposed to the elements. Today’s lesson is about food decay and how it can cause disease outbreaks.
As the students gather around their respective food item, teacher Jacob Ball tells them to examine the food items. Look at them, touch them, smell them.
“In my classroom, I try to do a bunch of hands-on, fun activities,” said Ball. “Whatever I’m going to teach, I try to do it with the student in mind.”
Ball was named the National New Teacher of the Year by the Association for Career and Technical Education. The award is given to educators with three to five years of experience who have made significant contributions toward innovative technical education programs.
One of the ways that Ball makes his classes different is to show students the different careers available within agriculture.
“A lot of people don’t traditionally think of agriculture as a high science, high math field,” said Ball. “A lot of people wouldn’t look at what we’re doing here today as agriculture, but food science is a huge part of agriculture.”
Teaching can be the difference in how students perceive a field of study and make their life choices, said Ball.
“Honestly, I had no real interest in agriculture as a career path until I got to high school and took an agriscience class because I heard the teacher was a really good teacher,” said Ball.
Ball uses the Center for Agricultural Science Education (CASE) curriculum as a way to help engage his students, along with the online forum National Association of Agricultural Educators Communities of Practice as a resource.
“I enjoy teaching it because it’s a career field where it can be tied into ‘everyone has to eat,'” said Ball. “There has to be a ‘why’ to what they’re learning.”
The idea behind Ball’s method is to challenge his students, engage them through hands-on activities and tie what they’re learning in the classroom into real-world situations.
“It makes my job a lot easier,” said Ball. “I didn’t get into teaching to win awards. I got into it to teach kids.”