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Educating educators about biotechnology in agriculture

The third annual Agriculture Biotechnology Academy invited Ohio teachers to take the seats normally occupied by students at Clark State Community College in Springfield to learn about the latest technologies in agriculture and how to make those farming innovations part of their classroom curriculum.

The event, co-sponsored by The Ohio Soybean Council and DuPont Pioneer, started in 2012 as a professional development workshop for high school science teachers, but has grown to include teachers from a wide variety of subjects and backgrounds.

“What we have realized is that the topic of ag biotechnology really covers many different science areas,” said Carol Warkentien, with Education Projects and Partnerships, who helped to organize the event. “We even have math teachers attending because they are visualizing a way to integrate this topic into their classrooms as well.”

The two-day academy is free for teachers to attend and will include another gathering in December for additional learning opportunities. Those in attendance included some teachers that come from rural parts of Ohio that are well versed in agriculture along with teachers that work in a more urban part of the state, but want to bring aspects of agriculture to the city. For Chuck Crawford of Dublin Jerome High School outside of Columbus, that even meant putting corn and soybean plots on school grounds.

“We are fortunate to have 10 acres that we have been using as a land lab and this spring my students used that land to plant the crops,” Crawford said. “At first, many people were skeptical of what we were trying to do, but we proved that it can be done.”

“This is such a great experience for the kids and that is the most important part for me. It they can get out there and actually touch the corn leaf and realize that those are really solar panels, maybe their curiosity will be peaked just enough that they think about becoming involved in the ag industry.”

For ag educator Jeremy Grove, who is making a dynamic career move this year from teaching at Logan High School to East Technical High School in Cleveland to start the school’s first agribusiness and productions program, lessons learned from the academy are invaluable.

“Many of the students that I will encounter at my new position will be looking for hands-on activities, those are what really engage students,” Grove said. “The challenge for me will be to find ways to engage an urban student in agriculture. They won’t be like my kids in Logan who want to go out and check out a soil pit, but the city students will want to find ways to make use of the hands-on activities that we are learning about at this academy that will bring them closer to agriculture than they have ever been.”

One of the topics covered was the extensive breeding program at DuPont Pioneer and how farmers are able to grow more crops on less land with fewer inputs. Participants were also able to tour DuPont Pioneer’s research facility in Napoleon as part of the academy.

“This was a great opportunity to really get in to the nuts and bolts and the shear science of what we are doing in the lab and in the field,” said  Reid Rice, DuPont Pioneer research scientist. “We were also able to share all of the career possibilities in agriculture that await their students and tell teachers about new traits and technologies we are creating to improve life for the producer and the consumer. There was a lot of excitement in the air as these educators think about going back to their classrooms to do some lab work with some of the ideas we have given them, so it’s great to see the interest in developing some of those hands-on applications that will generate that enthusiasm for agriculture across the state.”

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