Summer Science Institute for Teachers

(Brian) Brian McCornack, Extension Entomologist and Researcher in the Department of Entomology at Kansas State University. And I currently direct a Summer Science’s Institute for Teachers where soybean is the model system. And I think what really makes this institute particularly different is we really teach the teachers how to incorporate science into the classroom much like a scientist would. So, as a scientist we actually don’t want to know the answer which is why we study it. We come up with a set of hypotheses and we test it and hopefully there’s an answer that comes out of it. In many cases teachers are not necessarily taught that way when it comes to science in the classroom. It can be very prescriptive. What we do here at the institute and with help from the Kansas Soybean Commission is actually provide a three week immersive course for those teachers to literally get their hands dirty. So, working with scientists from various departments, agronomy, pathology, entomology and giving them some experience with soybeans. So growing plants not only in the greenhouse but also in the field. Working with people like Dr. Schapaugh in his soybean breeding program, understanding what that means. And then sometimes we even take them to the grocery store and let them do a scavenger hunt to figure out how much soybean is in the products that they buy either for cleaning purposes or what they actually consume. And they’re always so surprised that 60-70 percent of what they buy has soybean in it. So what we do here at the institute is give them an opportunity to really learn how to be a scientist and let their kids know that it’s OK not knowing the answer. And what we do is we come up with testable hypotheses and hopefully come up with the result that helps us interpret the world around us. And so what we do is provide them the resources during those three weeks, build up and encourage them to step out of what they consider their comfort zone and really put on their scientist hats. I think what teachers like most about the institute is its simplicity. We’re simply taking a soybean seed and allowing them to see various aspects of its production from how you grow it, to how it’s put into food. And it’s easy. You take a bag of soybean seeds and throw them in some pot and you can start asking some very simple questions. Yet the kids can lead a lot of the discussion, lead a lot of the experimentation and the teacher is really there to help guide. For social media one of our hashtags is #inquiryninjas. And so we’re trying to teach the teachers is that the teacher is not necessarily directing all of this, in that they’re kind of silent in the background, helping guide the students to asking those questions. They might have had the question all along, it’s letting the students be the ones feeling like they’re driving the ship. When that happens the students become really engaged and I think that’s the part that the teachers take home most from this institute that it doesn’t require a sophisticated degree to do that, it’s simply a switch in the way in which you engage the students. Which is allowing them to do hands on, which is looking at the world around them and then allowing them to ask questions and then guiding them to that question that you want them to really ask because that covers core standards, core science standards, so a major thrust of the institute is making sure that we address those standards, but allowing teachers at the time to understand what that standard might mean and how they could develop a lesson plan around it.

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