Frank Hardin, Ph.D., stood in front of 15 excited teachers at the Dallas Arboretum, preparing to conduct an experiment, and made a bold statement: "You eat nails for breakfast."
Hardin, the Noble Academy educational outreach manager, usually receives befuddled stares or snickers from students, but these educators beamed with anticipation. Soon they'll be making the same claim.
Over the next few hours, Hardin walked the Dallas Arboretum teachers, who all have degrees and educational experience, through four experiments, including the ever-popular Nails for Breakfast (see sidebar for complete explanation).
They observe, scribble notes and ask probing questions in preparation for leading the experiments themselves. These four experiments represent the initial steps of a new collaboration between the Dallas Arboretum and Noble Academy, one in which Hardin is able to teach teachers about agriculture and send them out as advocates.
The collaboration also represents a milestone in the evolution of Noble Academy.
In the fall of 2012, the Noble Research Institute centralized its outreach and educational activities toward delivering agriculture- and science-based education for all students, from elementary through college, by creating Noble Academy.
"We want to demonstrate the importance of agriculture to society and the need for research to advance the industry," Hardin said. "We also strive to communicate the wide range of career opportunities in agriculture to students."
Noble Academy began working with Oklahoma teachers and education-related associations to expand its efforts to provide key lessons to students through in-class demonstrations. These demonstrations are designed to fit into a teacher's lesson plans and are a simple but effective way to bring science and agricultural education together to the classroom.
"We've had such great results with our Oklahoma partners and schools that we wanted to expand our reach into Texas," Hardin said. "The Noble Research Institute's agricultural consultants work with landowners in Texas, so why couldn't we work with Texas teachers and educational associations?"
Before Hardin could make the first move, Texas called him in the form of the Dallas Arboretum.
A volunteer at the Arboretum had learned about Noble Academy and explained the program to Maria Conroy, vice president of education and research at the Dallas Arboretum. "He suggested I contact the Noble Research Institute, and I'm certainly glad I did," Conroy said. "Our missions and goals align perfectly with each other. We knew this was an opportunity we couldn't pass up."
The Dallas Arboretum offers a wide variety of children's educational programs to meet students' and teachers' needs, such as field trip programs and school outreach programs. The Arboretum reaches about 125,000 students each year with only 23 teachers. These teachers, however, are in constant need of fresh projects and activities.
"The Noble Academy hands-on lab experiments and lessons make a great addition to the outreach programs we have available for area schools," Conroy said. "The lessons can be easily adapted to any age and grade, which is important for us because we work with all ages from pre-kindergarten to high school."
As Hardin wrapped up his final demonstration with the teachers, he stood back and surveyed them eagerly chatting about their lessons. He smiled broadly, knowing the impact they would have.
"Today's youth is going to be in charge of tomorrow's world. You can never pass up an opportunity to educate them about the importance of agriculture and science," Hardin said. "Because of this collaboration, we'll be able to reach students we never imagined reaching. It's like holding onto a rocket as it blasts off. It's that exciting."