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Implementing Integrative STEM Education in the Classroom

June 30, 2018

Valley City, ND – The Great Plains STEM Education Center (GPSEC) at Valley City State University (VCSU) recently completed five days (June 4-8) of professional development (PD) for area K-12 teachers as part of its grant project, Implementing Integrative STEM Education in the Classroom.

Thirty-eight teachers from the following 12 school districts participated in the project, which was primarily funded through the federal Math & Science Partnership (MSP) and facilitated by ND Department of Public Instruction:

Barnes County North, Central Cass, Edgeley, Enderlin, Ellendale, Fort Ransom, Griggs County Central, Kensal, Litchville-Marion, Lisbon, Maple Valley, and McClusky.

The PD sessions included a wide variety of integrative STEM curriculum training and experiences, including but not limited to the following:

Engineering Design Process
Scientific Inquiry
Family Engineering
Engineering is Elementary
Picture Perfect Science/STEM Lessons
Building Math
Breakout EDU
LEGO Robotics
Coding apps & gadgets (e.g. Scratch,, Sphero, Ozobot, 3-D pens)
Green Screen Technology

The PD sessions were primarily taught by GPSEC Director, Dr. Jamie Wirth, and GPSEC Coordinator, Dr. Gary Ketterling.

Other PD instructors included the following:

  • Gretchen Peterson, West Fargo Liberty Middle School
  • Jamie Paurus, VCSU Computer Systems & Software Engineering
  • Ashley Krinke, Ashley Mickelson, & Jodi Zieske, Northern Cass Public Schools
  • Lauren Sako, Gackle-Streeter Public Schools
This was the third and final year of the MSP grant funding.  Like previous years, Wirth indicated that the project was an enormous success.
Said Wirth, “The feedback we have received from the participating teachers has been overwhelmingly positive.”

According to Wirth, several veteran teachers indicated that this project was the best PD they had ever experienced.
Others commented that they cannot wait for school to start in the fall so they can implement what they have learned in their classrooms.

GPSEC STEMtastic! Event covered in the Jamestown Sun

Click here to read the article online.

STEM savvy

By Katie Fairbanks March 8, 2017 at 6:50 a.m.

Cardboard tubes, rubber bands and marshmallows flew through a University of Jamestown classroom on Tuesday afternoon, as about 15 middle-school girls tested out their marshmallow shooter designs.

With no blueprint, using only scissors and hole punches as tools, the girls worked in groups to figure out the best design to shoot marshmallows down the hall of the Unruh and Sheldon Center.

The "Design and Shoot" was one of 19 hands-on workshops that middle-school girls from Stutsman County schools participated in during the Tech Savvy event on Tuesday, said Erica Althoff, event co-chair. She said about 330 middle-school girls participated in the event.

Tech Savvy is a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) career conference to attract girls in sixth through eighth grades to these fields. The event was held by the AAUW Jamestown Branch at the University of Jamestown.

The workshops were led by STEM professionals from Jamestown, Grand Forks, Fargo and Bismarck, Althoff said. The girls choose which workshops they want to go to when they register for the event, which helps give them more choices to do something they are interested in, she said.

"You can tell the exposure of this day shows them they can do whatever they want," Althoff said. "It's very empowering."

Civil engineers Alison Hanslip, Melissa Kuznia and Yaping Chi of West Fargo company Moore Engineering Inc. ran the marshmallow shooter workshop and told girls about their jobs as engineers.

Chi said she and other women change the workshop from year to year to give the girls something different each time. This year has been fun, and the girls had some pretty good designs, she said. Tech Savvy is a good event, and gives the girls ideas they didn't know before, Chi said.

Hanslip said it is very cool to see the girls taking part in the workshops and is something she didn't have the opportunity to do as a child.

The three engineers told the girls in the workshop about civil engineering and why each of them chose a career in the field. Hanslip explained the engineering design process - identify the problem, brainstorm, design, build, test, redesign and share solutions.

After designing their shooters, the girls went into the hall to try to beat the 19 1/2-foot record shot from earlier. A tape measure lining one wall determined a new winner, whose shot reached 20 feet.

