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SD Department of Education Feb. 2016  
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Photo of Joe Dalton, SD CTE Teacher of the Year
How many ways can students use this?

South Dakota CTE Teacher of the Year Joe Dalton is an explorer. A graduate of Lake Area Technical Institute, he was a maintenance operator for the City of Watertown for 12 years. As his family grew, he frequently found himself volunteer coaching and discovered he liked working with kids. Curious and ready for a change in his work life, he took a couple education classes at the local Mount Marty campus.

Dalton had found his new frontier: teaching. He eventually took a job with Northeast Technical High School, a multidistrict school in Watertown. And to call it a 'frontier' is no exaggeration. The exploratory CTE program he was to lead didn't yet exist. "We teach 16 career clusters at Northeast," Dalton says. "School administrators gave me a sheet of paper with one idea behind each cluster and said, 'After that, you can come up with what you want.'"

That was seven years ago. Dalton headed to a cabin in northern Minnesota for a working family vacation of fishing and planning. The result was four classes aimed at freshmen and sophomores: Careers that Build, Working with People, Science Technology and Business Technology.

As part of the education and training unit, students in Dalton's Working with People class are preparing to teach lessons to 6th graders. He uses his own experience to encourage their creativity, explaining that the plan he developed that first summer was about the size of a magazine. Now it's more like a novel. "You build on it every year," he says. "You find a technique that works better and get rid of what you started with. You're always adapting and trying to find something new or better."

Last fall, Dalton tried something new with his Business Technology class by having students participate in the BIG Idea Competition in which they developed businesses, complete with marketing plans, logos and more.

As the weather warms, Dalton looks forward to getting Careers that Build students outside for their architecture/construction unit. Every year students build a garden shed and sell it for the cost of materials. They also take requests. This year, they'll build a chicken coop for a member of the community, and a variety of houses for birds at the Bramble Park Zoo.

In Science Technology, Dalton turns the traditional egg drop into a 10-level gauntlet. Students create containers using no metal, no glass, and weighing no more than four pounds. The containers must withstand everything from a toss in the air, to the swing of a baseball bat, to the smash of a cinder block and finally, level 10: a blow from a sledgehammer.

If the egg activity piques students' interest, the learning experience comes full circle when a Watertown engineer who has helped design Honda four-wheeler frames talks to the class, helping them see engineering at work. Speakers and business tours are vital components of Dalton's courses. "Any time you call business people in the community, they’re more than happy to give their time," he says. "They were a kid at one time, and they know how beneficial it is for their community."

Most educators have heard the exasperated question, When am I ever gonna use this? Dalton turns the question into opportunity: How many ways can students use this?

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