Tasting, Teaching and Tweeting: The Outstanding Educator of the Year

Article by Jennifer Ray

PhotoCircumferences, fractions and ratios never looked this tasty. Julies Cates uses snap peas and pumpkins to teach sixth-grade math topics. Her passion for agriculture and nutrition education seems to have no limit. That's why the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom (CFAITC) selected Cates as the 2015-2016 Outstanding Educator of the Year.

Cates' #FindYourFavoriteFridays project recently received a $500 grant from CFAITC. The foundation provides Literacy for Life grants to 25 teachers throughout the state for initiating or expanding projects that incorporate agricultural topics into regular classroom instruction. The grant applications are also used to identify a teacher who rises to the top, and this year, that is Julie Cates.

Julie Cates Follow Julie Cates on Twitter! @cates_julie

"Julie has found a way to bring agriculture into her classroom every week," says Judy Culbertson, CFAITC executive director. "She's creative and energetic, and we are proud to support her efforts."

Cates is a first-year teacher at Linwood Elementary School in Visalia, California, but she is not new to agriculture education. Before becoming a classroom teacher, she was a nutrition educator for the University of California Cooperative Extension. Cates has dedicated herself to promoting healthy eating habits and helping students understand where their food comes from.

"I am in love with agriculture and nutrition education," Cates said. "This is due in no small part to the many opportunities I have had to work on projects through Tulare County Farm Bureau. I am truly blessed to be here at Linwood as well. We have a wonderful principal, and I teach with an amazing team of teachers."

Since school began in August, her efforts have entered the Twittersphere with Cate's #FindYourFavoriteFridays. Each Friday, she brings a unique fruit or vegetable for students to taste. The idea was inspired by Indiana blogger, The Produce Mom who uses her #ProduceChallenge to encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Cates adds her own twist to this idea with lessons that often involve dissecting, measuring or analyzing the produce.

Activities like her "Solution Soup" teach important concepts including how to convert fractions to decimals. Cates posts her successes on Twitter so other teachers may be inspired to bring agriculture into their own classrooms. Sometimes Cates even cites the Common Core or Next Generation Science Standards within the tweets.

Cates' teaching expands beyond #FindYourFavoriteFridays, as she has used materials like the CFAITC's Agricultural Fact and Activity Sheets to teach a variety of topics. She has brought in guest speakers including a representative from the Tulare County Farm Bureau and a cotton farmer. She works with Linwood Elementary School's garden coordinator, Lori Irvine to support and promote activities in the garden. Cates is always looking for new ways to introduce students to agriculture, including #TryItTuesdays and #MooMondays.

"I am excited to work with the Ag in the Classroom to draw attention to the wonders of modern agriculture and all of its curricular integration areas," Cates said.