Jennifer Foudray and Erin Molden, both GrowNextGen teacher leaders, talked with Dale Minyo about how GrowNextGen tools help students connect agriculture, science and career opportunities.

Teaching the practicality of science in agriculture

By Matt Reese and Dale Minyo

The definition of freezing point depression is: a colligative property observed in solutions that results from the introduction of solute molecules to a solvent. Make sense?

While this definition may not immediately seem even remotely interesting or relevant, freezing point depression happens to be the concept behind salting roads to improve winter driving conditions and a key component in the development of ice cream.

“I’ll teach chemistry until I’m blue in the face and the students just stare at me. But then I can kind of trick them if we make some soy ice cream. I calculate freezing point depression with them and then the macromolecule content — that’s when it clicks with them because they’re able to associate between the two and we can have a deeper conversation. Everyone eats, so that’s how I can connect the science with their real life,” said Jennifer Foudray, a biotechnology lab instructor for the Miami Valley Career Technical Center. “Or when making biodiesel, you have glycerin and we can have a conversation on how you can make bioplastics and decomposition. Again, it kind of creates that thought process and the questioning and then you just foster the growth. With GrowNextGen, a lot of the lessons are set up for students to keep exploring further. We always like a hook, if you will, and food, fiber and fuel are everywhere. One of the easiest ways to get people to come to the table is with food science, which is a lot of biochemistry. It’s also really applicable at lower levels and higher levels and it’s really easy to tie to Next Generation Science Standards and show students food is agriculture. That’s one of the things I really like about it.”

For more than a decade GrowNextGen has been supplying teachers with the programs, training, tools, and curriculum to implement agriculturally based, hands-on lessons into their classrooms. GrowNextGen also offers teachers the opportunities to participate in the process to further expand upon the program through workshops, camps and other activities.   

“One of the really cool things that GrowNextGen did recently is teacher externships. I was able to go with the state apiarist and do hive inspections. It’s a 30-hour program and you write curriculum that corresponds with it. You get real field experience with the current industry professionals,” Foudray said. “There are also food science workshops that we’ve had with T. Marzetti Salad Dressings. They helped host an event last year and they supplied a bunch of new lessons within food science. They’re very useful lessons for high school teachers.”

Erin Molden is a biotechnology CTE instructor at Kettering Fairmont High School with a background as a biomedical researcher. She got her introduction to GrowNextGen through participating in a camp. 

“From there I just kind of stuck around and now I get to participate as a GrowNextGen teacher leader and help other teachers understand how they can utilize ag biotech skills and knowledge that we’re teaching at those camps,” Molden said. “My experience as a participant in the camps was great because it was hands-on learning and the instructors did a great job of taking the knowledge and the background information for me who didn’t have a lot of ag knowledge other than growing my garden in my side yard. They translated that knowledge into the hands-on skills that we use in the classroom. Now as a teacher leader with the group, hopefully, we can do the same thing for other teachers. Because we’re teachers in the classroom, we have an idea of what other teachers might need or the pitfalls they might fall into or if maybe they don’t have a certain piece of equipment or modifications, we can bring those GrowNextGen science standards to their classrooms.”  

Molden has also worked on the development of resources for GrowNextGen that go beyond concepts from books to facilitating hands-on learning opportunities that integrate agricultural lessons into science classrooms.

“I worked on helping to develop an e-learning module for gel electrophoresis, which is a technique used to separate DNA fragments according to their size, and so that’s something maybe teachers don’t have the equipment to be able to teach in their classroom. The idea is that students could go through the e-learning course and learn about that technique even if they’re not able to do it in the classroom. There are a lot of different e-learning modules on there. For me personally coming out of a biomedical background, my ag knowledge was very limited, so the free resources on GrowNextGen’s website have been very helpful. They give good background and I can kind of dig more into different topics or have my students dig more into them. If they have a research question that arises, that’s a good starting spot. There are career videos, too, to help form connections with industry professionals,” Molden said. “We also had an Ag & Med Biotech Academy. The idea behind that workshop was combining agriculture and medicine. Historically in terms of medicine, a lot of it was derived from things that grow out of the earth and once they’ve learned those really detailed concepts, they can zoom out and see how medicine and agriculture are related. And being in the suburbs, students think they have to be a farmer to have a career in agriculture. My kids aren’t farmers so they don’t understand all of that, but they understand being a scientist and through these programs they can understand how they can contribute to agriculture from the science side of it.” 

The GrowNextGen program is funded by Ohio soybean farmers and their checkoff.

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