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For teachers, summer school equals trips into the state’s soybean fields

By The Mercury

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.

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.

Each 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 on a website.

“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.”

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