South Dakota teachers' STEM Conference returns to Huron

HURON — They will come again, from throughout the state and, in some cases, from outside South Dakota’s borders.

The event will be the 31st annual STEM Conference, set for Feb 2-4 at the Huron Event Center and is presented by - and presented for - teachers.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - subjects that realistically are the building blocks in the foundation of virtually every career in the 21st Century. The event will bring together more than 300 teachers from across the state who will make and listen to presentations from others in the field and, more importantly, in the classroom.

While it is a conference for teachers, anyone who wishes to pay a registration fee is welcome to attend. “The South Dakota STEM Ed Conference is for teachers,” said Ashley Armstrong, the president of the S.D. Science Organization, “although we would never turn away people who are genuinely interested in learning more about STEM education in our state!”

“The conference brings together teachers from all grade levels,” said Cindy Kroon, this year’s conference organizer who is a math teacher in the Montrose school system. “They come to learn what other teachers are doing and to network. In many respects, we have a big reunion every year!”

The schedule this year includes more than 100 breakout sessions, 52 on Friday and 63 scheduled for Saturday, on a variety of topics within the STEM umbrella.

Among the breakout sessions to be of interest this year are:
• Who Wants to be a Mathematician?
• Global Education in the Science Classroom
• Dairy and Food Science
• STEM activities for People and the Planet
• Robotics for K12 Teachers
• Teaching Problem Solving to ALL Students
• Building Thinking Classrooms
• Wind Power: A New Era of Energy
• Citizen Science, Cell Phone Colorimetry and the Chemistry of Milkweed
• Family Math: Take-Home Activities for Students and Families

“The Dairy and Food Science session is presented by South Dakota State University,” Kroon said. “It will be an exhibit/experiment and demonstration and I expect will be very popular.”

While Kroon oversees organizing the conference, Armstrong, who holds a Ph.D, and is a Science Education Specialist professor at Black Hills State University, schedules the Science sessions and speakers while Sheila McQuade handles the Math speakers. McQuade is a teacher in the Math department at O’Gorman High School.

“Part of what makes the conference so interesting is the wide diversity of our school systems,” Kroon noted. “For instance, I am the only math teacher in Montrose system, so my approach to things may be different that a teacher from a larger district, such as what Sheila sees at O’Gorman.”

The theme of this year’s conference is “My Students Still Need Me” with Saturday evening’s keystone address delivered by Dr. Stephen Pruitt. His banquet speech is titled “Battling Ignorance: 4 Words That Can Change the World.”

The conference is also a chance for teachers to achieve some continuing education credits, which both Armstrong and Kroon say is important as the state continues to struggle to find teachers.

“Finding teachers in the Technical disciplines is difficult,” Armstrong said, “although I have found more and more that school districts are realizing the importance of STEM.”

An exciting shift over the past few years has been more of a focus on agriculture in the state when it comes to engineering education.

“We’re looking forward to coming back to Huron for this year’s conference,” Kroon said. “We have held every conference there since we began in 1994. I think that only statewide event that has been taking place longer in Huron is the State Fair!”