“Science is not settled,” said Deb Wolf, director of the Education and Outreach Department (E&O) at Sanford Underground Research Facility (Sanford Lab). “That’s why we’re here.”
Wolf spoke outside a Black Hills State University (BHSU) classroom last Wednesday, where 50 teachers representing twenty-seven South Dakota school districts had gathered to take part in the E&O team’s annual professional development program.
“Even in K-12 learning, we don't want to just tell students what we know—we want them to develop that curiosity, that constant questioning,” said Wolf. “We need to teach kids that science is exploring.”
This philosophy, called three-dimensional (3-D) learning, drove Wolf’s team of veteran educators as they designed and taught this year’s five-day “Supporting and Sustaining Three-Dimensional Science Instruction” professional development program. Whether the educators taught advanced high school physics courses or second-grade earth science, the program provided tools to facilitate curiosity-driven learning in their classrooms.
The educational concepts explored during the program directly leverage the science taking place at Sanford Lab. Educators can use the real phenomena and unsolved questions being explored underground to generate student interest, allowing student questions to direct lessons.
“The difficult part of this approach is that student questions could go in a million different directions. As a teacher, you still have specific content you have to teach,” explained Wolf. “This is why we provide practical strategies, such as storylines and talking chips, to allow each student to engage curiously, get their questions answered and still fulfill learning standards.”
“Last summer’s program introduced the concept of 3-D learning, and this year is really starting to show us how to do it, giving us specific strategies and building the confidence to be able to use them in the classroom,” said Aaron Odegaard, a seventh-grade life science and biology teacher at Stagebarn Middle School in Summerset.
Jodi Fox is also incorporating 3-D learning into her second-grade classroom at West Elementary in Spearfish. “Science can be kind of scary for some kids, because they're so used to there being a ‘right answer’ to questions,” said Fox. “When it comes to science, there isn't always a right answer yet. We need students to understand that everyone can be a scientist and explore.”
Throughout the academic year, the E&O team provides educators with resources including in-school assembly programs, field trips to Sanford Lab and curriculum modules that include all the tools teachers need for 10-20 hours of instruction. The summer professional development program gives the E&O team the opportunity to bring together teachers from across the state who can advocate for high-quality science instruction in South Dakota.
“As awesome as it is to bring in students and help them wonder about science, we can impact more students for a longer period of time by bringing in teachers,” Wolf said. “There are 50 experienced, expert teachers in this room who can support each other. We don't have all the answers, but we have knowledge, experience and lots of questions they can wrestle with.”
The E&O Department is a partnership between Sanford Lab and BHSU.
“The education department at BHSU supports preservice and veteran teachers alike in continuing to develop pedagogical skills that help them grow curiosity in students,” Wolf said. “I don't know that there's a better connection between unsettled science and the strategies we can use to help kids be curious.”
The Education and Outreach program is a collaborative venture between Sanford Underground Research Facility and Black Hills State University. Our goal is to use the excitement and promise of deep underground science and engineering to inspire and engage students, educators and the wider community through a variety of programming.