Bringing Ethanol and Corn to Kansas School Science Labs

Kansas Corn partners with Renew Kansas to provide lab equipment to high schools

How productive would a chef be without a stove? Or a farmer without any seeds to plant? High school science and agricultural teachers across the state received new lab equipment thanks to an initiative started by the Kansas Corn Commission and Renew Kansas, the state’s ethanol association.

Kansas Corn educational curriculum manager, Sharon Thielen says misconceptions surrounding ethanol weren’t being debunked in high school classrooms not because the curriculum wasn’t developed yet, but because many teachers just didn’t have the funding for lab supplies.

“We learned teachers had curriculum available and received training to teach about ethanol,” says Thielen. “What they didn’t have was the lab equipment to make the lesson effective. Kansas Corn was able to get them connected with Renew Kansas and secure the funds needed to help these teachers get the supplies.  The ethanol industry can now feel assured that the youth are learning the science and processes behind it all.”

The funding from Renew Kansas, an organization that represents individual ethanol producers across the state, allowed for two types of kits to be handed out. One for science teachers who participated in the Seed to Stem program, and one for agricultural science teachers.

Science teachers working through the Seed to STEM program with Kansas Corn received distillation units that will allow students to learn the process in which to take ground corn and turn it into ethanol. Thielen hopes that once students understand the process behind ethanol, it can open discussion for classrooms to talk about the questions brought up by consumers.

Lacie Fair, a science teacher at Newton High School, says this gift couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

“Our students deserve these experiences,” Fair says, “and we owe them every possible opportunity to explore the field of science to best prepare them for the future they have in front of them.  Through this gift your organization has shown a commitment to our students and to us as professional educators.

We appreciate every opportunity we have to provide our students with the best lab experiences, and you and your organization have made that possible.”

Agricultural science teachers received kits for their Clean Smoke Lab curriculum, which included supplies that will help students compare the emissions from kerosene versus ethanol. This lab kit includes the fuels and all the equipment needed to burn those and test the emissions.

Jeanie Wege, agricultural science teacher at Onaga High School, completed the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE) training two summers ago. She says that as a teacher in a small rural school, her budget is always tight, which makes purchasing materials for the labs difficult.

“By receiving these items, my students will get to participate in hands-on lab experiments,” Wege says. “I currently teach short units on ethanol in my Agriscience class and will be able to expand their awareness of production within our state. I will also be able to use the materials in our horticulture curriculum.”