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USDA program provides professional development for ag, science teachers

Darwin Daugaard and Madhav Nepal
Darwin Daugaard, a high school science teacher from Dell Rapids, left, learns to extract a tree core to examine climate variability with help from SDSU associate professor Madhav Nepal at a 2012 SETI professional development workshop. Nepal, professor Larry Browning and associate professor Matt Miller organized the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workshop.

South Dakota high school science and agriculture teachers can learn to integrate current research and new teaching techniques into their curriculums through a new U.S. Department of Agriculture program, according to South Dakota State University biology associate professor Madhav Nepal.

He leads a group of six researchers who secured a two-year, $144,150 National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant as part of the new Professional Development Opportunities for Secondary School Teachers (PD-STEP) Program. SDSU is one of 14 institutions nationwide to receive this type of funding.

The program is designed to encourage more students to pursue careers in agriculture through effective teaching by a well-trained task force, explained Nepal. More than 90 South Dakota schools have ag programs. “This gives us another opportunity to enhance agriculture through science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in the state,” he added.

NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy said, “Supporting talented educators who want to enhance their students’ learning is one of the best ways to ensure our scientific workforce continues to have the skills and preparation needed to meet the demands of the future.”

Fifteen teachers will receive training in the first immersive learning experiences and rural networking, or iLEARN, professional development workshop, May 24 to 27 in Brookings. Teachers can register for the workshop at Priority will be given to teachers from rural, disadvantaged and Native American serving school districts.

Tammy Meyer and Madhav Nepal
Sisseton Middle School Principal Tammy Meyer, left, visits with SDSU associate professor Madhav Nepal at a 2012 SETI workshop.

Each participant will receive a $300 stipend; off-campus housing and meals will also be provided. In addition, the attendees have the option to earn two graduate credits for only $40 per credit hour through the iLEARN program. The workshop will also be offered in summer 2018.

“We want to bring teachers to SDSU and get them excited about the research being done on campus,” he said. By integrating what they learn about topics such as climate variability and sustainable agriculture into their classes, attendees will then pass that excitement on to their students.

“My hope is that the participants can build at least six lesson plans that they can incorporate into their curriculums,” Nepal said. Instructional resources they develop, such as teaching modules and lab activities, along with contact information for an expert in the field as well as the SDSU researchers will be available to the public through the Open PRAIRIE website.

Other team members are assistant professor Peter (Troy) White from the Department of Teaching, Learning and Leadership, chemistry associate professor Matt Miller, physics professor Larry Browning, SDSU Extension/State climatologist Laura Edwards and USDA-Agricultural Research Service climatologist Dennis Todey.

These researchers will also be available as virtual guest lecturers, which they refer to as “dial-a-scientist.” White explained that they also hope to add industry experts and develop a blog through which teachers can exchange information and ideas and interact with the researchers and experts.

In the long run, Nepal noted, interdisciplinary faculty collaboration is essential and impactful. The connections made with K-12 science and ag teachers will enhance SDSU’s outreach efforts aligned to its land-grant mission.