Let’s just say he’s not hard to spot in a crowd. At 6 feet, 8 inches, clad in a protracted white lab coat and terry cloth headband, SDPB’s “Science Steve” Rokusek is the tireless guy velocitizing toilet paper with a leaf blower or theatrically ripping a tablecloth out from a tower of perilously stacked dinnerware. His bubbling cauldrons of dry ice, unpoppable balloons and hair-raising static enthrall crowds from the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls to the Lakota Nations Invitational in Rapid City. “Whattya’ll think? One more?” Rokusek pretends to ask rabbles of open-mouthed kids swarming his knees - knowing the kiddos will only roar for more: more perilous plates, more toilet paper, more science.
As SDPB’s Education Specialist, Rokusek attends dozens of family events and educational conferences throughout South Dakota, animating scientific laws in ways that make them a little more lawless and that much more appealing. “Science Steve captivates not only the attention of my preschoolers, but also mine,” says Teri Schneider, a teacher at Vermillion’s Center for Children and Families. “He relates to the kids so well and shows us teachers that science doesn’t have to be expensive to explore and it’s fairly easy to explore in the classroom with just a few household items. We’re so blessed to have him as a demonstrator of both science and fun.” Although he’s in demand at libraries and teaching demos all-year round, Rokusek’s repertoire extends far beyond his stints as his scientific alter ego. Like most educators, Rokusek spends more hours developing curriculum than teaching it. While his signature headband ends up sweat-soaked after each high-energy science demo, Rokusek works even more diligently behind the scenes, partnering with area educators to craft curriculum tailored to South Dakota’s standards and culture.
The Need in South Dakota
According to South Dakota Kids Count, a yearly data count on child well-being, approximately 17%, or roughly 35,000, of all South Dakota’s children live in poverty. Of those, 54% are American Indian children, which is about eight times higher than white children in South Dakota. About 61%, or 15,000, of children ages 3-4 in South Dakota are not in school, including 66% of white kids and 50% of Native kids. Of South Dakota’s 4th graders, 64% are not proficient readers. According to Susan Cochran, Kids Count program director, reading readiness is a vital indicator of future success. “Prior, to 4th grade, kids are learning to read. After 4th grade, kids should be reading to learn.”
“It’s paramount to SDPB’s mission to provide educational programming and services that help caregivers and educators reinforce an ecosystem of learning for South Dakota’s kids,” says Rokusek. “Public broadcasting is one of the most trusted sources of free school-readiness skills for our youngest and most vulnerable children.”
Rokusek stresses the importance of partnerships. “We had the amazing opportunity to partner with WoLakota at TIE, Dakota State University, and the University of South Dakota to produce new content,” says Rokusek. “We’re also very fortunate to have a talented intern, Josh Haiar, this summer who’s interested in producing short animated education videos, which enables us to produce videos specifically designed for our PreK-4th grade students in South Dakota.”
Coming to SDPB & PBS in September
This fall, with support from the WoLakota Project and the Archeology Department at the University of South Dakota, SDPB will premiere newly developed educational content for our state’s educators for the 2018-2019 school year.
Here’s a preview of resources coming soon to
SDPB.org/Learn and PBS LearningMedia.
Native American Studies Videos
What are the realities between South Dakota’s Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people and boarding schools, reservations, and land stewardship? What are Winter Counts and how are they crucial to understanding Great Plains history? For PreK-4th grade students, Rokusek has assisted in the development of a Native American Studies video series in close partnership with Technology & Innovation in Education (TIE) and the WoLakota Project in Rapid City, a program supporting students in rural, high-need schools and incorporating Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings, a curriculum and coursework in South Dakota American Indian history and culture. These videos jumpstart cultural learning activities in the classroom and at home.
A Push in the Right Direction
Even in the era of GPS, knowing West from East develops spatial reasoning and confidence in kids. New this year to SDPB.org/Learn is an engaging animated video series for PreK-4th grades on cardinal directions and map-reading, including language practice with past, present, and future verb tenses.
SDPB adds to its well-received Dissection 101 series this school year with more videos, lesson plans and quizzes on dissections of crayfish, clams, earthworms and more. The video series provides an alternative teaching tool for classrooms with limited resources or the faint of heart.
Art & Culture Afield
Peru’s Chavín de Huantar archaeology site contains vivid artifacts of a vital pre-Inca culture 160 miles north of Lima. Faculty and students at USD’s Department of Anthropology & Sociology have visited and studied the site extensively, even producing a documentary about their research. Now, thanks to lessons plans developed with SDPB, students throughout South Dakota can design, draw, and produce three-dimensional sculptural art using Chavín style. Another lesson taps into art and the senses, examining how Chavín temple artworks reinforced hierarchical social structures.
Thousands of standardized lesson plans and activities can be accessed at SDPB’s SDPB.org/Learn and PBSLearningMedia.org.