The Kansas Corn STEM education program that has reached thousands of Kansas students and teachers received national recognition at the Commodity Classic Friday in Orlando. The Kansas Corn Commission received the National Corn Growers Association’s (NCGA) Reaching for Excellence award at the NCGA Banquet. Kansas Corn STEM offers corn-based curriculum, training and lab materials for K-12 teachers. The award is presented to one state corn organization each year.
Kansas Corn STEM encompasses all of Kansas Corn’s STEM-based education programs. The Seed to STEM program for middle and high school science educators, the inquiry-based education program for elementary teachers and the program for Certified Agriculture Science Educators (CASE) form the Kansas Corn STEM program. The program offers science lessons and materials to help K-12 educators teach science using the topics of corn, biotechnology and ethanol.
“Our programs offer training and science curriculum for Kansas teachers. But we go a step farther by providing the materials those teachers need to carry out the lessons in their classrooms,” Kansas Corn Director of Education Sharon Thielen, PhD said. “Our program has evolved under the leadership of our teacher advisory board, Inquiry Teacher Ambassadors and Seed to STEM lead teachers. Kansas Corn STEM is truly led by Kansas educators, and much of the credit for the success of this program goes to the educators who help shape it.”
Kansas Corn Commission Chairman Dennis McNinch was involved in the creation of the program in 2016. McNinch and commissioner Terry Vinduska, Marion, accepted the award on behalf of the Commission along with Kansas Corn staff.
“Science plays a big part in corn farming, and we wanted a program that helped Kansas students understand the science behind corn,” McNinch said. “We are growing an understanding of corn and agriculture in our Kansas schools, and we are supporting science education in our schools by providing the lessons and the materials. That’s what makes this program so rewarding.”
Kansas Corn CEO Greg Krissek said the Kansas Corn STEM program has grown significantly over the past three years under Thielen’s leadership.
“We started envisioning this program at the 2016 Commodity Classic, working with our friends at Ohio Corn and education consultants, EP&P, who had already implemented a program similar to our Seed to STEM program,” Krissek said. “As the program entered its second year, we added Dr. Thielen to our staff. Her vision to dramatically expand the program and her efforts to have it led by Kansas teachers have brought it to a new level.”
Thielen pointed to several numbers that prove the success of the program. In the last school year, Kansas Corn STEM’s curriculum, training and materials reached over 20,000 Kansas students and teachers. In the current school year, the program has already more than doubled its reach in Kansas schools.
“One of the numbers I am most proud of is that 87 percent of our education budget is spent on teachers and students,” Thielen said. “Teachers love the fact that we are supporting STEM Education in a positive way and giving them the resources that directly benefit their students.”
Behind the scenes, Kansas Corn staff has created a distribution process to meet the growing teacher demand for the Kansas Corn STEM curriculum and materials.
“A growing number of teachers are learning about our programs. Our Garnett office serves as the clearinghouse for teacher requests, and Education Programs Manager Erin Rios has become a logistics expert ordering and receiving shipments of lab materials and delivering them to teachers across the state. Erin truly is a driving force that has allowed this program to grow at the speed that it has,” Thielen said. “We have excellent partners, especially in our state’s ethanol industry, working with Renew Kansas. Their support has made it possible for us to provide distillation equipment to high school science teachers, allowing students to learn about the distillation process and actually create fuel from corn. Classrooms are also able to tour ethanol plants in their areas.”
Many people have helped make the program a success. The commission contracts with Seed to STEM lead teachers, inquiry ambassadors, agriculture education science trainers, curriculum writers, designers and education experts to help meet educational standards like the Next Generation Science Standards. The program also has an Educational Outreach Coordinator who visits schools across the state to give presentations to classes.
Kansas Corn STEM lessons are available at the organization’s kscorn.com website. Kansas teachers can also request the classroom materials that are needed to teach the lessons by filling out a form online.
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