Jamestown Middle School eighth-grader Sadie Duven said her favorite workshops were the "Design and Shoot" and "The Great and Powerful Oz," where the girls learned about how mannequins that breathe and have a heartbeat are used to train doctors and nurses.

The event's goals are to expose young women to female role models in STEM fields, have hands-on fun, show how STEM jobs make a difference and are cool and teach girls a skill, said Joan Enderle, Tech Savvy committee member.

STEMtastic!, a similar event for middle-school boys, was also held Tuesday at Jamestown Middle School. The program was led by Jamie Wirth, executive director of the Great Plains STEM Education Center at Valley City State University. Enderle said the program was created to run in conjunction with Tech Savvy.

Tech Savvy also included a program for parents and interested adults to encourage and inform them about education and careers in STEM for their children.

The girls also heard from opening speaker Katherine Young, a graphic designer and marketing coordinator of The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, keynote speaker Kristi Jean, quality engineer for ComDel Innovation in Wahpeton, N.D., and "Savvy Skills" speaker Cathy Williams, instructional coach in Grand Forks Public Schools.

Althoff said the event gets a good response from presenters, who usually say they love to expose girls to their field. It's exciting to be able to bring in presenters from a distance to come share their experience, she said.

"Our stress to presenters (is) that it is a hands-on workshop, and that we want girls to participate," Althoff said.

Tatum Aabrekke, a Jamestown Middle School eighth-grader, said she learned new things from the event. She said she liked "The Great and Powerful Oz" and "Sky-High Structures" workshops, where girls worked in teams to design and build towers out of recycled materials.

"It's fun and cool," she said.

STEM Academy held at Langdon Area High School

By Melissa Anderson

The Langdon Area High School was a flurry of educational activity on Thursday, Feb. 2 as the school held a STEM Academy for grades 7 through 12.  To view a short video highlight of the event, click here

The academy brought professors from various fields from Valley City State University (VCSU) and University of North Dakota (UND) to broaden LAHS students understanding of science, technology engineering, and mathematics and how these fields are working together to create the future.

The day featured six activities for the students to utilize what is referred to as the four C’s:  critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity. The day began with an escape room scenario that allowed each grade to compete against each other. Each grade was given a set of clues that would lead them to the next clue until they were able to “escape” their classroom.

The other activities were Rube Goldberg machines, Spheros, GeoDome/Drones, Scratch video game, and LEGO EV3. The Rube Goldberg machine session featured the largest groups of students working together to create the machines of art. The session was headed by Dr. Gary Ketterling of VCSU.

Jamie Wirth, also of VCSU, headed the Spheros section of the STEM academy. The section had students not only creating obstacle courses for the Spheros but then working to program the Spheros to navigate each others courses.

The GeoDome/Drone section instructed by Tim Young of UND, showed students the ability to use NASA data to chart stars, view the galaxies, look a little more closely at planet Earth. The drone section was facilitated by Langdon instructors who were taught how to fly drones and utilized the iPads already in use at LAHS. The students were taught to fly the drones and then run them through an obstacle course.

Jordan Burshaw, a computer software engineering student at VSCU showed students how to code or program their own video game. The tutorial showed students the methodology behind the coding systems utilized in many every day applications on smart phones and computers.

The final activity for students was the LEGO EV3 Robotics facilitated by Dr. Pete Gjovik of the VCSU Department of Technology instructed students on how they could program a smart car to drive and go through obstacles on its way to its destination.

Overall, the event proved success in not only giving students a fun educational experience but also learning about future careers that utilize the four C’s of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.

Wirth named to Prairie Business ‘40 Under 40’ list

November 29, 2016:  Jamie Wirth, Ph.D., director of the Great Plains STEM Education Center at Valley City State University, has been named to Prairie Business magazine’s 2016 “40 Under 40” list, which recognizes 40 of the top business professionals under the age of 40 in the Dakotas and western Minnesota.

Also an assistant professor of mathematics at VCSU, Wirth is featured as one of the “40 Under 40” honorees in the December issue of Prairie Business magazine. The magazine recognizes young professionals who are making significant impacts in their chosen professions, industries and communities.

