The Kansas Corn Commission is doubling its popular Seed to STEM summer workshops for science teachers in 2017. Two summer workshops will give more middle-school and high-school teachers the opportunity to learn the science behind corn. The workshops will be held June 8-9 at Lawrence High School, Lawrence, and June 12-13 at Maize South High School, Wichita.
In addition to lessons and lab experiments about GMOs and ethanol, participants will tour a farm and an ethanol plant, and each participant will walk away with $500 in lab materials. Sign-up for first-time Seed to STEM participants will begin in February. Each location is capped at 35 participants, and Sharon Thielen, Kansas Corn Commission educational curriculum manager, encourages teachers to sign up early at seed2stem.org.
"The amount of science and technology used in the corn industry is impressive. Our Seed to STEM workshops in Lawrence and Wichita this July will give teachers lots of new ideas they can take back to their science classrooms and labs. We want to help teachers find ways to get students excited about science while also teaching them about our industry," Thielen says. "We're not only providing the teachers with lesson plans and lab experiments, the Kansas Corn Commission is supporting science education in their schools by giving each teacher $500 worth of lab materials."
At last summer's Seed to STEM workshop, 26 teachers worked through many lab activities and learned how to teach them to their students. Today they are using the supplies they received in the classroom.
2016 Seed to Stem Summer Workshop participant Blake Smith of Maize South High School says, "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 micro-pipetting, plant tissue culture, converting biomass to sugars, corn fermentation and ethanol distillation.
"My colleague Jed Heath and I will spread these lessons over earth science, chemistry and biology,” Smith says. "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."
Participants in the 2016 Seed to STEM workshop liked the hands-on aspect of the workshop.
"I like to learn that way, and my students do too!" says 8th-grade science teacher Susan Grommesh. "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."
Topics for the 2017 workshop are:
• What is the latest on GMOs? Learn how GMOs are improving agriculture; teach genetic modification through modeling; perform a DNA extraction.
• How will biotechnology shape our future? Create real GMOs through genetic transformation; use sterile technique to create a plant tissue culture; experience how advances in seed traits increase yield while helping our environment.
• How can ethanol make our future more sustainable? Analyze sugar content and discover the importance of enzymes; perform nutrient analysis before and after fermentation; distill ethanol in your class-room lab; compare renewable and nonrenewable fuel sources.
Registration opened for new participants on Feb. 1, and returning teachers may sign up after March 1. Visit the Seed to STEM website to register at seed2stem.org. For more information, call the Kansas Corn Commission at 785-448-6922.
Schulte is communications director for Kansas Corn.