The South Dakota Experiment

The South Dakota Experiment

This week I am not doing any mastery classes or trainings, so I have some time to reflect on last week. In fact right now I am on my way to the Hy-Vee triathlon with my wife and a friend. We are going to be selling our triathlon clothing (My wife runs an online triathlon clothing store –, and I will be competing in the race this Sunday June 12th. Thus I will chat about our amazing visit to South Dakota last week.

While in South Dakota, Aaron and I had the chance to train a cadre of teacher in the Sioux Falls School District. These 40 folks won a grant to implement mastery learning in their math and science classes. Frankly Aaron and I are humbled. Their experiment started out with them coming out to Colorado to both see our class and then attend one of our workshops. Since then they have gone full bore into the mastery/video podcasting model.

In their grant they are going to pay their 40 teachers to develop the program. They didn’t get too much “stuff” except for some copies of Camtasia to make the podcasts. As we pondered this, we realized that this is just what is needed. The key to setting up a mastery classroom is to have time to develop all the components. You need:

1. To have a library of podcasts

2. A way to assess students in a way that is not too cumbersome on the teachers. The students need to be assessed multiple times if they don’t achieve mastery.

I know this full well since this past year I embarked on doing this with our freshmen Earth/Space class that we teach at our high school. Since Aaron was not teaching this course, I did this solo. I made an untold number of podcasts and utilized moodle to make up so many questions to help assess student learning. It was a hard year of work, but I felt that my freshmen group (about 100 kids) learned more than any group I have ever taught. When all was said and done, I had only two students fail the course and most of them were quite successful in mastering the content.

Anyways: Kudos to South Dakota: They are going to reward the teachers for all of the extra hard work it is to set up a mastery course. And Aaron and I are excited to see what will happen to all those kids in all of those classes.