Sarah Kaper, Champaign County Farm Bureau “Ag in the Classroom” Director, collaborated with the Urbana Park District (UPD) and the Champaign County Forest Preserve District (CCFPD), making Exploration Kits available to elementary students throughout Champaign County. The program concept, piloted by the CCFPD and the UPD in the fall of 2020, was a resounding success with over 900 kits distributed to 4th graders learning remotely in both Champaign and Urbana public schools. These kits contained activities that explored natural resources while providing educators with tools and activities that meet Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

The positive response from the fall project led to another collaborative effort, this time including Champaign County Ag in the Classroom. The second round of kits was an opportunity to incorporate agriculture into the activities and information going home to students.

The spring 2021 Exploration Kits included five to six activities aligned with Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core. The topics helped students answer the question: “How and why is the Earth constantly changing?” The lessons included: Landforms around Illinois; Slow Changes and Fast Changes of the Earth – Weathering; The Power of Wind and Water – Erosion; The Water Cycle – How does it work?; and Illinois State Map Activity – Finding Farmland, Urban Areas, State Parks, and Waterways.

Many public elementary schools in Champaign County participated in the expanded project in the spring. With over 1,500 kits requested, one of the biggest challenges of a project like this was taking care that all materials distributed to students, whether in-person or remote, were available and accessible. The kits included a learning guide, various materials to complete hands-on projects, and a string backpack displaying the logos of the CCFB Foundation, The Community Foundation of East Central Illinois, The Champaign County Forest Preserve, and the Urbana Park District. Thanks to funds from a Community Foundation of East Central Illinois grant and additional contributions from the Champaign County Farm Bureau Foundation and the Champaign County Forest Preserve, all teachers who requested kits for their students received them.

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