Chris Magie, Sallisaw
Felted wool soap made from alpaca wool purchased with an OAITC/Oklahoma Pork Council grant
"The best teachers are those who show you where to look but don't tell you what to do."
This is a quote inscribed on a coffee mug and presented to Chris Magie by her son. They are guiding words for the second grade teacher from Liberty Elementary in Sallisaw. Magie is passionate about teaching. The ideas and stories come pouring out as she shares how she uses agriculture in her classroom.
"We just made seed tape from toilet paper to plant in our garden beds," she beams. The garden beds, which her students built themselves, are a special point of pride.
The garden beds were inspired by her passion for STEM learning. Magie was one of a handful of OAITC teachers invited to attend a STEM and Maker Space workshop at the Noble Foundation in February. For the garden bed project students were given the donated materials and, with assistance, had to take many measurements and learn simple construction.
"We are growing things like lettuce and other salad greens. At the end of the school year we will have a harvest dinner, and eat what we harvest. I'm just hoping we have enough to harvest by then," she laughed.
"I like to incorporate anything I can to make them get up and look at the world around them," she said.
As part of her STEM activities, Magie sometimes sends her students on what she calls "Fact Finding Missions." If they are having trouble getting something to work, they can go the their classmates who have been more successful and ask questions. She calls it "seeking help from pros."
With proceeds from an OAITC/Oklahoma Pork Council grant, Magie put together a fiber unit, introducing students to cotton and wool.
"This was by far my favorite lesson we have done," Magie said. "Students were able to discuss different types of fiber and decide how they would utilize it. Several of my students had never seen a cotton plant and didn't know cotton grew on a plant. They read stories, carded wool, learned about cotton and ended the series by making felted wool soap," she said.
With the grant money she purchased alpaca wool for felting the soap, and students wrapped the finished product in wrapping paper they made from butcher paper to give away as Christmas gifts.
Magie has taught for nine years. Before she came to Sallisaw she taught four years in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She moved back home to Oklahoma in 2012 and began teaching fifth grade. The following year she was asked to teach second grade. Sallisaw was her home beginning at the age of five. "I actually went to school in the building where I now teach," she said.
Asked about her background in agriculture she said, "I grew up out in the country, riding horses and gardening with my dad. My mother taught my sister and I about canning and preserving what we’d grown."
Few of her students have backgrounds in agriculture. "Even though this is a small town, there are only 20 percent of my students who live outside the city limits or even with grandparents in the country," she said.
Her first experience with OAITC was a breakout session at a Teachers of Successful Students Conference in Tahlequah. "I had no idea that such an amazing resource existed," she said. "I was hooked."
Magie participated in her first OAITC summer tour during the summer of 2016 and hopes to join this summer's tour along Route 66. Her first state OAITC summer conference will be this summer, when she plans to present a workshop with a teacher she met at the Noble Foundation STEM workshop. "We will demonstrate how many subject areas can be reached as you explore agriculture with the younger students," she said.
This year three of the other teachers in her building have begun to incorporate OAITC lessons into their teaching. All of the other second grade teachers recently attended a OAITC session at a countywide professional development, so they are now investigating lessons, she said.
Magie has used many of the lessons on the OAITC website. "The lessons are fabulous," she said. They engage students and provide additional materials for the teachers on subjects they might not be familiar with. My students really enjoy the lessons where the outcome of the lesson is edible," she said.
She incorporates OAITC lessons and activities throughout the school year. "We have done lessons on Oklahoma’s fiber industry, types of crops grown in Oklahoma, the differences between dairy cows and beef cattle, and most recently soil composition and the seed tape." She loves using literature as the basis for teaching all the subjects and has built a classroom library partly with funding from the Cherokee Nation.
Magie enjoys seeing her students get "charged up" about science and tries to steer them toward potential future careers. "It's funny, when we study fossils, they all want to be paleontologists. When we study cattle, they all want to be ranchers. I like challenging them to think big," she said.