Little Schoolhouse on the Prairie

The Pedagogy of a Rural Educator

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Time with Teachers: The Annual SDSTA/SDCTM Conference

Every year I look forward to the first weekend of February. Being a teacher from South Dakota, you might wonder why I would look forward to any weekend between December and March. The first weekend of February is the Joint Conference of the South Dakota Science Teacher’s Association and the South Dakota Council of Teachers of Mathematics. What does that mean? I get to spend time with teachers! It is rare for a teacher in a rural district to have another teacher in their building that teaches the same content area. You can read about this in my post: What to do When YOU are the Department. And when we get together, we can’t stop talking!

This year I presented for the second time. I did a presentation about the basics of Twitter, and how it can be used for professional development of teachers. It was very similar to the presentation I did last year, which you can read about here. I was excited to attend sessions hosted by the South Dakota Highway Patrol on crash reconstruction and the science of drug dogs. I also attended sessions by Sanford Promise and one where veteran teachers were able to interact with pre-service teachers. Although I’ve been teaching for five years, I still find this session to be one that I think I learn more in than I teach!

Our keynote speaker this year was Bill Zubke, a retired teacher and motivational speaker. He encouraged us to live with love, learning, laughter, and to leave a legacy. It was incredibly entertaining and encouraging. What a great way to get geared up to go back to our classrooms on Monday!

I truly look forward to the conversations I have with the science and math teachers each year at our conference. The weekend helps keep me going through the challenging days and long nights necessary to do my job. It also motivates me to do more and work harder in order to live up to the great legacy that South Dakota teachers have built. I look forward to many more years of spending time with teachers!


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South Dakota Ed Camp = Awesome!

No schedule. Presentations are not planned. The room is the expert. No paid presenters. No keynote. No vendor fair.

Great professional development!

Its not “normal”, but that’s what makes it great! The edcamp model for professional development is a new, different way of coming together as a group of educators wanting to grow, learn, and connect with others. I wasn’t sure what to expect on the day of edcamp, but I know I was excited.

Right away, I loved that on the nametags, there was a place to put your twitter handle! This showed that the edcamp was focused on connecting with other educators and maintaining those connections far beyond the day at Harrisburg North Middle School.

Putting together the schedule. We were pumped!

Putting together the schedule. We were pumped!

The schedule was built by the participants at the beginning of the day. There were no planned sessions, just the question, “What do you want to talk about/learn about/share about?” It was very empowering to know that everything on the schedule was chosen by us, not by some committee or organization. Here are some of the sessions I attended throughout the day:

TLAP: Teach Like a Pirate – with special guest Dave Burgess (@burgessdave) via Google Hangout! Thanks Dave!


Project Based Learning – with two teachers from New Tech High School in Sioux Falls, SD. A school entirely built on project based learning! (How awesome is that!?)

Great group collaboration!

Great group collaboration!

Edmodo/Blogging – A small group that discussed how blogging can be used in multiple ways. (Personal blog, student blogs, class blogs, etc.)

Genius Hour – I was able to share about my experience with genius hour last year (which I might write about sometime!), and how to improve and utilize the concept again!

Secret Agent – J. Parker Adair (@TheCoachAdair) shared his message on being a “Secret Agent” teacher, where every day experiences can turn into great lessons!

Overall, it was one of the best professional development experiences I’ve ever had! I enjoyed the time I had to talk to other teachers, meet people I had connected with on twitter, and learn from what all these great people are doing in their classrooms! I am so glad I attended.

Time to connect!

Time to connect!

A huge thank you to Travis Lape (@travislape) for organizing the event! I can’t wait for the next one!

If you are interested in seeing some of what we talked about at edcamp, you are in luck! Visit and go to “session schedule”. There, you can access links to Google Docs that have notes from each session! Enjoy!

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30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 2 – Technology!

Day 2 Prompt: Write about one piece of technology that you would like to try this year, and why. You might also write about what you’re hoping to see out of this edtech integration.