Wirth has directed the efforts of VCSU’s Great Plains STEM Education Center (GPSEC) since January 2015. GPSEC offers professional development workshops for teachers and STEM activities for K-12 students and parents, along with curriculum support for STEM educators.

“We’re excited to see Jamie Wirth’s talent and accomplishments recognized on the ‘40 Under 40’ list,” said VCSU President Tisa Mason. “The STEM Education Center’s program makes a huge difference in the education that K-12 students receive, and Jamie’s energy and enthusiasm for his work plays a big role in making that happen. We’re proud and privileged to have Jamie on the VCSU staff.”

Under Wirth’s leadership, GPSEC has secured multiple grants and contracts, including a competitive grant award of $298,288 from the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction through the U.S. Department of Education’s Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP) program. That grant funded professional development sessions for 36 K-12 teachers in 8 North Dakota school districts: Edgeley, Ellendale, Enderlin, LaMoure, Lidgerwood, Litchville-Marion, Kensal and McClusky. GPSEC also conducted community STEM events, including Family Engineering Night and STEM Design Challenge, at each of the participating schools.

More information about the Great Plains STEM Education Center at VCSU can be found online at

Wirth joined VCSU as a mathematics education instructor in 2008 and served as chair of the VCSU mathematics department from 2011–13. He was promoted to assistant professor in 2014. Wirth taught high school mathematics in Wyndmere, N.D., from 2004–08; he also served as the Wyndmere boys varsity basketball coach for three years. Wirth holds a doctorate in adult and occupational education from North Dakota State University, a master of arts in teaching degree in mathematics education from Minot State University, a bachelor’s degree in mathematics education from Mayville State University, and a bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of North Dakota.

The 2016 Prairie Business “40 Under 40” list can be found online at

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GPSEC featured in the McClusky Gazette

STEM Family Night a fun time for all

5/18/16 (Wed)

McClusky High School gym was the place where STEM Family Night was held last Monday evening. Jamie Wirth and Gary Ketterling, teachers from Valley City State University, were there to present STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to McClusky students and parents.

Wirth explained to them eight steps of Engineering Design Process: define, research, brainstorm, choose, build, test, communicate and redesign.
The elementary grade students had fun building a vehicle with gumdrops, lifesavers, pretzel sticks and dry spaghetti noodles; a bank with index cards and masking tape; a jewelry store with marshmallows and popsicle sticks; and an office tower with pipe cleaners and marshmallow.

The 5-8 grade and 9-12 grade were in groups to design a plan to build movement devices with golf balls, dominoes, tongue depressor, aluminum foil, play dough, masking tape, paper cups, toothpaste and toothbrush.

Click here to read the article online.

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STEM Education Center hosts Valley City 4th graders

The Great Plains STEM Education Center (GPSEC) at VCSU hosted all four sections of Valley City’s Washington Elementary fourth grade students for an integrative STEM lesson, LEGO Soccer, at the end of January 2016. Students engaged in the engineering design process to build and program LEGO WeDo robots to simulate a soccer match between an offensive player and goalie.

“The students were excited and engaged from the start,” said Jamie Wirth, Ph.D., GPSEC director. “Most of them were disappointed when it was time to leave.”  VCSU alumna Natalie Boe ’91, M.Ed. ’07, one of the fourth grade teachers at Washington, reported that her class really enjoyed working with the LEGO robots and being on the VCSU campus. “LEGO WeDo Robotics enables students to work as scientists, engineers, and mathematicians by providing them with settings, tools, and tasks for completing cross-curricular projects,” said Boe. “What I really like about this program is being able to differentiate for various ability levels of my students. It’s just awesome to watch the kids’ excitement as they think creatively to make a working model and then reflect on how to find answers and imagine new possibilities.”

According to Wirth, the LEGO soccer lesson is just one of the many projects GPSEC coordinates for students and teachers to emphasize 21st century skills in the classroom. “The designing, programming, and testing of the robots requires students to engage in creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration; all valuable skills for students,” said Wirth.

