MSU President's column for Traill County Tribune

June 10, 2017 

Mayville State’s STEM Education programs impact area teachers and students


There is growing concern across North Dakota and the nation about the low number of students, teachers, and professionals prepared in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Somewhere between the fourth grade and high school, students are falling behind in mathematics and science ability. By the time most students reach their final two years of high school, fewer than 15% have enough mathematics and science knowledge to pursue science and technology degrees in college (U.S. Department of Education).

Led by Dr. Sarah Sletten, Mayville State’s grant-funded STEM Education program has been helping to address the STEM-related concerns for the last seven years. Donalee Strand has joined Sarah in these efforts for the last couple of years. We are grateful to these women for the great work they are doing for our own MSU teacher education students, as well as for area K-12 teachers and students.

Mayville State’s STEM Education Initiative is continuing to focus on increasing authentic, interdisciplinary lessons in K-12 education through the Educational Engineering Institute, a professional development program for teachers across North Dakota. The Educational Engineering Institute is a Mathematics and Science Partnerships project funded through the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction and is built on partnerships with the UND College of Engineering and Mines and Dakota Science Center. For the seventh year, from June 12 to 22, we’ll be welcoming 27 new teacher participants to campus.

By joining forces with the Teacher Center, the MSU STEM Initiative has been able to encourage more professional learning among teachers by way of a variety of workshops offered during the summer, as well as throughout the school year. The STEM Center has provided training for new STEM kits, such as OSMOS, Spheros, and the Breakout Box, to area teachers. These workshops have been offered to all schools in the Mayville Area Teacher Center region and have been very well-attended. Many of the teachers who are trained return to their schools and share what they have learned with other teachers.

Teacher Time and Teacher Time II are workshops that have implemented STEM into training for teachers. Activities have included presentations on Google, STEM kits, Little Bits, 3D pens, Google Cardboard, Bloxels, Genius Hour, STARLAB, and Whale Training. The teachers spend time with the kits and ideas from the presenters and then develop lessons for their classrooms to fit their curriculum and the standards.

Last year, the MSU STEM Initiative worked closely with the Byrnes-Quanbeck Library to increase the use of the STEM curriculum lending library through a new check-out system, Kit Keeper. Through the Kit Keeper system, teachers can check out STEM curriculum supplements  online and then use the materials in their classrooms. Use of the kits has tripled since the implementation of the Kit Keeper system. The range of borrowers has also spread out across the state, as teachers from outside the Mayville Area Teacher Center region are requesting them. Because of the range of use, teachers are also attending STEM/Teacher Center workshops from a wider range of schools. Additionally, grant funding was secured to develop accompanying lesson plans for several of the STEM kits. Forty lesson plans were written by area teachers and are included with the kits. There are now 275 kits available.

Student programming continues to be a focus of the STEM Initiative. This spring, the seventh annual STEM Carnival, held on April 29, took on an agricultural perspective and included several ag-inspired booths, an ethanol race car simulator, and a farm animal petting zoo. This carnival was an example of collaboration. Twenty pre-service MSU students assisted with the booths. Representatives from NDSU Extension and UND Aerospace (NASA) supplied booths, and area farmers donated their time and animals for the event.

The STEM Initiative also works with the MSU Division of Education Early Childhood program to provide a problem-based teaching and learning environment for MSU students and K-3 youth. The STEM College for Kids, which will be held June 19 to 22, is a unique collaboration where MSU teacher candidates fulfill their classroom experience requirements through the development of a fun, summer learning event for area students.

The STEM Center has also done STEM Challenges with local 4-H groups in order to promote higher level and project based learning. During the school year, the STEM coordinator has gone into the local school districts and implemented STEM activities into the classrooms. This has included LEGO lessons, Edible Cells, STARLAB, Robotic Mice Coding, Spheros, Breakout Boxes, and Germ Glo kits. Together with an MSU student STEM Ambassador, Donalee Strand traveled to 12 area schools with the STARLAB portable planetarium to teach area children astronomy in a very fun atmosphere.

We are extremely proud of the contributions Mayville State’s STEM Education program is making to assist with a critical need for the area, state, and nation. It is our privilege to have a part in this very important work.