Technology is an amazing thing for rural teachers. Being in a small town (about 1000 people), can set certain limitations on things like going on field trips, or inviting professionals into the classroom. However, with technology, those things can happen – virtually! This year, I would like to capitalize on this, and work in include Skype or Google Hangouts as ways of inviting professionals into our classroom. In the past, I’ve always said that I wanted to do this, but haven’t taken the time to contact anyone or set up the meeting. I am going to set a goal for myself of having one “visitor” in each class. These visitors might be college professors, professionals in the field we are studying, or someone with a passion for the subject area. I am really excited to get my students outside the classroom, city, and state by utilizing this great technology.

Comment below with ways you have used technology to break the barriers of your classroom and bring the world to your students!

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Summer of Learning

As summer winds down and the school year begins, I thought it would be nice to reflect on the learning that happened over the summer for myself. As a teacher in a rural district, there aren’t many opportunities to connect with other teachers in your field within your building. Noone else teaches chemistry! However, I have found that there are many ways to connect with teachers in other districts over the summer and throughout the school year. This summer I attended 3 professional development events that were each unique and amazing!

In my most recent post (which was a while ago!), I talked about how excited I was to meet Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate. I was super excited to hear him speak at the Rural Enhancement of Math and Science Teachers conference at South Dakota State University in June. And, I was NOT disappointed! His presentation was engaging, interesting, passionate, and amazing! Everything he talks about in the book was put into action during his presentation. All teachers know how annoying it is to listen to a speaker tell you how to teach, and not teach in that way! Dave Burgess did not do that, his presentation was everything you could have asked for. I know I learned some American History (even though I always thought I hated it!). I am really excited to try some of his ideas in my classroom next year! Also during the conference, I was able to meet with faculty of SDSU, recent graduates of the math and science education programs, and some veteran teachers. Each group of people I spoke with was able to give new insights, interesting points of view, and advice.

I also attended our state’s Student Learning Objectives training. South Dakota is just implementing SLOs, so they were nice enough to hold a 2 day workshop for us to learn about them and begin work on ours for the next school year. I was very happy to get more information about what SLOs are, and be able to talk to many other science teachers about what they would be measuring in their SLO. Speaking to other science teachers was, by far, the most valuable part of this workshop. By bouncing ideas off each other, we were able to come up with some very good standards to measure and ways of measuring them!

My last professional development workshop was a week-long class at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF). This research facility is located in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota in Lead. (Pronounced like “lead the way”, not lead in a pencil.) The facility is located in the old Homesteak Gold Mine. At the facility, they are doing a lot of research on high-energy physics. They are located almost a mile underground in order to minimize or eliminate cosmic rays from affecting their research. At the workshop, we learned about the research happening at the SURF, as well as ways to connect what was happening there with life, earth and physical sciences. The week was full of hands-on activities, tours, and discussion with scientists. It was amazing to see what kinds of cool science are happening right here in my home state! I know that I will use the things I learned this summer to tell my students more about what kinds of science they can do right here in South Dakota!

I didn’t spend the whole summer doing professional development, but I really enjoyed it when I did! But, its also important to use summer to refresh and rejuvenate for next year! I read some books just for fun, and spent plenty of time on Pinterest! I also got a little bit of a tan golfing and kayaking. Overall, it was a great summer of learning! I hope everyone had a great summer themselves!

Let me know if you’ve done any special PD over the summer. Where do you find sources of professional development as a rural teacher? 

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Teach Like A Pirate-Meeting My Teaching Idol

This week, Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate, will be visiting my Alma Mater. I am beyond excited! I will definitely be tweeting throughout the conference, as well as writing a post about the event. The following article is from SDSU, written about how I became interested in TLAP, and the details of Dave’s visit this week. Enjoy!

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South Dakota Math and Science Teacher’s Joint Conference

Each year I have been teaching, I look forward to February. Since I live in South Dakota, February means freezing cold weather, snow storms, and the SD joint math and science teaching conference!! This conference has been a highlight of my winter each year since I’ve been a undergrad. It is a joint conference between the South Dakota Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the South Dakota Science Teachers Association. This year, I decided to present for the first time. I also attended some great sessions throughout the two-day conference.

