Teaching students about farming — investigating the spokes and switches beneath the John Deere green
A dozen wide-eyed elementary schoolchildren gathered around a John Deere parked in front of their school. The kids had to stand back and look up to take in the green giant of a machine. They raised their hands and eagerly sprouted off long lists of questions about the tractor.
The kids are awestruck by the tractor. Coming from urban areas, they typically have seen the likes of the machine only on TVs or in picture books. The same goes with farms; they’re a vague idea to the children — a far-off and imaginary place, long since replaced by grocery stores.
But by taking a cutaway tractor to schools across the state, students in Clemson’s agricultural mechanization and business (Ag Mech) major are able to show elementary-age children the inner workings of a tractor. Their aim is to raise awareness and show these children that the realities of agriculture and engineering technology hit closer to home than they might’ve imagined.
When giving presentations at the schools, a member of the Ag Mech group starts by asking the children what they had for breakfast that morning.
“Everything they named was somehow connected to agriculture — bacon, cereal, toast, fruit — but the kids were forgetting about the human and animal work that created these necessities,” said Brett Schmidt, a junior Ag Mech major and treasurer of the Ag Mech club. “They think that stuff comes from Walmart or that Home Depot makes wood. But we explained to them, that isn’t where it comes from. It takes farmers and machines like the one in front of them to make the clothes, food and houses they need.”
The cutaway tractor used for the demonstrations is a unique and indispensible learning tool. It’s a one-of-a-kind, inside-out type tractor, designed to show the inner workings of the machine.
Weighing over 1,500 pounds, the tractor towers over all who enter the lofty room on campus that houses the machine. Its iconic colors strike a contrast against the gray, concrete walls of the Ag Mech lab. The tractor is reminiscent of childhoods spent plowing miniature John Deeres through shag carpet and worn hardwood floors, country songs and long rides down winding dirt roads.
Donated by John Deere to the agricultural mechanization and business program in 2005, the tractor was theirs under one stipulation: It had to be destroyed. Luckily students in the Ag Mech major aren’t afraid to get dirty, and they like to tear things apart. Their classwork isn’t always completed at a desk, and for many, their favorite tools are their own two hands.
So the group rolled up their sleeves and got to work, dismantling the tractor and laying out the pieces on several tables. Then they stood back in awe, scratching their heads, unsure of what to do with the giant puzzle pieces. But they wasted little time wondering and quickly got back to work cutting away sections as windows and reassembling the tractor.
The end result was one of the world’s only full cutaway tractors that can be put into motion. You could now flip a switch and see gears turning — a slow-motion guide to the inner workings of the complex machine.
“Others might not know what different parts and pieces of the machines are, but anyone who is the least bit mechanically inclined has been fascinated by the machine,” said Hunter Massey, co-adviser to the club, alumnus of the program and current agriculture education graduate student.
By being able to touch and see a tractor — and how it works — children are able to become more aware of the process and hard work that go into creating everyday products. The John Deere is no longer just a toy or plastic Matchbox car; farming is no longer a dreamland occupation, but a present and vital part of society.
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