Using problem-based learning to teach Ag-STEM and inspire the next generation of food animal scientists 

A fifth grader today will graduate from college in 2030. This is around the time that at least 4 private companies as well as NASA, Roscosmos, and the China National Space Administration plan to land the first humans on Mars. Elementary and middle school students today will see some of the most profound changes in food production since the invention of agriculture. Over the course of their careers, there will almost certainly be permanent colonies of humans living on other planets. They will see the global human population begin to reach its predicted plateau of approximately 11 billion people. They will also see the greatest overall increase in global wealth and standards of living. All of these changes pose tremendous challenges for food production and will require new and innovative solutions. Solutions that many of us alive today could never imagine, but if the US is going to meet these challenges we need to inspire future food producers and scientists so they are prepared to lead.


NC Farm Bureau and Applied Production 

Participants will start their professional development by spending 4-5 days with members of their local county Farm Bureaus. This will occur sometime between late May and early July based on the schedules of the participants and their local Farm Bureau members. This will give them a glimpse of modern poultry production by the men and women who produce poultry products here on Earth. Participants will also spend time learning about the largest farm organization in North Carolina, North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation (NCFB) and the STEM-Ag programs it provides.


NC State Poultry STEM

After seeing what commercial poultry production looks like here on Earth, the participants will travel to NC State’s Prestage Department of Poultry Science, where they will spend 3 days learning about the STEM principles behind poultry production and the unique challenges raising birds on Mars will pose. Participants will learn how genetics, breeding, embyro development, nutrition, health, welfare, and management all come together in a way that fuses science, technology, engineering, and math to produce health birds and nutritious food.


Ag Education Policy

Participants will travel to Washington D.C. for 3 days to visit the American Farm Bureau headquarters to learn about poultry policy development and implementation. On the second day, the participants will visit congressional offices to discuss educational and agricultural issues and meet with agriculture staff members of Senator Richard Burr and Thom Tillis. The final day, participants will visit program staff at NSF, NIFA, and NASA to learn about these agencies and educational resources available to the teachers.


Professional Development Institute - Asheville

Participants will complete an intensive professional development (PD) experience. This opportunity will be conducted in the Asheville area. This PD opportunity will include visits with several organizations in the area, which may include the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center, Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI), Western Regional Educational Service Alliance (WRESA) and a NC Cooperative Extension county office.


Classroom Delivery

After the end of the summer experiences and professional development, participants will be challenged to develop and implement five problem-based lessons or one comprehensive unit built around the idea of having their students figure out ways that humans could raise chickens on Mars. As they implement these lessons, the project team, their local Farm Bureau, and other program participants will provide constructive feedback and support.



The year long professional development program will culminate with a showcase event held at NC State and hosted by the Prestage Department of Poultry Science and the NCFB. At this event, the students from each of the participant’s classrooms will be invited to present the solutions they developed. In addition to the Project Team, students, teachers, and parents, this event will be attended by the Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the NCFB President and the NCFB National Legislative Director.

For more information contact the project team at

Project Team

NC State
Prestage Department of Poultry Science

North Carolina Farm Bureau
Ag in the Classroom

Matt Koci

Lynn Worely-Davis
Teaching Assistant Professor

Michelle Smoot

Heather Willoughby
Program Assistant



Craig Tucker
Manager/Education Implementation Specialist