High school and junior high teachers from as far away as Montana took advantage of an Oklahoma State University workshop recently to experience interactive lessons they might use to increase their students’ awareness about bioenergy.
“We wanted to put the teachers in hands-on laboratory situations rather than relying on lectures, letting them explore firsthand the concepts being expressed so that they might be better able to adapt what they learned and pass it on in their own classrooms,” said Beatrix Haggard, OSU assistant professor of plant and soil sciences.
Participants learned about biodiesel, bioplastics and fermentation, oil extraction from seeds and plant growth as it relates to agronomic management and the production of biofuels. The teachers also were given ideas about how to take the topics of bioenergy and agriculture and make them relevant in their educational programs.
“We felt it important to include as many tours as possible, providing each participant with a close-up look at bioenergy sources such as switchgrass, forage sorghum and native grasses, as well as equipment used throughout the process,” Haggard said.
Workshop participants also journeyed to south-central Oklahoma, touring the Noble Research Institute in Ardmore. Institute professionals shared insights about their bioenergy projects while the teachers toured various laboratories and the greenhouse complex.
“As a teacher, I need to be able to give my students options for career fields, which is one reason why it is important for teachers to get firsthand knowledge of what is taking place in science,” said Brenna Sweat, an educator in the Sayre Public Schools system who teaches biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology and environmental science.
Sweat shared she plans to adapt the hands-on laboratory session she experienced at the workshop to her classroom, to better help her students with “concepts they need to learn.”
“I also believe this will help my students desire to study more about agriculture,” she said.
Sponsored by OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the June 18-22 workshop was made possible by a grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The NIFA grant focuses on educational outreach to increase the number of students entering into bioenergy fields of study,” Haggard said. “We decided to go with the ‘train the trainer’ approach as we felt it was a great way to reach high school and junior high students. If a science teacher is excited about a subject, it increases the likelihood more students will be as well.”
Workshop instructors included Haggard and her fellow principal investigators on the NIFA grant: Gopal Kakani, holder of OSU’s Warth Distinguished Professorship in Plant and Soil Sciences; Marshall Baker, OSU assistant professor of agricultural education; Shane Robinson, OSU associate professor of agricultural education; and Jeff Sallee, OSU associate professor with the State 4-H Office.