The teachers did not flinch at the sight of a chicken being dissected, organs and all. They got out their phones and took pictures.
About 20 of them took part this week in a Modesto-based program that aims to get the science behind farming and food processing into the classroom. They heard from experts on botany, livestock, water and other topics over four days.
Thursday was all about poultry and egg production, including the dissection of a recently deceased hen, still in her feathers, by Modesto Junior College instructor Marlies Boyd. She explained how the birds were bred for egg production rather than meat, and how a natural coating protects the egg from bacteria in places without refrigeration.
“Did you know that 90 percent of breeds in the world lay brown eggs?” she added. “White eggs are kind of an anomaly.”
The program, free to the participants, is called Teacher Agricultural Science Technology Education Seminars (TASTES). It has been put on since 2008 by the National Ag Science Center, which also has a mobile laboratory for junior high schools and a summer camp at two elementary schools.
This year’s teacher seminars were based at the Stanislaus Culinary Arts Institute in Oakdale, operated by the county Office of Education. The group took field trips to the Stanislaus River to learn about water supplies and fisheries, to McManis Family Vineyards near Ripon for grape and wine production, and to Fredriks Nursery near the same city.
The program is for teachers from kindergarten through high school. As usual, the 2014 group came mainly from the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
Machele Crane, a fifth-grade teacher at Alberta Martone Elementary School in Modesto, participated the first year and came back for more this year.
“There are lots of lessons you can use, like growing plants,” she said. “I can do a lot with a microscope. We can cut down the stems and look at the inside.”
The group also learned about Sierra Nevada forest management, about weights-and-measures standards enforced by the county, and about the use of math in planting, harvesting and cooking crops.
“Science is tailor-made for hands-on things,” said Sarah Wright, a life science teacher at Prescott Junior High School. She added that she came from Los Angeles and was delighted to see the bounty that the Modesto area produces.