LEAD | When Nicol Reiner first walked into the Yates Hoistroom at Sanford Underground Research Facility (Sanford Lab), all she could see were numbers. From the narrowing diameter of the spinning conical drums to the length of the cables that raise and lower cages in the Yates Shaft, Reiner curiously considered the mathematics propelling underground science.
Behind every scientific concept is a mathematical scaffolding. Biologists study the numeric sequences inside DNA and RNA. Geologists calculate the strengths and ages of rocks. Physicists work within the structures of the Standard Model and General Relativity—two intricately complex mathematical frameworks. As a veteran mathematics educator and instructional coach, Reiner has learned to notice these hidden figures.
Reiner is also the newest member of the Education and Outreach team (E&O) at Sanford Lab.
“We have a lot of expertise on our team, but Nicol fills a valuable niche with her expertise in mathematics and teacher professional development,” said Deb Wolf, director of E&O at Sanford Lab. Leveraging research being conducted underground at Sanford Lab, the E&O team provides training, teaching tools and materials for teachers so they can inspire and challenge students. In March, Reiner joined the team as the STEM teacher development specialist.
Reiner taught mathematics and German in middle and high schools in South Dakota for 14 years. She then became an instructional coach with the Sioux Falls school district, where she supported both new and veteran teachers. In 2016, Reiner became the state math specialist for South Dakota Department of Education, before becoming the director of the Office of Standards, Learning, and Leadership, where she led the development of all educational content standards in the state. During this time, she also spearheaded the SDMath/SDSci Educator Leadership program, which promotes teacher leadership in math and science.
Reiner’s experience in teacher professional development and state content standards comes at an ideal time for the E&O team. Starting this year, Sanford Lab’s E&O team is serving as a statewide model for science education and workforce development through the South Dakota Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (SD EPSCoR) grant.
As part of the program, the E&O team will conduct teacher workshops at six locations throughout South Dakota each summer. The goal is to support hundreds of K-12 teachers and provide tens of thousands of students with engaging hands-on science experiences. Reiner will play a big role in creating and facilitating these workshops, which will reach 180 educators each year for five years.
“This is a systemic effort to transform the way science is taught and learned in classrooms across the state,” Wolf said. “Nicol feels very strongly about supporting teacher leaders, and she’s extremely qualified to help lead this effort.”
Nicol will be working semi-remotely from Sioux Falls where she lives with her husband and her two children for a year before relocating to the Black Hills.
“I’m excited to see these things work together: the amazing science at Sanford Lab and supporting teachers who engage students with that science,” Reiner said. “We want to ensure that when someone interacts with Sanford Lab—whether they are a student, a teacher or a community member—they get a valuable, authentic, engaging experience.”
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