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Integrating plant diseases into the K-12 STEM classroom
Robert Hirsch: University of Kentucky
<div>Despite being ideal systems that allow STEM teachers to integrate critical content areas and address relevant teaching standards, plant diseases are largely absent from K-12 STEM curricula. Two case studies present models of partnership that capitalize on the respective strengths of research scientists and STEM educators by fulfilling content standards, meaningfully involving students in the research process, and increasing the broader impact of competitive grant proposals. The first example explores the population genetics of the tall fescue endophyte <i>Epichlo</i><i>ë coenophiala</i>. A research field trial was established on public school property, and was utilized as a living laboratory for high school students to learn the process of plot design and sample collection. Research scientists assisted STEM teachers with developing grade-band appropriate curricula modules and assessments based on the ecological implications of fescue/fungi symbioses. In the second case study, APS scientists and STEM teachers utilized bacterial soft rot as a model disease and drafted a middle school laboratory curriculum module. Utilizing these materials, over 200 students manipulated variables of the disease triangle and explored complex host/pathogen interactions. Both case studies offer tangible examples of successful outreach collaborations that benefited the STEM community, broadened the impact of scientific research, and introduced the next generation of scientists to plant pathology.</div>

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