By Matt Reese and Dale Minyo
At first glance, a group of students racing boats may appear to be more about play than learning about Ohio agriculture. First glances, though, can be misleading.
Through curriculum from the Ohio Soybean Checkoff’s GrowNextGen program, students learn the science to make biodiesel from vegetable (soy) oil and use it to power boats for racing. Variations of the program are available for elementary and junior high, but Rachel Sanders, FFA advisor and science instructor at the Global Impact STEM Academy in Springfield, uses the boat racing with high school juniors.
“They’re actually looking at the chemical formulas and equations, figuring out the ratios of how much methanol and potassium hydroxide catalyst to use to make biodiesel, and hopefully race some boats,” Sanders said. “A couple of us teacher leaders, about 10 years ago, started looking at how could we incorporate this lesson into a chemistry classroom and some traditional science classrooms and show them how ag relates to any field in any area of science.”
By incorporating agriculturally connected curriculum into science classes, a broader cross section of students has been connected with Ohio’s farms and exposed to potential career opportunities in the production of food and fuel. The students at Global Impact STEM Academy come from a variety of backgrounds, but all can take something away from learning to make, and race, boats with biodiesel.
“We’re around 33% of students from the urban areas, and then we have some suburban students thrown in there and then we’re talking about 20% to 25% from farms, so this is trying to show students from all the areas how they can fit into agriculture,” she said. “With this we can look at fuel prices, fuel efficiencies, driving, etc. It kind of gets their attention and they can see what kinds of careers are out there, especially some that may not see ag as a field. Then they realize there’s all these lab components that put them into agriculture as well.”
The program continues to be very popular with students — and teachers — around Ohio. Global Impact STEM Academy also coordinates with GrowNextGen by hosting the Ag Biotech Academy event for Ohio teachers. The teachers at the event participate in workshops to learn the available GrowNextGen tools and techniques for engaging their students with incorporating the lessons into their science curriculum. At the event, teachers also learn more about general agriculture in Ohio today.
“We run an Ag Biotech Academy here at Global Impact for the Ohio Soybean Council. It started many years ago,” Sanders said. “The biodiesel project is one of the activities that the teachers keep asking for or want to be able to do, whether it’s a chemistry teacher or an environmental teacher, there are even some biology teachers, because they can show how they use plant-based material to make a fuel. By hosting these different trainings, we’re showing any teacher how they can incorporate it into their classroom.”
GrowNextGen is a project of the Ohio Soybean Council and soybean checkoff.