Corn Webbing in Wisconsin
--Bill Tracy, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Against my better judgment I agreed to teach a module (one week) in the UW teacher enhancement program during 2-6 August, the peak of pollinating season. The class consisted of 15 elementary school teachers. Most of the teachers had only introductory college biology. Most knew nothing about genetics. I spent nearly the entire week with them, and it was a wonderful experience.
The class was structured around the idea of "webbing." This is where one thing, in this case corn, is used to teach concepts in all academic subjects ranging from music to math. I had the help of two facilitators who were professional elementary teachers. They were absolutely invaluable. In addition to lectures and demos on many aspects of corn (scientific, social, economic), we had three field trips. Two of the trips were to my field. On the last day, they made their own pollinations among a set of endosperm mutants I had set up. The pollinations were their favorite part of the experience. The other field trip was to a seed production company and a sweet corn processing company.
The cornweb and syllabus is available upon request. In addition, I have a 3" binder filled with my handouts, and activities that the teachers developed, songs, maps, recipes, games, and projects.
As a result of this program I have visited the classrooms of some of "my students." I was very impressed by the enthusiasm the kids had for science in general and corn in particular. Two observations: 1) At the elementary level they really want hands-on activities that will excite the students about science, and 2) while the teachers may be very interested in genetics, their background is usually weak. Do not overshoot your audience. Unless you know they know more, start out with Mendel's laws and meiosis and mitosis.
This was a great experience. I learned many ways to improve my teaching from working with teachers. I am going to do the course again this summer.
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