Stories from the Driftless

Tower Rock Elementary: An Exemplary School for Place-Based Education — PRTP12



Note: Most of the photos in this post capture events prior to March 2020.

Today I’m speaking with Terri Anderson, 1st grade teacher at Tower Rock elementary school in the Sauk Prairie School District in Wisconsin. With just 220 students, Tower Rock has served a rural farming community, and Agriculture continues to be part of the fabric of this school. Today, Terri is going to share with you lots of examples of how the educators at Tower Rock Elementary school provide hands-on, interdisciplinary learning through relevant lenses like agriculture and local geography with consistent and deep connection to their community. Their work truly exemplifies what it means to provide place-based education. So, as you’re listening today, be thinking of how you might be able to apply this type of learning in your classroom.

Because Terri will be sharing several ideas, I’m leaving extra show notes here. The information below follows the interview. Enjoy!

Here are just some of the themes incorporated in the 1st grade: insects, maps, forests, prairies, farmland, the antarctic, classic stories, symbols, pioneers, plants, rocks, & lifestyles. These themes are incorporated across the day in the form of discovery centers, journals, story problems in math, shared reading, small group reading, and during Friday project time.

Let’s take a deeper look at one theme, Farm or AgLand:

Journal words build academic vocabulary and provide background knowledge for the rest of the theme. Some of the words covered are fertile soil, harvest, grain, products, combine, agriculture jobs, jobs, consumer, and producers.

Discovery Centers provide an opportunity to work with the academic vocabulary, learn new content, and engage with the learning. Sample discovery centers are 1.) Corn bins, 2.) Write the room, 3.) Math Number Bump, 5.) Dramatic play farmer’s market, 6. Shared reading of Little Red Hen or the American Farm Bureau’s Right this Very Minute 7.) Making bread. During Friday Project time students enjoy painting pumpkins.

Students also have the opportunity to see agriculture in action by visiting local farms, seeing a combine in action, picking and shelling corn, and comparing farm equipment.

Additional grade levels at Tower Rock also incorporate agriculture education into their classrooms. Here is a partial list of amazing opportunities: composting, paper recycling, fall harvest, learning about goats, building a pollinator garden, building and tending to raise garden beds, tending to the indoor tower gardens, and creating chicken art projects after school.

The staff at Tower Rock further supports Agriculture Education by hosting a school-wide event called “Ag-Day.”

Stations are set up around the school with guest speakers who, collectively, demonstrate the diversity in agriculture. The speakers include community members, 5th graders, McFarland’s, an egg producer, a maple syrup producer, a master gardener, a forester, a barn quilts artist, a large animal vet, a horse owner, a bee keeper and honey producer, and chef to talk about Wisconsin snacks — just to name a few! The day is a solid depiction of the diversity in Wisconsin Agriculture.

Students learned about…

Tower Rock also keeps a few feathered and furred educators on site most of the school year. Aside from this school year, Tower Rock usually keeps chickens at school in their permanent chicken coop, complete with electricity. One grade level is in charge of supply assessment, but daily jobs are divided amongst the entire school. While their presence certainly teaches responsibility, they are often woven into learning as well. For example, 3rd grade incorporates the chickens into their habitat unit. Additionally, Penelope, the rabbit lives at school making her rounds to encourage students to work hard; she also provides a calming effect for students.

Tower Rock also devotes space in the building dedicated to ag-themed play. The “Ag-Room” offers a flexible space dedicated to planned themes like forests with logs, sticks, trees, stumps, and an art center with leaf rubbings. Additionally, the room has housed themes like farm-to-table and career-oriented themes like large animal veterinarian care, farming, or running a floral shop. Of course, Covid has shelved these for now, but the staff has plans for further programming in this room.

A Mural at Tower Rock

You can learn more about Tower Rock Elementary by visiting their website at

Contact information:

Terri Anderson, 1st Grade Teacher

Kelly Petrowski, Principal

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