CA STEM Seekers visit SD!
Pictured: Ashley Armstrong, a Science Education Specialist at SURF, leads visiting students from NationsClassroom on a hoistroom tour. Picture by Stephen Kenny at SURF; article written by Mike Ray (SURF) and published November 13, 2023.
NationsClassroom brought 150 middle-school students to SURF located in Lead, South Dakota. NationsClassroom, an organization that provides STEM-based educational tours to the country’s most exciting destinations, brought 150 middle-school students to SURF.
Each year the Education and Outreach team at Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) interacts with about 20,000 students during on-site field trips and hands-on STEM based activities in classrooms. Most of these students are from South Dakota and the surrounding states—with a goal of serving those who might not otherwise have frequent access to hands-on STEM learning opportunities.
A student tour company called NationsClassroom is one of the exceptions to the normal education and outreach activities at SURF. In early November, NationsClassroom, brought 150 middle school students, from Orange County, CA. on a field trip full of discovery and hands on STEM activities in South Dakota, including an engaging day learning about the science at SURF.
“I love that this company recognizes South Dakota as a STEM education destination,” said Deb Wolf, director of outreach and culture at SURF. Besides SURF, Western South Dakota sites like the Badlands, Wind Cave, the Mammoth Site, the Minute Man Missile National Historic Site, and many others, offer unique learning opportunities for students of every age.
Pictured: NationsClassroom students had fun building a working model of a hoist during a hands-on STEM learning activity at SURF. Photo by Mike Ray (SURF).
During their visit to SURF, NationsClassroom students received a guided tour of the exhibits in the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center where they learned about the Nobel prize winning Ray Davis solar neutrino experiment and the history of science at the site. They took a dive into the local geology of the Open Cut where they learned about the folded structure of gold bearing rock formations under the town of Lead and examined and categorized rock samples from the former gold mine. Students took a guided tour of the hoist room, where “the cage” that brings equipment and personnel underground is operated. Many got to see the hoist in action as the operators moved the cages from 4850 feet below to the surface. Finally, they took part in a hands-on STEM based activity to build a hoist of their own, that could lower and raise weights through a vertical tube using materials like string, a pully, rubber bands, and clothes pins.
“It’s wonderful to see how the entire tone of the room changes as soon as we transfer from lecture to the hands-on portion of our activities, said Nicol Reiner, director of education and outreach at SURF. It’s great to see when students are quickly engaged in the activity, and they have fun exploring their own creative problem-solving skills.” “Anytime we have students at SURF we try and include this type of hands-on engineering activity that takes the learning beyond just seeing or touring the site,” Wolf adds.
This is the second year in a row that NationsClassroom has come to SURF as one part of a STEM educational tour package that features South Dakota and the Badlands.
Pictured: Students looking out over the Open Cut in Lead during a lesson on the local geology of the area. Photo by Stephen Kenny.
For more information on SURF, opportunities, STEM experiences, and the research going on there – visit, Home | Sanford Underground Research Facility (sanfordlab.org).