OSU program introduces biofuels education at secondary level
Every year in high schools across the country students learn about the Pythagorean theorem, mathematical equations and formulas. They are then asked to regurgitate the information in a classroom setting.
Helping students find practical uses for these theories, formulas and equations is one of the goals of Shane Robinson, associate professor in the Oklahoma State University's Department of Agricultural Education, Communications and Leadership. This idea, coupled with the emergence of green energy and biofuels, has led to a partnership between Robinson and the OSU Biobased Products and Energy Center.
"A focus of ours is to produce teachers who can teach science, math and technology in the context of agriculture," Robinson said. "We really feel like our teachers have a unique opportunity to integrate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) competencies at the secondary level through real-life application of their students' agricultural projects."
One of the objectives listed on the BioPEC website is to provide education about biobased products and energy through secondary education, so this partnership made sense. Discussions began three years ago and have resulted in support from Oklahoma's National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, providing .25 FTE for two doctoral students in agricultural education.
These two students, Marshall Baker and Joey Blackburn, have been working to help develop curricular materials for high school agriculture teachers focusing on biofuels and renewable energy. The importance of introducing green and clean energy to secondary students grows as this new phenomenon sweeps the country.
"Everywhere you turn you read about green energy and the need for clean energy," Robinson said. "We stress the importance of being a life-long learner to our students. We stress to them the importance of being aware of the current issues of the world we live in and being able to talk about those issues in the classroom. Therefore, it's important for our pre-service and in-service teachers to be knowledgeable about biofuels and other renewable energies."
In an effort to educate students most effectively about renewable energy, a wind energy camp was recently held for Stillwater High School agriculture students ranging from 8th through 12th grade.
The students were split into two groups for the camp. In one room, students were exposed to a very school-like, structured lecture and quizzed following each 40-minute session. The second room was much more loosely structured and more interactive, hands-on and student-led.
Baker, who designed the study, found that students in the student-led classroom scored significantly higher in creativity and practical applications after the one-day camp. While the students in the structured setting scored higher in content knowledge, Robinson said there was no statistically significant difference.
"There's a way to teach this information," Robinson said. "Allowing students to inquire into the learning process can be extremely beneficial. If you stand up there and try to teach it to them one slide after another and go through all the in-depth technical information necessary to make them experts in renewable energy, you're going to lose them. Our goal is to raise their awareness of renewable energy and its impact on agriculture in Oklahoma so that they can be informed and make knowledgeable decisions on its utility in the future."
Preparing students for college and careers, simultaneously, is a driving force for Robinson and the department of agricultural education, communications and leadership. With the biofuels and clean energy industry booming, this partnership with BioPEC will allow the department to fulfill that purpose more successfully.