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Impact and History

Education Impact

SURF's education team uses hands- and minds-on learning and 3-dimensional instruction to transform teaching and learning in K-12 STEM education.
Students work on E&O curriculum unit.

The Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) takes very seriously its mission to “advance world-class science and inspire learning across generations," using both informal and formal education. 

SURF's education impacts are most keenly felt through the efforts of its Education and Outreach (E&O) program. Through a partnership with Black Hills State University, SURF's E&O team offers curriculum units, classroom presentations and field trips for K-12 students, leveraging the world-leading research hosted at SURF to inspire the next generation of STEM leaders. 

The team reaches more than 10,000 K-12 students annually and, since 2015, has touched the lives of more than 60,000 children throughout South Dakota. 

The E&O team also hosts professional development workshops for K-12 teachers that focus on how educators can incorporate the science happening at Sanford Lab into their classrooms.

“I like the big ideas—the connections to the lab, international research on a topic and the fundamental science ideas.”—Michelle Crane, Douglas High School science teacher.

Students reached

SURF's E&O team reaches more than 10,000 K-12 children every year through curriculum modules, classroom presentations and field trips.

People attending events

SURF hosts several public events every year, including Neutrino Day and Deep Talks, reaching more than 2,500 people annually.
Students and teacher in the class room

Teacher impacts

Each curriculum unit provides K-12 teachers with 5-15 hours of instruction, with everything a teacher needs included in a kit. For example, if a unit requires Dixie cups, there will be enough for each child. The units are assembled at SURF then mailed to schools—all at no cost to the teacher or the school district. Additionally, teachers can receive training on how to facilitate the units, all of which are based on the science taking place at SURF. Each unit is aligned with South Dakota science standards.

Comments from teachers using the curriculum units:

"These kits are such a valuable resource!” 1st grade teacher, South Park Elementary

"The hands-on materials are great and the unit is very user friendly.” 5th Grade teacher, Hill City

"This unit inspired a lot of critical thinking.” 4th grade teacher, Rapid City

Letters from students

3-D teaching and learning

Based on a student-centered model and consistent with the National Research Council's "A Framework for K-12 Science Education," our curriculum units bring together disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts. Students work as scientists to gain critical thinking skills that allow them to design solutions to real-world problems and make sense of natural phenomena.

The E&O team receives hundreds of letters from students every year. Here are some of the comments: 

"I think it was interesting how we people use bio-life forms like bugs to clean our water. Thank you for using your time to teach us about your work.” Simon, 6th grade, Sioux Falls

"I enjoyed learning about your job and what you do….It was interesting that people can’t feel cosmic radiation. I still want to know how you can detect dark matter when you don’t know if it is even reel (sic) or what it looks like.” Micah, 6th grade, Sioux Falls

E&O recognizes that diverse student live across a large and sparsely populated region, including urban, rural and tribal schools. Equity of science education opportunities varies greatly. We are attempting to level the playing field—and increase equity in science education—by providing enriching activities for all student populations throughout our state and region.

“Our team believes that every student deserves high-quality science learning that gives them the opportunity to see themselves as having unlimited potential. In the large, often sparsely-populated region that encompasses South Dakota and surrounding states, providing equitable science learning opportunities for students is of highest priority.”—Deb Wolf, E&O Director

The number of students reached since 2015

ThroughK-12 outreach efforts, SURF has touched the lives of thousands of students across the state of South Dakota and in surrounding states. 

Teachers who receive professional development

The number of educators who have participated the E&O Department's on site and online teacher professional development programs since 2016. 

County map of SD filled in green with counties that E&O team has reached.

Across South Dakota

SURF's E&O team hopes to reach every student in the state.

The shaded areas in the map identify counties in which students have participated in classroom presentations, teachers have incorporated curriculum units into the classroom and/or schools that have come to Sanford Lab for field trips.

As of August 2021 the team has had direct contact with students in 54 of the 66 counties (82 percent) in South Dakota.

Sanford Lab understands that children learn by doing. Every curriculum unit, every classroom presentation and every field trip to Sanford Lab provides ample opportunities for children to channel their inner scientist. 

“The best way to learn about science is simple, you have to let kids be scientists,” said Becky Bundy, science education specialist at Sanford Lab. And the best way to do that is to let them wrestle with the same problems scientists are wrestling with and come up with their own solutions.