You may have heard the term “subject matter expert” before, but what exactly is that? And what does it have to do with GrowNextGen? Subject matter experts are researchers, educators or industry experts who share their expertise so that educators can develop relevant, current and correct classroom materials. Our teacher leaders frequently rely on subject matter experts as they develop curricular units for GrowNextGen.

Jake Wenger and Ellie Walsh of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) are perfect examples. In the role of subject matter experts, they worked with GrowNextGen teacher leaders who were developing lessons about integrating art and science to teach the Central Dogma Theory of genetics. Walsh and Wenger made initial recommendations about the content of the lesson plans, and then they set up and tested the lesson. “Our input helped teachers devise a nucleotide sequence that would be useful for the class activity,” said Walsh. “Going through the prototype lesson also allowed us to discover how to better prepare materials for a class to avoid confusion.”

Walsh is studying soybean resistance to diseases and pests at OARDC. “The soybean researchers in my department receive a lot of support from the Ohio Soybean Council, and that’s how I got connected with GrowNextGen.” She feels researchers have a responsibility to communicate with classroom teachers. “Classrooms are training the next generation of researchers,” she pointed out. Walsh also noted that insight from practicing scientists helps keep classrooms up-to-date with rapidly changing fields of knowledge and technology.

Wenger was recruited by GrowNextGen to review lesson plans. His past involvement with STEM education through the National Science Foundation made him a valuable partner. “As scientists, one of our roles is disseminating scientific discoveries to the public. Partnerships with classrooms provides scientists a natural route for this information and also forces them to describe their findings in an accessible way that students can understand.” Students and teachers gain access to cutting-edge science and working scientists, demonstrating the relevance of science in the real world to their studies.