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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30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 22 – PLN

What does your PLN look like, and what does it to for your teaching?

“If you aren’t on Twitter, you need to be!”.

I bet I said this 20 times last Thursday and Friday. I was asked to attend the Midwest Regional Noyce Conference in Omaha, NE. This is a conference where pre-service teachers, teachers in the field, Master Teaching Fellows, and faculty and staff from many different colleges and universities come together and share ideas and experiences. The common thread through all is that they were in some way involved in the Noyce Scholarship Program. This program is specific to science & math teaching and works to get highly qualified teachers into high-need areas, like urban and rural schools. I received one of these scholarships while I was in college. During the conference, I was part of the “Voices from the Field” panel, as well as a co-leader in a presentation about building a PLN!

I was very excited to share the amazing world of Twitter with everyone there. I started tweeting right away, hoping to connect with someone at the conference who was also a Twitter veteran. Unfortunately, the only people tweeting seemed to be sitting next to me – two other attendees from my university. At that moment, I knew my mission for the two-day conference. Get people on Twitter!!

I can’t express how much Twitter and PLN I’ve built on there have done for me. Here are a few examples:

  • Discovered the 30 Day Blog Challenge from @TeachThought
  • Collaborated with Jessica Anderson (@TriSciCurious) on a Virtual Learning Project where our students connected with each other to do a project. (Her students are about 1000 miles from mine!)
  • Connected with Dave Burgess (@burgessdave), author of Teach Like a Pirate, and I was able to see him speak live as well as on a Google Hang-Out.
  • Found out about South Dakota EdCamp, and connected with other SD educators before and after the EdCamp.
  • Have been involved in many chats, learned a ton, got support, gave support, and have really grown as an educator!

“If you aren’t on Twitter, you need to be!”

Check it out sometime, you will be amazed at the resource it is for educators!


30 Day Blogging Challenge

Yesterday, I was enjoying my long weekend by pursing twitter. and actually reading some posts! I love using twitter to connect with other teachers, and often find some wonderful resources! Unfortunately, I don’t usually have much time to read a lot of the articles, blog posts, and other great things that have been tweeted. While actually reading this weekend, I came across a post by Amanda Meyer (@AlynnMeyer) about the 30-Day Blogging Challenge from @TeachThought. As a part of their movement towards teachers becoming more reflective, they have come up with 30 days of blogging topics for any teacher to use as a way to practice reflective teaching. To read more, visit To see Amanda’s Day 1 post, visit

Here is a list of the topics I will be covering for the next 30 Days! Please come back often to see my progress!!

Reflective Teaching Questions: A 30-Day Blogging Challenge For Teachers

Day 1

Write your goals for the school year. Be as specific or abstract as you’d like to be!

Day 2

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.

Day 3

Discuss one “observation” area that you would like to improve on for your teacher evaluation.

Day 4

Respond: What do you love the most about teaching?

Day 5

Post a picture of your classroom, and describe what you see–and what you don’t see that you’d like to.

Day 6

Explain: What does a good mentor “do”?

Day 7

Who was or is your most inspirational colleague, and why?

Day 8

What’s in your desk drawer, and what can you infer from those contents?

Day 9

Write about one of your biggest accomplishments in your teaching that no one knows about (or may not care).

Day 10

Share five random facts about yourself.

Share four things from your bucket list.

Share three things that you hope for this year, as a “person” or an educator.

Share two things that have made you laugh or cry as an educator.

Share one thing you wish more people knew about you.

Day 11

What is your favorite part of the school day and why?

Day 12

How do you envision your teaching changing over the next five years?

Day 13

Name the top edtech tools that you use on a consistent basis in the classroom, and rank them in terms of their perceived (by you) effectiveness.

Day 14

What is feedback for learning, and how well do you give it to students?

Day 15

Name three strengths you have as an educator.

Day 16

If you could have one superpower to use in the classroom, what would it be and how would it help?

Day 17

What do you think is the most challenging issue in education today?

Day 18

Create a metaphor/simile/analogy that describes your teaching philosophy. For example, a “teacher is a ________…”

Day 19

Name three powerful students can reflect on their learning, then discuss closely the one you use most often.

Day 20

How do you curate student work–or help them do it themselves?

Day 21

Do you have other hobbies/interests that you bring into your classroom teaching? Explain.

Day 22

What does your PLN look like, and what does it to for your teaching?

Day 23

Write about one way that you “meaningfully” involve the community in the learning in your classroom. If you don’t yet do so, discuss one way you could get started.

Day 24

Which learning trend captures your attention the most, and why? (Mobile learning, project-based learning, game-based learning, etc.)

Day 25

The ideal collaboration between students–what would it look like?

Day 26

What are your three favorite go-to sites for help/tips/resources in your teaching?

Day 27

What role do weekends and holidays play in your teaching?

Day 28

Respond: Should technology drive curriculum, or vice versa?

Day 29

How have you changed as an educator since you first started?

Day 30

What would you do (as a teacher) if you weren’t afraid?

As I go though the month, I will return to this page and link my posts so they are easy to find! Enjoy!

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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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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!


Twitter: A Terrific Tool for Teachers

In about a week I will be presenting at the South Dakota Science & Math Teacher’s Joint Conference. It is a great conference that I attend every year. This will be my first year presenting. After discovering the abundance of professional resources available on Twitter, I decided that I needed to share the great things I had found. I will be using this Haiku Deck to present, as well as some audience participation. I guess since you’ve been following my blog, you get a sneak peek! Enjoy!


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.