RAISING AWARENESS ABOUT FARMING: THE USE OF SCHOOL VISITS TO BRIDGE THE GAP BETWEEN FARMERS AND URBAN STUDENTS
School visits to farms can be a positive educational experience enabling students to learn about the farm environment, farm workers and food production. As such, farm visits remain a popular and integral part of childhood education and is a common feature of school-planned outdoor learning initiatives. In fact, learning outside the classroom has proved to be an essential tool to promote children's healthy development in a global sense including cognitive, physical, social, emotional and personal outcomes (Malone, 2006) . The challenge normally lies on ascertaining whether such school farm visits contribute to specific content learning and to raise children's farming awareness. Our premise is that to attain this goal, such visits to farms have to be adequately planned and must be given a teaching/learning content as it occurs with similar outdoor learning activities (Pedrinaci, 2012). Regarding this research, we will henceforth refer to professionally active farms, whose workers are actively involved in conducting the visit with the school children, as opposed to “school-farms” in which the main activity is educational. In this context and in collaboration with a local farmer's union (UAGA, www.uaga.net; province of Araba, Basque Country) we have designed, implemented and preliminary evaluated several learning and teaching proposals aimed at Primary School Children and focused on farming. The proposal brings about a new approach since the lesson plan is used in the classroom both before and after the farm visit so previous ideas and learning outcomes can be explored and evaluated. Moreover, the implementation of such material in the classroom contributes to reinforce the fact that the visit is not a simple school trip and therefore, social values related to the rural environment can be approached, such as, landscape conservation, local consumption, visualising the rural profession, the protection of rural habitats, etc. In this work we will present data regarding a pilot implementation of three lesson units aimed at three age groups and three different farms: a cow dairy farm (6-8 years old), a sheep-dairy farm (8-10 years old) and a cereal crop and organic horticulture farm (10-12 years old). Although each lesson plan is aimed at a specific farm, and hence some of the contents differ among them, some activities are common and are aimed at measuring attitudes and stereotypes towards farming. The results obtained in this pilot study show that at primary school age, students do not hold strong gender stereotypes towards farmer workers but are less aware of the increasing importance of technology in this profession. The involved schools (both teachers and students) have positively welcomed the lesson plans and the farm visit, since it has helped them to contextualise topics that are relevant in the school curriculum. However, to maximise the lesson's units learning goals it is paramount to support the teachers and adequately plan the lesson units that accompanies the visit. Our long term goal is to create a collection of lesson units around agriculture and farming, which have been tested and evaluated by both the research and educational community. Along with these materials, and based on our preliminary results, a more refined questionnaire aimed at children's attitudes towards farming will be tested in participating schools.