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:
Students come to us with unique sets of knowledge and skills.
They are not empty vessels. The time has come for developing academic content
standards that engage students not merely in memorizing a set of facts and
procedures but trying to seek out new information and develop skills that will
enable them to propose solutions to questions and problems. The proposed South
Dakota science standards do just that.
My role as a teacher in an alternative school offers unique
insight into the role and importance of customization by drawing upon prior
student knowledge and experiences to increase student interest and to make
connections between the old and new information, thereby strengthening learning.
Cognitive research has proven that student ownership of learning increases
encoding and retrieval of information. Students get to own their learning
because the proposed science standards ask students to engage in deeper
thinking and utilization of learning in unique and new ways. The standards also
aid learning by requiring utilization of English and math skills such as
analyzing data, communicating information and arguing from evidence.
For example, a student with a love of art can engage in the
study of the artist Alexander Calder and his kinetic mobiles while learning
about simple machines, specifically lever systems then create a mobile, including
images and items that correlate to them. They can communicate how mobiles work as well
as how Calder developed his techniques. Two students may have very different
proposals for how to remediate a water quality issue. Students studying
recycling could build pallet furniture, separation techniques for different
plastics, or make paper from used paper.
The new standards include practices (e.g. Ask Questions,
Investigate, Communicate). Just by definition, these are skills that must be
practiced. Students naturally ask questions. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Men
love to wonder and that is the seed of science.” We can utilize these student-generated
questions to breed interest and direct learning. Students can answer these questions by
engaging in investigations and engineering design. There is always something of
scientific interest sitting on the counter in the classroom: new zebra fish,
brine shrimp, a tornado tube, or kinetic sand. Change it up and use student
interest as teachable moments. Don’t just give them the answers but challenge
them to try to answer their own questions and communicate what they found out. Let
them set up an investigation.
Engineering is new to the proposed science standards and
provides a great motivator for student learning, especially those that thrive with
hands-on learning. Students studying momentum, impulse, and Newton’s laws build
egg-drop containers or vehicles that carry a “passenger”/egg. Students learn
about water quality by engaging in water testing and then proposing possible
solutions to remediate problems.
I am fortunate to have been selected to be a part of the
South Dakota workgroup to revise the state science standards. I can honestly
say, as a workgroup member for the proposed science standards, that these standards
have been developed with South Dakota in mind to ensure that our students’
unique needs are met. They are rigorous and they allow students to not only
learn challenging concepts, but to engage in science practices to obtain the
skills most important to future success in any career. These proposed standards
will allow teachers and schools to develop engaging curriculum that not only
connects with the unique needs of the local community, but also supports integration
of other content areas, and allows for real-world application of scientific
ideas and skills.
Julie Olson teaches science at Mitchell High School's Second Chance High. She is president of the South Dakota Science Teachers Association and chair of the South Dakota Outstanding Biology Teacher Award.
summer comes to a close, kids are heading back to the classroom. In some homes,
parents are sending their little ones to school for the first time. In others,
the older kids know the first-day-of-school-drill and they’re counting down the
days until they graduate. Then there are some homes that will be a little
quieter this fall because someone is leaving for college or technical school.
more than ever before, it’s important for young people to continue their
education beyond K-12. Back when I was in school, about 17 percent of Americans
had at least a bachelor’s degree. Today that number is around 32 percent. If
you include those who have associate’s degrees, the number is 42 percent.
in every field is becoming more competitive. The escalating number of people
earning degrees and the increasingly competitive global economy require today’s
workforce to have greater skill sets and more education.
it’s never been more important for students to continue their education beyond
high school, higher education has never been more expensive. That is why we’re
offering more affordable dual credit opportunities this school year to all high
school juniors and seniors.
credit courses allow students to take a single course which earns credit
towards both their high school diploma and also a postsecondary degree or
certificate. Dual credit courses can save students hundreds – even thousands –
of dollars in tuition costs.
dual credit arrangements, a high school student
taking a university or technical school class for credit must pay the normal
tuition rate – as much as $300 a credit for university, distance-based courses.
To reduce this cost, we are combining state funds with discounts from the
universities and technical schools, to make entry-level courses at the
universities and technical institutes available to high school students for
only $40 per credit.
can choose from a wide range of courses, from biology, composition and algebra,
to computer programming, ag chemicals and welding. Some courses are offered on
university or technical institute campuses, while others are online.
credit courses help students gain understanding of what will be expected of
them at the postsecondary level. Dual credit courses also give high school
students a jump start on a post-secondary degree and an early opportunity to
judge what they want to pursue, or don’t want to pursue, before they graduate.
know dual credit is just one small part of preparing young people to enter the
real world – much of that preparation will have to be done on their own. Still,
I think it’ll bring many students one step closer to being college and career
Welcome to the South Dakota Department of
Education’s new blog.
Across the state, classrooms and playgrounds
are bustling with activity. I can’t help but get caught up in the excitement.
I remember fondly my time as a teacher.
There’s nothing quite like the anticipation of “back to school”—making sure
everything is just so, from the brightly decorated bulletin boards to the cozy
reading corner and colorful name tags on desks waiting to be filled with
Now, part of my job is visiting schools and
classrooms all over our state, meeting the administrators, teachers and staff who
tirelessly dedicate themselves to South Dakota students. This part of my job never
feels like work. It’s an honor.
Every day South Dakota educators prepare
students for college, careers and life. This preparation starts with those
wide-eyed little kindergartners and carries all the way through to high school
seniors ready to take on the world.
That’s a high calling. So, how do they do
it? Good teachers know that there are three components vital to providing a
quality educational experience: high quality standards, high quality
instruction and high quality assessment.
Standards explain what students should know
and be able to do at each grade level.
With new standards in English language arts
and math, South Dakota teachers are going further in-depth with their instruction, helping
students achieve deeper levels of understanding and make connections between
classroom learning and the outside world. This is important work that takes
In the spring, South Dakota students will be
tested on the new ELA and math standards when they take the new Smarter Balanced
assessment. This new assessment provides a much more meaningful picture of
student performance than our previous test.
We know that Smarter Balanced test results
will look different than Dakota STEP test scores. It’s important to remember,
though, that the two tests should not be compared. They measure student
proficiency on two different sets of standards, and there will be a period of
adjustment as students become familiar with the new standards.
The standards in ELA and math have been
raised, so Smarter Balanced test scores are likely to make it appear that
student proficiency has dropped. This always happens with a new test. It does
not mean students are performing poorly. It means that we are challenging
students and preparing them for the rigors of postsecondary and careers in
today’s world. And I am confident that, given time, South Dakota students will
rise to the challenge.
Assessment is just one piece of the
education puzzle. All the pieces—high quality standards, instruction and assessment—fit
together and play a vital role in every student’s education.