The Agricultural Economics Challenge
First Monday

The Agricultural Economics Challenge: An online program where high school students learn economics and agriculture of the Salinas Valley by Leti M. Bocanegra and Margie Harrison-Smith


Abstract
The National Steinbeck Center created a virtual farm online to teach high school students economic principles by using a local lettuce company as a model. This article traces the development of the program, offers an overview of the Agricultural Economics Challenge game as well as the challenges the Museum faces in implementing the program.

Contents

Introduction
Overview
The Agricultural Economics Challenge
Program development
Challenges to the Program
Conclusion

 


 

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Introduction

The National Steinbeck Center wanted to create a virtual farm high school students could run to enhance their knowledge of economics and local agriculture based on their Valley of the World Agriculture Exhibition. Designed for twelfth grade economics classrooms, the Agricultural Economics Challenge allows students to run a grower–shipper business to see how profitable they are as business owners.

 

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Overview

The Agricultural Economics Challenge is an online game where students apply economic principles to run a simulated business. Students learn how to run a Salinas Valley lettuce grower–shipper business in a series of eight scenarios. The scenarios introduce economic principles in the context of making business decisions. After completing the scenarios, students will be ready to play the complete game — the Agricultural Economics Challenge. Players can also skip the scenarios and go straight into the Challenge; there is a guided tour to introduce players to the game. The objective of the Challenge is to maximize profits while growing, selling and shipping lettuce with the ultimate goal of increasing the value of the business.

The National Steinbeck Center is located in Salinas, California. The surrounding Salinas Valley is one of the major vegetable–producing areas in the country with 240,000 acres of prime farmland. One of the major local crops is lettuce; in 2003 Monterey County’s lettuce was valued at US$1,041,955,000 [1]. In order to support the Valley of the World Agricultural Wing at the National Steinbeck Center, Museum staff created The Agricultural Economics Challenge. Although sponsored by the Museum, many other groups were involved with the program. Project support and field testing services were provided by California State University, Monterey Bay. The Agricultural Economics Challenge was designed and produced by Iconceptual (www.iconceptual.com). This program was made possible by a generous grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

The Agricultural Economics scenarios and Challenge require a computer with an Internet connection. Students can play individually, in small groups, or as a whole class. The Challenge, teacher materials and curriculum are directed at twelfth grade economics students. The curriculum ties directly into the California Department of Education Grade 12 History–Social Science Content standards. The Challenge, Curriculum and Teacher’s Guide and demonstration discs are provided to California classrooms free of charge.

The Teacher’s Guide has all of the information teachers need to use the Agricultural Economics Challenge in their classroom. The Guide contains overviews of each scenario, demonstrates which California Content Standards each scenario fulfills, as well as defines student objectives. The scenario material outlines the procedures for introducing and implementing the materials as well as assessing student progress. The curriculum provides student worksheets and includes a grading rubric that outlines minimal, adequate and extensive answers for the teachers. The student worksheets incorporate reproductions of the computer screen to help students navigate through the program.

 

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The Agricultural Economics Challenge

Students play the role as a lettuce grower–shipper in the Salinas Valley. As an owner, it is the player’s job to plant, harvest and sell lettuce crops. As in real life, the player is also responsible for paying bills and negotiating the best price or the crops. The scenarios require the students plan ahead. In this game, the lettuce you plant in one session will not be ready for harvest for two months. In the mean time, students will still need to pay bills, negotiate contracts, and keep track of supply and demand as well as crop prices.

The program encourages them to apply their knowledge of economic principles as they run their own grower–shipper business. The most common way for students to play the game is to have the teacher guide them through the eight scenarios that lead up to the challenge. Each scenario focuses on a different economic principle that ties into the California State Educational Standards. These standards include: structure of the grower–shipper business, expenses, income from sales, income from contracts, changes in supply or demand elasticity. Students see how these concepts play out in the game as they follow their instructor’s directions and answer questions from the handouts the Museum provides.

The eight scenarios give students a chance to see how the game works one feature at a time. The first eight scenarios limit the players to running the business for only a few months. However, the Agriculture Economics Challenge is designed to be played indefinitely. Once a player learns the basics of the game, the "challenge" is to make the business as profitable as possible.

The scenarios reflect the layout of local grower–shipper businesses. Each location has its own screen and activities. Students plant and harvest their crops in the "Field." Research and the creation of contracts happen in the "Sales and Marketing Office." Players pay their bills in the "Accounting Office." Finally, students can fulfill contracts and sales agreements in the "Cooler."

Players run their business one month at a time with a series of activities to accomplish every month. The scenario allows the player to plant four types of lettuce: Butter, Green Leaf, Romaine and Iceberg. Production conditions such as pest infestations, extreme temperatures or flooding can reduce the total amount of crops players can harvest. Once the player hits the harvest button, crops are automatically packed in cartons and stored in the refrigerated warehouse called the "Cooler." Contracts and sales agreements are fulfilled in the Cooler after harvesting by specifying the number of cartons of lettuce to deliver to each buyer.

