Faculty provides workshop to aid science teachers in teaching bioenergy and plant biotechnology

On June 28-29, 2010, at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Fiona Goggin (Entomology), Julie Carrier (Biological and Agricultural Engineering), and Vibha Srivastava (Crop Soil and Environmental Science), offered a two-day workshop for science teachers (grades 7-12) entitled "From Field to Table: the Science Behind Plants for Food and Fuel". The workshop provided them with equipment, supplies, and hands-on classroom activities to teach their students about bioenergy and plant biotechnology. This work was supported by funding from the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (Grant # 09-0522), and the National Science Foundation (Grant # EPS 0701890). The workshop was attended by 8 teachers from around the state.

faculty workshop for teachersThe role of biotechnology in meeting the world's growing need for food and fuel was chosen as the theme for this workshop because of the relevance of this topic to public concerns, and to current research at the University of Arkansas. The goal of this workshop was to provide instruction and materials that teachers could use to lead inquiry-based learning in their own classrooms.

The workshop included teaching modules on plant tissue culture and transformation, genetically-modified crops and insect control, and plant biomass as a fuel source. Each participating teacher received a Teachers' Toolkit of materials to help implement the modules at their schools.

Dr. Vibha Srivastava led the Module on "Genetic Engineering of Plants". Genetic engineering of crops has revolutionized plant breeding, but also sparked public fear and controversy. This module taught what genetically-modified (GM) crops are and how they are generated through plant tissue culture and transformation. Teachers were provided with a kit to perform plant tissue culture in their classrooms.

Dr. Fiona Goggin led the Module on "Crops for Insect Management". This module demonstrated the role of GM crops in our everyday lives, and providedfaculty workshop for teachers an opportunity to debate the risks and benefits of crops engineered to express insecticidal proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which are widely-grown throughout the U.S. Teachers were provided with supplies for a simple immunoassay to test corn meal for the presence of Bt toxin, as well as a computer-based exercise to compare the safety of Bt toxins to that of alternative pesticides.

Dr. Julie Carrier led the Module on "Biomass to Biofuels". The U.S is embarking on a massive effort to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels by increasing biofuel production. This module explained the steps of how biomass such as plant materials can be converted to biofuels (in this case, ethanol). Teachers were provided with all the necessary equipment to test how well various sugar sources (such as table sugar and molasses) can be fermented by yeast into ethanol.

The workshop effectiveness was assessed by surveying the participants before and after the workshop. Surveys indicated that the workshop succeeded in dramatically increasing the participants' interest in and knowledge of biotechnology. Additional surveys will be conducted in Spring 2011 to determine how extensively the materials and lesson plans from this workshop were utilized in the participants' classrooms. The workshop was created with the belief in mind that by developing classroom activities related to their research and offering workshops on these activities, university scientists can partner with K12 educators to improve the quality of science education in Arkansas.

View more photos from the workshop at hogentomology.shutterfly.com

Photos by Slade Wright