Tampa Bay Teacher Quest Program: A Vital Link for Educators to Explore STEM

They say “great teachers help create great students,” and an informed teacher is one of the prime components contributing to student success (Edutopia). FLATE is a firm proponent of this principle, and has taken several steps to educate the educator. Dr. Marilyn Barger, PI and executive director of FLATE (Florida Advanced Technological Education) says the Center is founded on “vibrant synergistic partnerships with academic institutions, government agencies for workforce and economic development, and industry.” Amidst its working alliances with various organizations throughout Florida, FLATE shares a strategic relationship with the Tampa Bay Teacher Quest Program. The program is a three year pilot program funded through a grant from the Helios Education Foundation, and managed by Florida’s Technological Research and Development Authority (TRDA). Teacher Quest seeks to transform teaching and learning through industry-education partnerships, and places teachers as primary agents for effecting meaningful change in the educational system.

Since the inception of the program in 2009, the program has served as a “vital link” in creating STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) related academic pathways, and in empowering teachers and students with skills needed in the workplace. Diane Matthews, director of education for TRDA who also oversees the Teacher Quest Tampa Bay program says the program has been a primary vehicle in addressing the critical needs of Florida’s teachers by offering professional develo
pment in STEM through real-world work experiences. “STEM covers all ability levels” says Matthews, and Teacher Quest has been rigorous in its efforts to create awareness about STEM-related career pathways by establishing connections with real-world applications/situations. The program has served as an effective pathway for industry partners to directly reach their future workforce through one-to-one contact with teachers. Its biggest impact lies in the fact that “just one individual teacher can impact literally thousands of students over the course of their career.”

Given its benefits to industry as well as educators, Teacher Quest has experienced significant growth over the course of two years. According to Matthews, the number of teachers engaged in the program has risen from seven in the first year to 19 in 2011. In years two and three the program also expanded its outreach to Polk, Manatee and Sarasota counties, and remains committed to expand and maintain strategic relations with existing industry partners like Raytheon, Alliant Tech Systems, Sun Hydraulics to name a few.

Tampa Bay Teacher Quest’s partnership with FLATE continues to play a major role in helping industry placement for teachers. Matthews says “FLATE has been a poster child of the Teacher Quest Tampa bay program.” To date, the Center has helped placed approximately 35 teachers in local industries for the Tampa Bay as well as the statewide Teacher Quest program. Furthermore, FLATE’s role in creating awareness of the program among local industry has been a leading factor in getting them engaged, and getting teachers onboard. As a result of FLATE’s efforts, several teachers have been hired to work in some of Florida’s prestigious high-tech facilities like Southern Manufacturing Technologies, Sun Hydraulics, .decimal, Conmed Linvatec etc. Indeed, FLATE was named “Business Partner of the Year” consecutively in 2010 and 2011. “Without the support of FLATE and its help with promotion, we would not have been able to take advantage of several industry liaisons that we currently enjoy” Matthews said.

The relationship is symbiotic at best, yielding bilateral benefits to both organizations. Kristina Beecher, industrial technology teacher at Woodland Middle School in North Port Florida who worked as a technology curriculum assistant at FLATE over the summer says the program gave her the opportunity to see the relevance in what she is teaching, and provided an insight into the direction that she should be going in terms of designing curriculum. “STEM empowers our kids to be globally competitive and allows them to excel in fields that they feel kids from other countries are already excelling in.”
Another valuable take away for Beecher was the opportunity to develop lesson plans for the 2011-2012 academic year.
As part of her summer teaching internship at FLATE, Beecher wrote four new “Made in Florida” learning challenges. The Challenges are state-of-the-art classroom materials that provide middle and high school teachers with lesson plans, activities and assessments that are designed to enrich students’ knowledge and understanding of STEM. She also helped update four existing challenges, and helped campers work through several challenges during the introductory and advanced robotics camps. “I now have a very different perspective on how I teach. I plan to relate everything we do in the classroom with related industry and community applications” Beecher said.

For information on Teacher Quest contact Diane Matthews at dmatthews@trda.org , or visit www.trda.org. For information on FLATE and its professional development initiatives contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org, or visit www.fl-ate.org and http://www.madeinflorida.org/.