The Sales and Marketing Office is where players contact buyers and sell the cartons of lettuce. Players are able to see those crops ready to sell this month by clicking the "Check Product Available to Sell" button in the Sales Office. Next, the players can sell their crops by pressing the "Make Sales Offers" button. The player chooses the buyer, and enters the amount of the offer. In addition to selling crops that are currently ready to harvest, players can also accept contracts from buyers to deliver the lettuce at a later date. The Sales and Marketing Office is where players can find out news about the price of lettuce. The students can interpret this information to help them negotiate the highest prices for lettuce as well as predict which type of lettuce will be the most profitable to plant.

The Accounting Office is where the players oversee the cash flow of their business. As in real life, it costs money to plant, grow and harvest the lettuce crops. Other real–life expenses such as facility and equipment maintenance, payroll and taxes must be addressed by each player. The players can generate income as they fulfill each contract and sales agreement. The Accounting Office is where players can review their cash flow, financial reports and the balance sheet for the entire business.

A unique feature of the grower–shipper simulation is how it shows every business as part of a larger business community. The game creates a goodwill score to reflect the status of each grower–shipper within the business community. The business’ goodwill score increases each time the player fulfills a contract or sales agreement. It decreases when a player fails to fulfill a contract. Maintaining high goodwill increases the likelihood lettuce buyers will offer sales contracts and accept the player’s sales offers.

 

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Program development

After the National Steinbeck Center staff came up with the concept for the program, we hosted a series of focus groups with Salinas Valley Ag professionals, local economics teachers, and the program designers. We worked with these groups to develop both the curriculum and the story line for the challenges. When the beta version was completed, we partnered with California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB). College students at CSUMB took the Challenge to high school economics classrooms, as well as some college classrooms to test the game, look for bugs, and see if the students could break the program.

During the feedback phase of the program, the test group suggested some changes that we implemented. The participating students wanted the Challenge to be more of a competition to keep their interest. We addressed this by implementing the idea that the Center would hold an Agriculture Economics Challenge Day at the Center. Students representing each school would come to the Center to compete against each other and play the Challenge for a specified length of time. At the end of the time, the students who had the made most profit while maintaining a high goodwill score would be declared the winners and receive prizes and recognition.

The participating teachers also asked that we develop tools for them to track student progress online. We responded by developing an online notebook where the teacher can ask students questions, students could answer them, and turn in work at regular intervals.

 

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Challenges to the Program

In California, economics is taught as a semester–long course in the twelfth grade. This means teachers have relatively short amount of time to cover a large amount of material. The largest challenge the National Steinbeck Center has faced in implementing this program has been getting the Challenge into the classroom and accepted as part of the curriculum. We have found that the amount of time the teacher has coupled with the enthusiasm they have for adding "one more project" has been the largest challenge.

 

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Conclusion

The National Steinbeck Center started with the desire to create a curriculum that would tie the Valley of the World Agricultural exhibition into local classrooms by in an interactive manner. The Agricultural Economics Challenge features the local lettuce industry while allowing students to apply economic principles they learn in class. The curriculum was designed to make the teacher’s job easier by tying into the California content standards, offering an interactive activity for students, and providing worksheets and grading rubrics. While fewer teachers use the free program than expected, the Agriculture Economics Challenge has still been successful.

For more information about the Agricultural Economics Challenge, please contact the National Steinbeck Center’s Education Department at education@steinbeck.org. End of article

 

About the authors

Leti M. Bocanegra is the Technology Manager at the National Steinbeck Center Museum. Leti worked in the private sector for nine years as an Executive Assistant before going to work at the National Steinbeck Center Museum. Leti’s responsibilities include maintenance of the permanent exhibitions, network, and managing the museum’s archive. She has worked on several special projects to include managing the design and implementation of the museum’s Valley of the World Agriculture Exhibition which opened in August 2003, curating the annual Day of the Dead Exhibition, and managing the design and implementation of the Agriculture Economics Challenge Game. Leti has completed a number of courses in computer maintenance, graphic design, and collections care. She is currently pursuing a degree in Museum Studies.

Margie Harrison–Smith is the Curator of Education and Public Programs at the National Steinbeck Center Museum. Margie has been involved with museums as either a volunteer or staff member since 1979. She was worked for the Bay Area Discovery Museum, California Academy of Sciences, Zoological Society of San Diego, Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Carter House Natural Science Museum and the Redding Arboretum. Her museum work has included: managing public programs, coordinating school programs, managing guest services, conducting visitor research and evaluation, serving on exhibition development teams, working in development, coordinating college internships, overseeing youth volunteer corps, teaching summer science classes, hosting public tours, training volunteers, and conducting outreach programs in environmental education. Margie has a Master of Arts from John F. Kennedy University in Museum Studies (with an emphasis on Public Programs), and a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of California, Davis.

 

Notes

1. E. Lauritzen, "2003 Monterey County Crop Report," at http://www.co.monterey.ca.us/ag/2003_cropreport.htm, accessed 30 March 2005.


Editorial history

Paper received 5 April 2005; accepted 4 May 2005.
HTML markup: Christopher Day and Edward J. Valauskas; Editor: Edward J. Valauskas.


Contents Index

Copyright ©2005, First Monday

Copyright ©2005, National Steinbeck Center, All Rights Reserved.

The Agricultural Economics Challenge: An online program where high school students learn economics and agriculture of the Salinas Valley by Leti M. Bocanegra and Margie Harrison–Smith
First Monday, volume 10, number 6 (June 2005),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue10_6/bocanegra/index.html





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