Educational resources from Soybean Checkoff provide lessons in science, history, and more

January 30, 2023

South Dakota students are finding their place in the world, and it’s thanks to a tiny bean. Lessons developed with soybean checkoff dollars are helping students learn about beans - how they grow, what they’re made into, and where they travel.

Soybeans are the state’s biggest agricultural export, and with that, students are starting to see how South Dakota is linked to the rest of the world, said Cindy A. Heidelberger.

“Students are starting to find themselves a place of belonging in this story,” she said. “They’re woven into that tapestry.”

Heidelberger is co-founder and vice president of operations of Groundworks Midwest/South Dakota Agriculture in the Classroom. The organization created the Tour SD! curriculum that’s being used in 94% of fourth-grade classrooms across the state. Kids take a virtual tour of 20-some South Dakota towns, learning about their history and the part they play in the agricultural industry.

It’s important to make whatever students are learning relative to them, said Rick Henningfeld.

“Agriculture offers a lot of opportunity in that,” he said, “because kids have food every day.”

Henningfeld is a learning designer with Vivayic, a company that worked with South Dakota Soybean to create the Soybean Science website. It offers lessons for both elementary and high school science classes and aims to make science and agriculture relevant along the way.

A lesson on photosynthesis, for example, explains the basic concept of how soybean plants turn sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into food, then dives deeper, giving students a microscopic view of an actual plant cell. At the same time, it gives them a broader picture, talking about how all that plant science impacts them.


still part of making that food that we get to enjoy every day,” Henningfeld said. “It’s a really cool way to look at science. Soybeans being part of that story provided a cool context.”

Material on the Soybean Science website ( and Tour SD! ( are free to teachers. By signing up and providing some basic information, they can download complete and detailed lesson plans for use in their classrooms.


elementary resources from Soybean Science include 12 interactive slides on topics such as the water cycle and nutrients in soybeans. Students read through the material and click through various activities to learn more. There are worksheets for download and a field trip guide that has students measuring how water moves through different soils and testing how that affects soybean growth.

The high school Soybean Sciences lessons include units on digestion and nutrients, photosynthesis and cellular respiration, biodiesel, DNA and genetic material.

Through various marketing campaigns, consumers have built perceptions around the use of biotechnology in food crops, both positive and negative, Henningfeld said.

“Our goal was to get to the facts of how it works scientifically so people can make their own judgements about it based on the science,” he said.

The Tour SD! Content covers science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) standards, as well as English language arts, social studies and careers. Some schools are adding a health component as well as they count steps and walk the miles from city to city on their virtual tour.

South Dakota Ag in the Classroom is tapping a group of producers as they update Tour SD! lessons with current production numbers, precision ag tools and crop rotations. Soil health is a major focus in those updates.

“We’re talking how that healthy soil impacts plant growth, production and livestock,” Hiedleberger said. “And all of that impacts us as consumers and impacts our farmers’ and ranchers’ bottom line.”

In both programs, lessons were developed to meet education standards that most states have adopted, making them an appealing resource for more than just South Dakota teachers. Tour SD! has been used in 43 states, and 82 countries and provenances, according to Hiedelberger. In fact, China has accessed the site the most of any country outside the U.S.

As remote learning became the only option during the pandemic, South Dakota Soybean created another program that gets kids familiar with soybeans and their many uses. It had kids growing soybeans at home and posting their progress online in a competition for the tallest bean plant. The winner grew a 17.5-inch plant in three weeks.

Since the return to the classroom, South Dakota Soybean has brought its Super Sprouts program to ag days, fairs and into your home as a one-page activity in South Dakota Soybean Leader quarterly magazine.This spring featured a crossword puzzles with facts about soybean exports and animal feed. Summer brought kids a road trip activity discussing the parts of a car that can be made from beans - from motor oil and fuel to tires and car seats. This winter, kids can rummage through their cupboards to find things made of soy.

“Knowing the byproducts is a big one because we use so many things every day that are soybean based,” said Bonnie Dybedahl, South Dakota Soybean program manager in charge of education, events, and outreach. “Creating that awareness has been a major part of what we’re doing.”

The Super Sprouts program helps kids recognize soybeans from the field and beyond. At events, Dybedahl said they try to have a soybean plant on hand so kids can learn to spot the crop growing in the countryside. A new interactive trivia game is in the works with the goal of engaging kids and getting them thinking about soybeans.

The added benefit to providing these lessons for kids at fairs and events, Dybedahl said, is that adults get a refresher course about one of South Dakota’s top crops.

“The parents are right there with them hearing it all,” she said. “It’s an educational piece for all of them.”

By Janelle Atyeo

for the South Dakota Soybean Checkoff