If you've heard of Vevay, odds are you don't know where it is. Unless you go there to take part in various festivals during the year, you've likely not been there, or to Switzerland County in the very southeast tip of Indiana, nestled against the Ohio River. It's the last place you would expect to find anyone experimenting with state-of-the-art education techniques.
Yet that's exactly what I found when I visited there last week. To find it, go as far south as you think you can in southeast Indiana, then go further yet. And if you suffer from motion sickness like me, here's a tip- approach it from Indiana 129, running south through Cross Plains and other places you may never have heard of, instead of going to Madison, and then heading east on State Road 56. What the map doesn't show is that 56 winds around the Ohio River, literally serving as the bank for the river at times. Curves and seeing river water out my passenger window don't exactly help my motion sickness condition.
The drive was worth the experience, even if I didn't feel like eating for several hours. Once there, at Switzerland County High School, I found Greg Curlin, the ag instructor who has been there for nearly two decades, and Melissa Andrew, another ag instructor in her second year at the school.
I was there because I heard they were piloting what's called CASE curriculum. For you education buffs, it's the agricultural education version of Project Learning Tree. For the rest of us, it's basically a curriculum that promotes hands-on learning and student-led decision making, even in subjects such as genetics, feed rations, anatomy and much more. Curlin is not only piloting the curriculum, he will present his experiences so far at the National Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association meeting in Nashville, Tenn., later this month. Curlin is expected to become president-elect of that group during the meeting.
"Basically, I give the students a major project to work on when the year starts," He says. "We're on trimesters, so it's their project for the trimester. Then everything we done builds on that project."
For example, in an animal science class, the student's goal was to assemble a power point by the end of the semester about hybrid animals. We're not talking crossbred pigs, we're talking ligers- a cross between lions and tigers, and many more.
"I would guide discussion about the digestive system, for example, and then they would draw the system, and add something about how it related to their particular hybrid animal in their power point. We taught feeding, genetics, and even ecology the same way.
"I like it because the students take ownership more quickly," he says. "They're learning about something they want to know about. At the same time, we're meeting state standards in many areas. We can even incorporate math when we teach them how to design facilities for the animal they selected, drawing it to scale."
Andrew asked her plant science class piloting the curriculum to prepare a booklet on weeds. Each student chose 10 weeds. Then whatever they did in class somehow related back to that project. She says it puts excitement back into learning.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett shook up the apple cart when he took over earlier this year. The jury is still out on some of his moves. But he obviously has ag educators thinking differently. We had to go a ways and even get a little nauseous to find it, but the trip was definitely enlightening. What's going on in this small, southern Indiana town may soon be going on in many places across the state.