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Conference gives teachers valuable ideas for the classroom

Andrea Johnson/MDN Grafton teachers Jolene Hermanson and Tammie O’Toole work on a speed bump math and science activity during a statewide teachers conference on Wednesday at Minot High School-Central Campus.

Jolene Hermanson and Tammie O’Toole were in the hallway at Minot High School-Central Campus on Wednesday afternoon. The two elementary teachers from Grafton were working on a speed bump – a science and math activity that will call for their elementary students to use a ruler and make calculations.

The teachers are among about 200 elementary, middle and high school science, math, social studies and English teachers who are in town this week for the North Dakota Students Strive Through NMSI Partnership conference. The partnership is funded through a partnership between the National Math and Science Initiative and XTO Energy.

Hermanson and O’Toole said the activity they were working on is a new twist on an old lesson and a way to broaden students’ thinking.

Upstairs in another classroom, Paul Kolesar, a chemistry teacher at Davies High School in Fargo, Kolesar was showing fellow teachers how he uses a digital microscope in the classroom. Fellow teachers were interested in seeing how the strands of one teacher’s hair could be magnified or the pores on another teacher’s finger.

“It’s a hands-on training that builds on multiple skills, integrated together for that deeper, rigorous conceptual understanding for students and the teachers come to the training as both the student and the teacher so they experience the lessons just like their students will in the classroom and look at some of those techniques for bringing that to the students as well as what do I need to be doing as a teacher, what questions should I be asking, and all of those different things,” said Toni Schneider of the NMSI Initiative.

Andrea Johnson/MDN Paul Kolesar, a chemistry teacher at Davies High School in Fargo, shows other teachers a digital microscope.

This is the fifth year that the conference has been held in North Dakota. According to material provided by NMSI, there are 23 school districts and 28 schools in North Dakota that receive training, resources and support through the grant. Among area NMSI Partner Schools are Belcourt, Devils Lake, Eight-Mile in Trenton, McKenzie County in Watford City, Minot Public, Nedrose Public, Rolette Public and Williston Public.

Schneider said teachers at the conference have told her that this is the best professional development available and they want to come back from year to year.

Matt Scherbenske, strategic officer for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction in Bismarck, said teachers who have attended the conference in past years are able to take more advanced classes in the second or third year so they can progress in their knowledge.

Schneider said teachers from across the state also benefit from collaborating with one another and discussing what they are teaching in the classroom and how.

Materials provided by the group indicate that students in NMSI North Dakota Partner Schools have shown an improvement in Advanced Placement qualifying scores in math, science, and English.

The state conference concludes today.

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