Teacher Cynthia Yeo-Ball loads her pop-pop boat with the soy biodiesel she created getting it ready for a test run at the GrowNextGen workshop in Springfield on June 28.

Check-off dollars and the next generation — GrowNextGen

By Dusty Sonnenberg, CCA, Field Leader, a project of the Ohio Soybean Council and soybean check-off.

As a new year begins, it is natural to look to the future. The Ohio Soybean Council is looking to the future far beyond 2023 with help from the soybean check-off to fund the GrowNextGen project.

The concept of GrowNextGen is to bring agriculture science to the classroom by providing real-world educational tools to engage the next generation workforce. Jane Hunt serves as Director of Education, at Education Projects. That organization administers the GrowNextGen project for the Ohio Soybean Council. They work with educational partners to develop lessons with the goal of getting soybeans into every classroom in Ohio. Their vehicle of delivery is hands-on lessons and activities utilizing soybeans and soy products that align with current elementary and high school standards.

The GrowNextGen project started 10 years ago focusing on creating content that could be used by a traditional science teacher and easily implemented in their classroom. The goal is to link science to soybean production and highlight the many careers available in the soybean industry. To date, an entire curriculum has been developed in life science, food science, biotechnology, and much more.

“These lessons are all available on a website for teachers to use as resources in their classrooms,” Hunt said.

Along with curriculum units, GrowNextGen also offers teachers educational workshops.

“Some workshops are in-person and some are webinars,” Hunt said. “The workshops are conducted by experienced teachers and provide the participants with subject matter lessons and take-home supplies to conduct the lessons in their own classrooms.”

GrowNextGen also is designed to become a network for the teacher participants. Hunt first became acquainted with Education Projects and the GrowNextGen program as a classroom teacher participant. “We rely heavily on our teacher leaders. One of the things we wanted to make sure we developed as we put the website together was a network for teachers across the state that were able to create and share resources, and that they would be willing to teach their peers,” Hunt said. “We have both teacher leaders and also industry leaders that are willing to go into the classroom as a speaker and help the students make the connection to their career area and future employment opportunities.”

An example of one of the popular teacher workshops is ChickQuest. This program uses poultry (hatching chickens), which are consumers of soybeans, as the teaching delivery tool.

“Our ChickQuest program is one of the longest running program workshops that we have done for elementary teachers’ teaching life cycles,” Hunt said. “The Ohio Soybean Council has supported this for 175 teachers to be trained every year on how to hatch chicks in the classroom. It contains 18 lessons all with hands-on and inquiry components as well as marketing opportunities and agricultural literacy. We give all the teachers incubators and egg turners and supply them with a certificate for fertilized eggs from Meyer Hatchery to hatch in their classroom while they are teaching the lessons. The students learn skills like record keeping, measurements, candling eggs, and other practical skills.”

There is also a middle school chicken program that has been developed.

“In partnership with the Ohio Soybean Council and Ohio Poultry Association, we have created a middle school curriculum that takes ChickQuest to the next level called Chickenology,” Hunt said. “This has activities based around chickens that deal with genetics and various adaptations of chickens. It has an engineering component with activities like building an incubator with materials we supply to see if they can properly insulate and hatch eggs. These are all hands-on activities for middle students and the workshop is designed for middle school science teachers and aligns with the State of Ohio middle school standards.”

GrowNextGen offers a 2-day ag biotech academy for teachers co-sponsored by Pioneer. A water quality workshop is offered and co-sponsored by the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association. A food science workshop for teachers is co-sponsored by the Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT). “We also have an Ag and Med Biotech Academy where we try to talk about the crossover between the skills in biotechnology and how they are transferable between the agriculture and medical fields. It was co-sponsored by Bio-Ohio,” Hunt said. “These partnerships help both provide sponsorship and include the other industries as well.”    

An extremely popular program from GrowNextGen is the Virtual Farm Tour (VFT). This is an effort in conjunction with the Ohio Soybean Council and Shiftology, to organize two harvest VFT’s each year (one for elementary and one for middle school/high school). Students in their classroom “Zoom-in” via the internet to an Ohio farmer operating their combine or tractor during harvest, and can “ride-along” and ask questions about the operations, and learn more about things like the equipment specifications and computer/GPS technology, and tracking yields and moisture and other measurements that commonly occur. There are also two planting VFT’s in the spring that are similar.  In 2023 the hope is to have additional VFT’s to look at a biotechnology laboratory, and also one with a grain elevator and grain shipping.

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