To begin the weekend, I presented about using Twitter for education. To see my post about this, click here. I was thrilled to see a “packed house” of about 25-30 South Dakota teachers, all wanting to learn about using Twitter for their professional development. The presentation was a lot of fun, and I was very excited to see many of the participants tweeting throughout the conference. I hope they all continue to use Twitter!

Throughout the day Friday, I also attended sessions on basic research and it’s role in biomedical science, incorporating literature in science classrooms, and visualizing large numbers. I met pre-service teachers in a round-table between them and veteran teachers, where I probably learned more than I taught (as it usually goes!). Finally, I learned about ISEE, a  new venture between South Dakota State University and regional teachers to enhance science education in South Dakota and beyond. Read their blog about the sessions at the conference here. To finish the day Friday, we enjoyed a banquet with featured speakers Rose DuBois and Randy Hagen, who talked about “Every Day Greatness”.

On Saturday, I enjoyed sessions about modeling biology by the amazing Kelly Riedell, and looking at math and science from an artist’s eye. I also loved the session titled “Neuroscience Meets Magic and a Zombie Apocalypse”. Jill Weimer did a great job explaining the AMAZING things that are taking place at Sanford Research Centers, and told us a little about zombies!! I finished the conference by presenting my other session, STEM Student Research, to a huge crowd of two people! (Thanks to those two for coming!) At the end of the day, many people leave early, as they have long drives to get home. However, I still enjoyed sharing my experiences with them!

I have always enjoyed the conference in Huron, and plan to keep attending as long as I’m teaching in South Dakota! If you haven’t, look for a conference in your region!! They are a great source of connections, information, and renewal for any teacher!


What to do when “You are the Department”

If a small-school teacher asks a question of colleagues, whether it be through a list-serve, at a conference, or through a type of social network, the worst reply that can be given is this, “Ask your department head.” Our answer will always be “I’m the department!” In most small schools, teachers of each subject are typically the only one teaching that subject. For example, in my district (not just my school, but the entire district), I am the only chemistry teacher. I’m also the only physical science, advanced biology, etc. teacher. The math teacher covers physics (thankfully!), and there is a middle school science teacher, but that’s the end of the overlap.

This can be extremely challenging for a teacher. As a rural teacher, you must find people outside of your building or district that you can talk to and relate to. Sometimes, this is easy, as you might have previous relationships that were built from college or past positions. Sometimes, it can be very difficult to make these connections, and teachers can feel like they are secluded. Here are some places I have found that help make connections with others in your field:
1. Attend a local or state conference for your subject area. In South Dakota, we have great chapters of the National Science Teacher’s Association (NSTA) & National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) that hold a joint conference every February. I haven’t missed it yet! Check to see if your state has something similar. Typically, the conferences are not very expensive, and if you talk to your administration, they might even pay for it!
2. Attend a nation-wide conference for your subject area. I was lucky enough to get a fellowship with NSTA last year for new science teachers. Through the program, I was given a free trip to the conference in San Antonio last April. It was a wonderful experience, and I met many science teachers from throughout the nation!
3. Join an organization for your subject area. I have been a member of the SDSTA for four years and NSTA for three. The NSTA is a wonderful source of material and information for science teachers. I’m sure there are more out there for other subject areas. In addition to the materials available on the website, the NSTA also has very active list-serves for different science disciplines. Information is sent through the list-serve, or you can ask questions of the people on the e-mail.
4. Turn to social media. I plan to do many posts about how I use social media as a great professional development tool. However, to begin with, I’ll just tell you that there are a lot of teachers on Twitter. I was amazed! When I was first introduced to Twitter, I thought it was a little silly and worthless. However, once I started following the right people, and learned about hashtags, I started to see why some teachers swear by it! To start with, check out this list: 50 Education Leaders Worth Following on Twitter. While there are many more out there, this might give you a good start. Additionally, if you are wondering what hashtags to check out look at this: Educational Hashtags. Finally, many teachers take part in twitter chats. These are times that many educators get together to talk about different subjects. This Google doc is a living document that adds and deletes the chats when it changes times: Weekly Twitter Chats.
I hope these ideas will help you begin to build a wonderful Professional Learning Network, even if you are the department at your school. I would love to hear ideas from other rural teachers about how they have made connections outside of their school or district! Please put those in the comments below.