Lake Joy Elementary teacher uses agriculture to teach core standards

awoolen@macon.comMay 14, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- Pushed under a table in the back of the room is a gray, plastic container. What is in the box is what motivates fourth-grade gifted students.

Teacher Dennis Peavy said with a laugh that he can get his children to do any type of work for a chance to play with the contents of the container.

Inside it are worms. Dozens and dozens of the wriggly creatures, which teach students about decomposition as well as organic matter.

And the fourth-graders dig it.

“One girl, if you’d let her, she’d be in up to her neck in it,” Peavy said.

Though there are a handful of students who aren’t fond of the worms, they have become the talk of the school at Lake Joy Elementary.

Peavy, 51, has become the talk of teachers around the country.

He was selected as one of five teachers for an Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the National Agriculture in the Classroom Consortium.

Peavy will be honored in a ceremony at the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in Hershey, Pennsylvania, which runs June 23-27, according to a news release.

Peavy said he was shocked to learn he won the state award but was even more shocked to learn of his national one.

A former certified public accountant at Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Peavy was just looking for something to engage his students while teaching them the core standards for fourth grade.

He found agriculture.

The turning point came a few years ago when the class was discussing the colonies. A student said all the food the colonists ate was dirty.

“Where does your food come from?” Peavy asked her.

“Wal-Mart,” she replied.

Peavy realized he needed to find a way to make students understand a bit more about agriculture.

His class has made butter, watched a Halloween pumpkin decompose in an aquarium, made a rain gauge and grown a garden.

The rain gauge is part of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network. His class has a specific GPS location to check every day and inputs information into the network.

One of the students’ favorite experiences was growing a “garden in a glove,” where seeds are put into a see-through glove with a wet cotton ball. Students are able to pick out which seeds they want to plant and watch the plant grow.

Peavy also uses magazines from farm bureaus in other states specifically designed for children. The magazines are nonfiction reading and usually focus on math problems, careers in agriculture and a fun project.

Students write persuasive papers to third-graders to get them interested in the gifted program. One of the topics that comes up in almost every essay is the worms.

With children, though, Peavy has realized one thing.

“The grosser the fact, the more they want to see it,” he said.

This includes questions about how much saliva a cow produces in a year or how much manure it produces. This outside-the-box thinking was part of the reason Peavy was chosen for the award.

“I don’t think I’m doing anything other people couldn’t do,” Peavy said. “We don’t just read about it -- we do stuff.”

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