To see a 2-minute highlight video of the event, click here.


North Dakota University System highlights the GPSEC MSP grant in recent newsletter.

Tumbling Tower

Great Plains STEM Education Center recognized in the Aberdeen, SD newspaper for MSP grant work.

Click below to read the article.

GPSEC receives $10,000 from Dakota Plains Cooperative & Land O' Lakes

On December 8, 2015 Dakota Plains Cooperative presented GPSEC with $5,000, along with a $5,000 match from Land O' Lakes to finance a STEM education project planned for school districts within the Dakota Plains customer region.  Stay tuned for more details on the project as it develops this spring.

GPSEC runs Family Engineering Night in Edgeley, ND. 

Click here to see coverage of the event.

Click here to watch a short video highlighting the event.

Click here to listen to Edgeley principals comment on the event.

Click on link below for a full PDF copy of the newspaper article from the Edgeley Mail.

GPSEC awarded a Math & Science Partnership (MSP) grant through ND DPI

Read the article here.

October 2015:  The Great Plains STEM Education Center (GPSEC) at Valley City State University has received a competitive grant award of nearly $300,000 from the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction through the U.S. Department of Education’s Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP) pro

The MSP program aims to improve K–12 classroom instruction and student achievement in math and science by providing intensive, content-rich professional development to teachers.

VCSU’s GPSEC award includes $276,193 in direct funds and $22,095 in indirect money for a total of $298,288.

Dr. Jamie Wirth, GPSEC director, and Dr. Gary Ketterling, GPSEC education coordinator, will lead professional development sessions for about 40 K–12 teachers in 8 North Dakota school districts: Edgeley, Ellendale, Enderlin, LaMoure, Lidgerwood, Litchville-Marion, Kensal and McClusky.

The project, which runs from October 2015 through September 2016, will include monthly 1-day professional development sessions from November to March, followed by a 5-day summer camp for teachers in June, all on the VCSU campus.

Sessions will feature integrative STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) pedagogy training, along with a wide variety of curriculum training for teachers.

GPSEC recognized in the Jamestown Sun. 

Read article below or read online here.

STEM program working: JPS elementary teacher says more grades to be added

By Tom LaVenture, Jamestown Sun Today (9-29-15) at 7:07 a.m.

A program to help children grasp science using visual and hands-on activities was touted by an instructor at the Jamestown Public School Board meeting on Monday.

Mari Stilwell, a reading coach at Roosevelt Elementary School, updated the School Board about a $25,000 Monsanto grant to fund a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) grant pilot project for second- and fourth-graders. She said a second $25,000 grant application to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction would fund materials and train teachers to add third and fifth grades.

“It is exciting and the kids are attracted to it and the teachers are supporting it,” she said. “This is really something to get excited about.”

The project combines science, engineering and reading in a more hands-on way to engage young learners, using the “Picture-Perfect Science Lessons” series from the National Science Teachers Association Press, Stilwell said. The pilot project succeeded in getting more students to grasp concepts in physical and life sciences and gets kids more engaged in STEM activities, she said.

The Picture Perfect science lessons are a way to integrate storybooks and picture books into science curriculum, she said. Combined with Engineering In Education kits, Stilwell said the children are more engaged and excited, which helps them to apply problem-solving skills.

“For kids with behavior issues, they were best behaved during this process,” she said.

Jamestown Public Schools Superintendent Robert Lech said the program succeeds in connecting kids to the standards in a different way. Kids at that level of understanding learn more by doing than hearing, and just need a facilitated program that works in meeting the needs of 21st century learners.

“This is making connections and engaging students in a way that is so positive,” Lech said. “We really see students connecting to the material in ways other than rote memorization of facts, and they really take in and apply and synthesize information.”

The teachers are trained by the Great Plains Stem Education Center through Valley City State University, he said.

Office Information

Great Plains STEM Education Center
Jamie Wirth, Director:  701-845-7734
Gary Ketterling, Coordinator:  701-845-7446

101 College St. SW
Valley City, ND 58072
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