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Purdue researchers put soybeans in K-5 science classes

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- What happens when you mix one Purdue University agricultural engineer, one Purdue food scientist, soybean oil and some soy protein with a little grant money from the Indiana Soybean Development Council? You get K-5 Soybean Science Kit: Polymers and Oils, a science teaching kit that gathers rave reviews from teachers.

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"Students loved the activities," says one teacher who's used it. "Each day they would ask what we would do next with soybeans. They hated to see the activities come to an end."

A $200 kit is available to each Indiana elementary and middle school for a $15 shipping charge. For those schools, the Indiana soybean council absorbs the cost of one kit.

The kit originated from a chance encounter. Purdue agricultural engineer Bernie Tao and Purdue food scientist Bruce Watkins met over bowls of chili at a student recognition supper in the School of Agriculture. They found that they both had small children and both were looking for ways to use biological and agricultural materials to teach children about science.

Later, as they talked, Tao and Watkins came up with the idea for producing a series of biological and agricultural science kits for students at all levels. They started with the K-5 soybean kit.

"We developed the K-5 kit because we wanted to introduce science to young children, to make it interesting and exciting," Watkins says. "And we wanted to use what Bernie and I know most about: agriculture, food science, and biological engineering."

They sold the idea to the soybean council, which awarded them a grant to help produce the first kit.

Then the professors recruited Nancy Sattler and John Pearl, two elementary teachers from the Lafayette area, and Amy Haney, a graduate student with degrees in engineering and education, to help design and document experiments.

"We wanted to make sure that what we created worked for teachers and was hands-on fun," Tao says. "The scientific words we researchers use can scare away teachers and young children. Nancy, John and Amy made sure we explained the science in words that children would understand."

The group not only explained the chemistry, biology and engineering in lay terms, it developed safe, soy-based experiments that teachers can do even with kindergarten students. They also made sure the kit met Indiana science proficiency requirements.

Each kit contains almost everything a teacher and 30 children need to transform soybean protein or soy oil into candles, crayons, ink, salad dressing, lip balm, hand cream and more. They even make "gluep," a gooey putty kids play with. Detailed lesson plans lead teachers and students through the experiments and explain the scientific principles and technical background. Worksheets, notes for parents, transparencies and sheets of background information round out the two-and-a-half weeks of lessons.

Now, with backing from the soybean council, they hope to see kits distributed throughout the state and beyond.

Judy Baker, manager of education programs for the soybean council, estimates that by mid-March the council will have placed about 1,000 kits, well over half the 1,673 total for elementary and middle schools. The council wants to put one in every elementary and middle school in Indiana.

The council underwrites the $200 cost of one kit for each Indiana elementary and middle school. It will mail a kit to each of those schools for $15 postage and handling. Interested teachers should write or call Total Response, P.O. Box 33489, Indianapolis, Ind. 46209-0329, phone, 800-871-9609; FAX, 317-781-4619, and ask for the K-5 Soybean Science Kit: Polymers and Oils.

Sources: Bruce Watkins, (765) 494-5802; e-mail,
Bernie Tao, (765) 494-1183; e-mail,
Judy Baker, 1-800-735-0195; e-mail,
Writer: Rebecca J. Goetz, (765) 494-0461; e-mail
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

Photo Caption:

Purdue agricultural engineer Bernie Tao (left) and food scientist Bruce Watkins make fun out of soy-based "gluep" and other soy products as they teach the basics of agriculture, food science and biological engineering. (Agricultural Communication Service Photo by Mike Kerper)

Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Watkins/Soykit
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