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Impact and History

Education Impact

Sanford Lab's education team uses hands-on learning and 3-Dimensional instruction to transform teaching and learning in K-12 STEM classes.
Students work on E&O curriculum unit.

The Sanford Underground Research Facility (Sanford Lab) takes very seriously its mission to “…inspire and educate through science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)" using both informal and formal education. 

Public outreach programs include Deep Talks and Neutrino Day, reaching more than 2,500 people annually. However, Sanford Lab’s education impacts are, perhaps, most keenly felt through the efforts of its Education and Outreach (E&O) team. Through a partnership between Black Hills State University and Sanford Lab, the E&O team has developed curriculum units, school assembly programs and field trips for K-12 students, leveraging the world-leading research hosted at Sanford Lab to inspire the next generation of STEM leaders. 

“Through these programs, we use current and future experiments, as well as day-to-day operations at Sanford Lab, to engage students in doing science and acting as engineers to solve real problems,” said Deb Wolf, director of E&O.

The team reaches more than 10,000 K-12 students annually and, since 2015, has touched the lives of more than 40,000 children throughout South Dakota. 

The programs extend to teachers as well. The E&O team also hosts professional development workshops for K-12 teachers, hosting nearly 200 teachers over the past three years, both at Sanford Lab and online. The team teaches teachers how to incorporate the science happening at Sanford Lab into their classrooms.

“I like the big ideas—the connections to the lab, international research on a topic and the fundamental science ideas.”—Michelle Crane, Douglas High School science teacher.

Students reached

The Sanford Lab Education and Outreach team reaches more than 10,000 K-12 children every year with its curriculum modules, assembly programs and field trips.

People attending events

Sanford Lab hosts several public events every year, including Neutrino Day and Deep Talks, reaching more than 2,500 people.
Students and teacher in the class room

Teacher impacts

Each curriculum unit developed by our Education and Outreach team provides K-12 teachers with 5-15 hours of instruction. Everything a teacher needs to teach a curriculum unit is included. For example, if a unit requires Dixie cups, there will be enough for each child. The units are assembled at Sanford Lab then mailed to schools—all at no cost to the teacher or the school district. Additionally, teachers receive training on how to facilitate the units, all of which are based on a science experiment hosted underground at Sanford Lab. Each unit is aligned with South Dakota science standards.

Comments from teachers using the curriculum units:

"These kits are such a valuable resource!” 1st grade teacher, South Park Elementary

"The hands-on materials are great and the unit is very user friendly.” 5th Grade teacher, Hill City

"This unit inspired a lot of critical thinking.” 4th grade teacher, Rapid City

Letters from students

3-D teaching and learning

Based on a student-centered model and consistent with the National Research Council's "A Framework for K-12 Science Education," our curriculum units bring together disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts. Students work as scientists to gain critical thinking skills that allow them to design solutions to real-world problems and make sense of natural phenomena.

The E&O team receives hundreds of letters from students every year (see photo). Here are some of the comments: 

"I think it was interesting how we people use bio-life forms like bugs to clean our water. Thank you for using your time to teach us about your work.” Simon, 6th grade, Sioux Falls

"I enjoyed learning about your job and what you do….It was interesting that people can’t feel cosmic radiation. I still want to know how you can detect dark matter when you don’t know if it is even reel (sic) or what it looks like.” Micah, 6th grade, Sioux Falls

Education and Outreach recognizes the diverse student populations that exist across our large and sparsely populated region, including urban, rural and tribal schools. Equity of science education opportunities varies greatly. Science education opportunities vary greatly. We are attempting to level the playing field—and increase equity in science education—by providing enriching activities for all student populations throughout our state and region.

“Our team believes that every student deserves high-quality science learning that gives them the opportunity to see themselves as having unlimited potential. In the large, often sparsely-populated region that encompasses South Dakota and surrounding states, providing equitable science learning opportunities for students is of highest priority.”—Deb Wolf, E&O Director

The number of students reached since 2015

Through its K-12 outreach efforts, Sanford Lab has touched the lives of thousands of students across the state of South Dakota and in surrounding states. 

Teachers who receive professional development

Since 2016, more than 200 teachers have benefitted from on site and online professional development programs designed by the E&O team at Sanford Lab. 

County map of SD filled in green with counties that E&O team has reached.

Across South Dakota

Sanford Lab's Education and Outreach team hopes to reach every student in the state.

The shaded areas in the map identify counties in which students have participated in assembly programs, teachers have incorporated curriculum units into the classroom and/or schools that have come to Sanford Lab for field trips.

As of December 2020 the team has had direct contact with students in 54 of the 66 counties (82 percent) in South Dakota.

Sanford Lab understands that children learn by doing. Every curriculum unit, every classroom presentation and every field trip to Sanford Lab provides ample opportunities for children to channel their inner scientist. 

“The best way to learn about science is simple, you have to let kids be scientists,” said Becky Bundy, science education specialist at Sanford Lab. And the best way to do that is to let them wrestle with the same problems scientists are wrestling with and come up with their own solutions.