Researchers combatting food security issues by educating teachers
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
MANHATTAN -- Summer school might not be everyone's idea of a good time, but for Kansas teachers, it is opening up their eyes to a new world of wonder -- soybeans.
About a dozen teachers from across Kansas recently spent three weeks at Kansas State University's Soybean Summer Science Institute, learning how to make science exciting for their students by using soybeans. Brian McCornack, assistant professor of entomology and an institute organizer, said the university wants to find ways to get youth interested in agriculture because food security is one of the biggest challenges the world faces.
"We need students interested in agriculture and seeking jobs that have to do with food production," McCornack said. "We can't rely on external sources to keep providing those food resources for us, so we need to be training students to be innovative thinkers from an early age."
The participating teachers, from the grade school to secondary school levels, learned a method called inquiry.
"Instead of telling them the answers, we are allowing them to set up their own experiment, collect data on that experiment and then make inferences about what they observed," McCornack said.
Joyce Eckelberry, a first-grade teacher at Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School in Manhattan, said the approach gave her an appreciation for what her students go through when learning a new subject and provided her with a new sense of curiosity.
"As we try this approach and really give them the opportunity to explore, they have to start thinking. It's what we had to do in the institute classroom -- and sometimes we thought our brains would explode," Eckelberry said.
Second-year teacher Betsy Sanders, Salina, said she thinks science is an area of education that is falling behind and this method of teaching might give students a better appreciation of science and agriculture.
"Science is quickly becoming one of those curriculums that is kind of getting set back," said Sanders, a fourth-grade teacher at Salina's Huesner Elementary School. "There are a lot of studies that show that students who experiment and inquire are really gaining more information from it, and it's something that all students -- from lower-level to higher-level learners -- can gain from."
The institute began as a pilot program at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln led by Tiffany Heng-Moss, professor of entomology. Kansas State University is working with the University of Nebraska and is also receiving funding for the program from the United Soybean Board and Kansas Soybean Commission.
The teachers' experiments focused on soybean plants because they are so abundant in the United States, with about 73 million acres harvested annually. Soybeans are also found in many items, such as food, plastics and fuels.
"The more kids know about it, the more they can recognize it and the more they can do to protect it," Sanders said.
Each teacher in this year's summer session was given an iPod to take pictures and collect data for their experiments. The teachers will use this data to develop lesson plans, which will be shared at the website http://www.mysoybean.org.
"The idea is that we can't bring every teacher to this institute, but we can train a lot of good teachers to bring that information to their schools," McCornack said. "This website is a way for us to extend the institute to other teachers that didn't get the opportunity to come for the summer."