Friday, January 16, 2015

Proposed science standards will prepare students for STEM success




My name is Michael Amolins. I am a parent, science teacher, school curriculum coordinator and administrator. I am also an active research scientist at Sanford Research and Augustana College in Sioux Falls. These experiences led me to volunteer as a member of the Science Standards Work Group that helped construct the proposed K-12 South Dakota Science Standards.

I want nothing more for the children of South Dakota than for them to be prepared with the best possible STEM education we can offer. I want nothing more, but in fact expect nothing less.

As a parent, I have an obligation to my son to provide him with a future full of hopes and aspirations.

As a teacher, my job is to translate the desires of parents into palpable results that make our children capable and competitive in the STEM-centered global economy of the 21st century.

The work group established a protocol that ensured we constantly reassessed our purpose and asked ourselves whether or not the standards we were authoring were in the best interest of our state, and more importantly our children.  Throughout the writing process, we used multiple resources, including the Next Generation Science Standards, to help reach those end points. Below are some key questions that helped drive our efforts:

·         Does this document contain guidelines that are in the best interest of our children?
·         Would the practices and skill sets within these standards prepare our children to be competitive for STEM careers in our communities, state and region?
·         Would the implementation of these standards teach our children the critical thinking skills necessary to be curious, informed observers of their world?

Finally, looking at this as a professional research scientist, I have the expectation that this state will prepare our future workforce to be competent problem solvers, hard workers and logical thinkers. I would expect that if I hire scientists from South Dakota,  they would be just as capable as scientists from out of state. In addition, I would expect a graduate from Rapid City to be just as capable as a graduate from Pukwana, Wilmot or Wessington Springs.

The proposed standards are not content focused, but  skills focused. Essentially, they are dedicated to helping students develop the mechanics, laboratory technique and intellectual prowess to become competent, independent problem solvers.

The guidelines established provide local teachers and administrators the flexibility to adopt curriculum that adheres to the needs and interests of their communities, while also asking them to shape that curriculum around the concepts of experiment design, data assessment and time management. This represents a significant conceptual shift from previous versions of this document. The proposed standards would cease to be a checklist of specific content we require all children to learn, and instead become a means by which children develop problem solving skills any high school graduate needs to be successful in a world where STEM dominates forward progress.

These proposed standards provide the necessary guidance to prepare our children to become successful, contributing members of a society driven by science and technology.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Dual credit students exhibit motivation and sense of responsibility by Ruth Raveling


Faulkton dual credit students with teacher Nikki Melius

This month, high school juniors and seniors across South Dakota begin another round of reduced-cost dual credit courses at our state’s technical institutes and public universities. These courses are available at the cost of $40/credit hour. That represents a tremendous cost savings, and the opportunity wasn’t lost on the more than 1,000 students who took such courses during the fall semester. I applaud these ambitious young men and women.

I got to meet several Faulkton students enrolled in dual credit courses last fall and was immediately impressed by their motivation and sense of responsibility.

Dual credit courses are college-level; not college-level adapted for high school. For instance, if a Faulkton student signs up for a dual credit college algebra course at South Dakota State University, her classmates are SDSU students. These classes are rigorous.

The distance from Faulkton to SDSU? About 160 miles. Which means that student isn’t driving to her class three days a week, where she could talk with classmates and simply raise her hand if she has a question. Like the Faulkton students I met, many students take the $40/credit dual credit courses online. They don’t meet their instructors or classmates in person. Students must email, text or telephone their instructors if they have questions. These classes require initiative.

Technical institute and university calendars and schedules don’t completely match those of the K-12 system either. One student I met explained that while Faulkton had a day off, he had a test to take in his dual credit course. Professors don’t check in with their students daily to ensure they’re making progress on assignments and projects either. As one student told me, “It’s kind of a learning curve to change, because you go from having daily assignments to, ‘Okay, this is what you have for these next two weeks. Get them done.’” These classes require strong time management skills.

All of this might sound like a heavy weight for high school shoulders. So I asked, would they do it again? Yes was the nearly unanimous response. Why?

One student points out the cost savings: “You don’t have to take it in college and pay twice as much.”

Another likes that his dual credit course (Introduction to Theater) is getting him ahead: “With my major, I’d be able to go straight to the acting classes instead of having to take that theater class that first semester.”

“These students are now our best advocates for the program because they’re very honest and they’ll tell fellow students that there are a lot of benefits, but it does change your learning,” says Nikki Melius, the teacher who administers Faulkton’s dual credit program.

The future is bright for these motivated young people, and because of them, so is the future of South Dakota. 

Ruth Raveling is the South Dakota Department of Education's information specialist.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Comes Early in South Dakota, a column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard



The Christmas season is a time of giving. We give of our time to volunteer for worthy causes. We give of our money through donations to charitable efforts. And of course, we give Christmas gifts to our loved ones.

This year, South Dakota has received two generous Christmas gifts that will have a lasting impact on our state.

One gift will look to the future, by creating new opportunities for young people. T. Denny Sanford is donating $25 million to create the “Build Dakota” scholarship program. A state Future Fund grant will match the donation, creating a $50 million scholarship fund.

T. Denny Sanford is one of the nation’s leading philanthropists, and over the years he has shown a strong commitment to improving the lives of young people. I first met Denny because of his generosity to Children’s Home Society, and since that time he has made transformational gifts in healthcare, underground research and education. This is yet another transformational gift that will benefit South Dakota and our young people. 

Build Dakota will award approximately 300 full scholarships to students who enroll in a high-need workforce field at one of South Dakota’s four technical institutes. The scholarships will cover tuition, fees, books and equipment costs. In return, students will be asked to stay in South Dakota and work in their field for three years after graduating.

