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New Teachers Get a Jump on Lesson Planning from BTI Workshop

by | Feb 3, 2016

Becky Sims presents to group of teachers

Teaching lab coordinator, Becky SIms, presents the Beet Armyworm Invasion lab activity to a group of early career teachers.

New teachers and teachers-to-be received a lesson in using corn seedlings and beet armyworms to demonstrate concepts related to sustainability and agriculture in their classrooms, based in research from the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI).

Becky Sims, the teaching lab coordinator at BTI, presented the activity as part of the Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers 2016 Workshop for New and Pre-service Teachers, held January 16-17. The workshop teaches hands-on activities and labs, while providing an opportunity for new and soon-to-be teachers to network with experienced teachers from New York state.

“I think new and pre-service teachers are an important audience for BTI’s Education and Outreach team to be supporting because those first few years are really challenging, especially finding classroom material that works,” said Sims. “We want them to be aware of BTI’s lab curricula and educational resources.”

Sims demonstrated the Beet Armyworm Invasion, an activity that shows how different varieties of corn seedlings have varying success using their innate chemical defenses to fend off the beet armyworm, a natural pest that causes significant damage to corn crops. The activity draws from research in the laboratory of BTI Professor Georg Jander. His postdoctoral researcher Vered Tzin was instrumental in developing the experimental design and creating a protocol for students to analyze the area of the corn leaf eaten by the caterpillars, through a program called Image J. The lab demonstrates how the natural genetic diversity that exists within maize crops is a huge asset for plant breeding for sustainable agriculture.

One attendee, Matthew Wilson, plans to use the lesson as part of his ecology section and will share the materials with his colleagues. Wilson teaches science, health and the living environment at the Delaware-Chenango-Madison-Otsego Board of Cooperative Educational Services and has taught for six years.

“I enjoyed the armyworm workshop. It’s simple to set up, involves an easy set of plants to grow, and has a technical and interactive element with photographing the caterpillars and then using a program to calculate the [consumed leaf] area,” said Wilson. “I can relate it to a goodly number of topics within the Living Environment curriculum.”

As an alternative educator, Wilson sees the value in using hands-on activities to inspire students. It can be challenging to present an enjoyable and worthwhile experience, while still ensuring that his special needs students fully absorb the larger concepts behind the lessons.

“There is a need for more real world science in schools and if at all possible it should be linked to real projects being undertaken by teams of scientists. The value is undeniable,” said Wilson. “BTI always has good workshops even if their implementation can be difficult in my setting.”

The lab is just one of many curricula that Education and Outreach at BTI has developed to increase high-quality STEM education in schools, with an emphasis on inquiry-based activities that can be easily integrated into existing curriculum.

Teachers interested in attending a BTI teacher workshop can visit the website to see future activities. Applications for BTI’s weeklong summer teacher institute, Curriculum Development Projects in Plant Biology, are open and will be accepted until March 15.

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