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First Seed to STEM workshop full of active learning!

What’s that rustling sound I hear? Sounds like something in the corn field—it is! Twenty-five Kansas teachers recently gathered in Overland Park, KS for a workshop sponsored by the Kansas Corn Commission. The event focused on the science of corn, covering the topics of biotechnology, energy and ethanol, and agriculture both in the classroom and in the field.

Teachers worked through various lab activities and learned how to teach them to their students. In addition, they went home with a supply kit of materials. Blake Smith of Maize South High School said, “I’m excited to take what we’ve learned back to our classrooms. We have all these tools—$500 worth of equipment—so we actually can go back and do these things.”

Lab activities included micropipetting, plant tissue culture, converting biomass to sugars, corn fermentation, and ethanol distillation. Small groups did specific labs and then presented to the whole group. Smith said, “My colleague Jed Heath and I will spread these lessons over earth science, chemistry, and biology. In three years of classes, students will be exposed to the science behind corn through different lenses. Focusing on one theme will help them see connections and remember what they’ve learned.”

Field activities included a discussion of corn production, a visit to a cattle feed lot, and a lesson on predicting yield of corn crops. The day concluded with a farm dinner where teachers talked with members of the Kansas Corn Commission and local farmers. On the second day, the group toured the East Kansas Agri-Energy ethanol plant.

Participants particularly liked the hands-on aspect of the workshop. 8th grade science teacher Susan Grommesh said, “I like to learn that way and my students do too!” Grommesh appreciated learning more about food production. “I’m a city girl—I buy my corn in the grocery store! I didn’t realize the different varieties of corn and all the technology out there. In inner city schools, our kids don’t know where our food comes from. I can talk to them about that.”

Smith said, “This was a great experience and I’m glad we were part of the first group. I can’t wait for more educators to have this opportunity!”

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