Melissa McKendree: Semester reflections – Bringing new energy to ABM 130-001

Assistant professor Melissa McKendree shares her strategies and methods for teaching a cornerstone course in the AFRE program.

Teaching a new class is intimidating! Looking back on the first day of this year’s fall semester, I recall my nervous stomach and thoughts of doubt running through my head, “Melissa, you aren’t ready for this…. you're going to talk too fast or trip and fall on your face…” Fortunately, those first day jitters have cleared and this semester has gone well — and quite quickly.  


ABM130 teaches students the basics of farm management, including record keeping, depreciation, basic taxes, financial statements and analysis, enterprise and partial budgets, and investment analysis. ABM130 has been taught by greats in our department from Scott Swinton, to Chris Wolf, and for the past 10+ years, Jim Hilker. Because of high enrollments, Dr. John Whims also began teaching a section in Fall 2017. This fall, Dr. Hilker passed the reins of his section over to me, leaving me very large shoes to fill. Having started in AFRE in August 2017, this fall was my first time teaching at MSU.  

ABM130-001 was composed of a diverse group of 75 undergraduate students. The majority were native Michiganders, but students also hailed from six other states and three countries. Students were also dispersed across all classes (13% freshmen, 36% sophomore, 27% juniors, 24% seniors). Students from all across the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, enrolled in either the bachelor’s degree and agriculture tech programs take ABM130 either as a requirement for their major or minor, or for an elective. Thirty-two percent of students enrolled in ABM130-001 were in the 2-year ag tech program. More than 12 majors and programs were represented, with largest cohorts from the three AFRE majors and animal science. Students also had diverse backgrounds with 71% stating they had an agricultural background. 

Screen Shot 2018-12-14 at 8.14.29 AMAs the pioneer class of my teaching career at MSU, I implemented several new methods and activities to invigorate the class and get students engaged.    

  1. Revamping of PowerPoints: Examples and content were updated. Furthermore, lecture notes posted on D2L (the learning management software MSU uses) included blanks to encourage attendance.  

  2. Worksheets: Worksheets are an alternative to PowerPoint slides. This format, where students follow along to fill in blanks and examples, has been particularly helpful for more math intensive topics, like depreciation or calculating financial ratios from the balance sheet and income statement. Worksheets allow students to be more engaged and active in the lecture. I received positive feedback on the mid-semester evaluations regarding the worksheets. Rotating between worksheets, PowerPoint slides and in-class activities helps cater to different learning styles.  

  3. TopHatTopHat is a teaching app used to increase class engagement. Through the TopHat app instructors can take attendance, ask questions, host discussions, and even give quizzes (it is a substitute for iClickers). Instructors display the question or discussion on the projector and students can respond using their phones, laptops, or tablets. Instant feedback is given. This semester I mainly used TopHat for quizzes and formative assessment (assessment for learning where the main purpose is feedback for the student and the teacher about the student’s progress), but I see many possibilities for future uses. I also used TopHat to conduct an anonymous mid-semester teaching evaluation.  Other AFRE professors and instructors also used TopHat this year.  

  4. #ABM130: A Twitter hashtag, #ABM130, was used to post class reminders and current events. The aim was to engage students outside the classroom and show applications of material they are learning to real world events. I may have used a meme or two….  

  5. Word clouds: On the very first day of class, before we even went through the syllabus, students were asked to write down the first five words that came to their mind when they hear “farm management.” I then used these responses to create a word cloud that was shown on the second day of class. Fast forward to the end of the semester, students were asked to repeat this exercise. The two resulting words clouds were then shown to students the last week of class as a visualization of what they have learned this semester. This is a powerful yet simple exercise that could be repeated with any class.  

wordcloud_startofsemester (1)


Overall, this has been a great semester. Thank you awesome ABM130-001 students for taking this journey with me! I am already excited and have my wheels turning for new ideas next fall. 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!  

Dr. Melissa McKendree  

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