Coordinating Exchanges for Learning

Were the contemporary scientific discoveries that were placed before you as a child in any way a catalyst for your own curiosities? As a youngster did you keen-fully observe the engineering of technology that was tooled for discovery? Did the Apollo or space shuttle orbiter missions inspire any meaning or perspective?  Are you a scientist, a citizen scientist?  Are more science professionals needed?

Childhood impressions are core components to who an  individual becomes. Positive influences by skilled and knowledgeable teachers, concerned even loving parents are paramount.

Although science is tractably understood through experience and the application of theories, the details are complicated, work and tenacity are required to reach any level of competence, and is a recursive process that takes years to master, the best practice being an early inception, suggesting 4th or 5th grades as optimal.

As a lot, elementary school teachers are amazing, passionate, empathetic educators who contribute directly to student successes.   They are excellent “conductors” orchestrating the development of knowledge across the disciplines, despite their lack of high proficiency at any of  the “oboe, violin, timpani, harp”, or any of the “instruments” they aptly “conduct”.

Middle school teachers build upon their colleagues base by applying their special areas of credentialed interest and skill for specific subjects, that is the mathematics teacher teaches math, the science teacher science, the music teacher music, the arts art.

Generally these teachers were trained at the bachelors level, were raised and attended nearby schools where education theories, psychology strategies, human behaviors were well studied, but elected to take a fewer rather than more science and mathematics courses.

Missing for many teachers is that detailed experience in, for example, the sciences, the associated physics or chemistry experiments, the engineering design and access to relevant applications, and or the technologies that have shaped human kind, say in biology.

Moreover, integrative strategies that rely on trans-disciplinarity where the dynamic of collaboration is used in solving relevant problems have few examples of successful implementation.

Helpful are the opportunities that any science, technology, engineering, or mathematics expert creates for students, particularly when in a collaboration with those teachers.

Traditional learning opportunities which align formally in the classroom are ideal, yet well implemented after-school programs continue to impress principals, teachers, parents, while inspiring selected students.

Needed is a coordination of professionals from companies such as John Deere, Sanford Engineering, Mortenson Construction, Moore Engineering, but also from North Dakota Universities and Colleges,   as well as from non-profits and for-profits which are practiced at informal learning strategies that include the Inspire Innovation Laboratory and Discover Express Kids.

As an example of an exchanged asset,  consider astronomy and astrophysics as an integrative topical strategy that is proven effective at sparking a middle school student’s scientific interests.

Lofting sophisticated instrumentation such as the Hubble Space Telescope into the heavens was an accomplishment built upon the successes and failures that extend from “choosing to go to the moon” by President Kennedy.

It was relatively recent that there was knowledge of other galaxies in the universe, that galaxies are clustered much the way stars are, that they collide, explode, evolve, all fascinating and a wonderful context to inspire students.

Providing tours of the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and beyond is a unique specialty of  the University of North Dakota’s Physics and Astronomy Department through an outreach project funded by the NSF-EPSCoR program.

In UND’s portable Elumenati Geodome, youngsters are treated to a highly engaging planetarium experience where craters on the moon, atmospheres on Earth and Mars, where solar system dynamics can be viewed in a 3D splendor.

Knowledge that such a program exists,  that a highly specialized and experienced professional can join in your North Dakota classroom through communications facilitated through the vehicle of the ND STEM Exchange is among its core functions.

Lining up, coordinating, managing, and assessing those opportunities is a developing role of the North Dakota STEM Exchange, a project being piloted by the North Dakota STEM Network.

For more information on the Exchange, please visit:


Professor of Physics, Director of Undergraduate Research, STEM Consultant, STEAM Practitioner