South Dakota has the second lowest unemployment rate in the nation. While I am very proud of that, it can be a double-edged sword. I have heard many times from business owners that they struggle to find qualified workers, and this shortage makes it difficult for businesses to expand and accept new customers. The state has partnered with communities, businesses and educational institutions to address workforce needs, and Build Dakota is a major step toward addressing this challenge.

South Dakota received a second “Christmas gift” from Norm and Eunabel McKie and their family. The McKie’s are donating $1 million to erect a 45-foot stainless steel statue, overlooking the Missouri River at Chamberlain. The sculpture, entitled “Dignity,” will portray a Native American woman receiving a star quilt. Sculptor Dale Lamphere calls the monument “a tribute to the strong traditions of Native people.”

Just as the Sanford donation is looking to the future, the McKie family is honoring South Dakota’s past and the people who make this state great. The “Dignity” monument will honor our Native Americans and remind us of the pride and courage that they have shown throughout our history, often in difficult circumstances. It will also remind us of the McKie family, who came to South Dakota as pioneers and built a successful business over several generations.

The “Dignity” monument will be visible to millions of drivers who cross the Missouri River bridge on Interstate 90 each year, and for that reason I believe that South Dakota, already known as the state of Rushmore and Crazy Horse, will become known as well as the state of “Dignity.”

This Christmas season, we can be thankful for the generosity of T. Denny Sanford and the McKie family, and for the impact that their gifts will have on our state. But we can also be thankful that they are not the exception – South Dakota has thousands and thousands of people who give of themselves to help their neighbors and to make our state a better place. It’s a Christmas gift that we all can cherish.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Scientist and educator with Sanford Research support proposed K-12 science standards

Dr. Jill Weimer
Liz McMillan

Dr. Jill Weimer leads a research team for Sanford Research and teaches in the Department of Pediatrics at the Sanford School of Medicine, University of South Dakota. Liz McMillan is the Curriculum Education Coordinator for Sanford Research. The two of them recently wrote a My Voice column for the Argus Leader, explaining why they support the proposed South Dakota K-12 science standards.

My Voice: Support developing science standards: http://www.argusleader.com/story/opinion/readers/2014/11/20/voice-support-developing-science-standards/19310563/

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Common Core enhances 'Camp Math a lot'

Tammy Jo Schlechter

Common Core Standards first came on the scene for me when I attended South Dakota’s Math-Science Conference in Huron in 2010.  I joined a breakout session where the topic was the proposed Common Core Standards in Mathematics. I decided to try them on for size in my own math classroom with permission from my principal at the time.  I was curious to see how they would fit with what we were already investigating for math concepts, and I was pleased to find that these standards aligned well with what I was already observing in the classroom.


Broadly speaking, these standards just make good sense and are actually standards for solving problems in real-life settings.  They encourage students to persevere and make sense of what is going on in their lives, reason through problems, make viable arguments, and be able to critique the reasoning of others.  They help students identify what’s needed to solve a problem and to communicate with others about their thinking. The old adage “think smarter, not harder” comes to mind.  Common Core Standards promote this type of common sense thinking.

My study of and training in Common Core Math Standards have opened the door for experiences that have positively impacted my students.  I have learned the importance of cultivating students’ productive dispositions, so they remain engaged as we encounter new and possibly difficult math concepts.  The students and I investigate math together in a more effective sequence and structure.  Strategies that I had already been using—for example, questioning and differentiation of instruction—are validated by Common Core Math Standards.  After working with these standards, I felt like someone had sneaked a peek into my classroom!

Here’s a specific example. Because the Common Core standards emphasize deep understanding, I have chosen to teach my students a method for division of fractions that is much different from the way I learned this concept. Division of fractions is found at the 6th grade level in the Common Core Math Standards.  The algorithm many of us learned for division of fractions involved inverting the second fraction in the equation or expression (also known as the divisor) and multiplying. 

With training, I have learned to create opportunities where students come up with ways to represent division of fractions that can be illustrated and follow the rules that they have learned with division of whole numbers. This deepens their understanding and helps them visualize what they are actually dividing.  Sometimes students eventually get to the shortcut of inverting and multiplying, but many times they leave 6th grade dividing fractions using strategies you would see when we add fractions (using a common denominator) or multiply fractions.  To sum it up (and I’m not talking addition here…giggle), we can divide fractions and give ourselves a visual representation of the division taking place.  With the invert and multiply strategy, it’s difficult to picture the actual division event.

I love learning about new ways to solve math and having students share how they’re thinking about the math.  In my classroom, also known as “Camp Math a lot,” we think about math not so differently from the way we did when I was in middle school.  What is different is that not just the teacher, but the students, are allowed to come up with the strategies.  Teachers have to be more on their toes now perhaps, because we need to understand the math concepts deeply enough to recognize student thinking that is viable or where they are having misconceptions.  I was well on the way with more effective instructional strategies before Common Core came along; however, with these standards implemented statewide, opportunities to discover engaging best practices for instruction is more likely for all of us teachers rather than just a few!

Tammy Jo Schlechter teaches middle school math in the Custer School District. She was a candidate for 2014 South Dakota Teacher of the Year.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Black Hills State University math and science professor supports proposed SD K-12 science standards

Ben Sayler
Ben Sayler is the director of education and outreach at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, SD, and a professor of physical science and mathematics at Black Hills State University. He recently wrote the following editorial, which appeared in the Rapid City Journal:



Forum: Proposed K-12 science standards deserve our support: