A STEM Based Professional Development Success Story

Borrowing and slightly modifying the popular closing line from “The A Team” – “it’s always great when a professional development plan comes together”. In this case, the plan involved; a major manufacturer of plasma etching equipment as well as key deposition technologies for the specialty microelectronics industry, Plasma-Therm; the Florida Chapter of the AVS, the professional society composed of research scientists, engineers, and technicians from university, industry, department of defense, and national laboratories as well as major manufacturers of specific micro to nano scale devices; the School District of Hillsborough County, the 8th largest school district in the country; and the National Science Foundation through its regional Center of Excellence, FLATE. The plan was simple. Develop a partnership among these entities to support the two day Science Educators Workshop presented by the AVS Education Committee so that over a dozen teachers from all over Florida could participate in this professional development event.

To retreat a bit to fill in the pieces, the AVS has conducted their Science Educators Workshop (SEW) at their International Symposium since 1989. The workshop provides an intense exposure to vacuum technology and the leading edge technologies that require a below atmospheric pressure controlled environment. Since the workshop’s inception, nearly 500 teachers from all over the country have attended. In additional to lectures that connect small scale device research, metrology, and manufacturing technologies to the high school teachers’ STEM mission, the AVS provides the schools of attending teachers a complete two stage vacuum pump with the supporting items that permit the teachers to integrate what they have learned into their own class room.

This year, this international conference with its corresponding SEW was held in Tampa Florida. FLATE took full advantage of this opportunity to maximize the number of teachers from Florida attending the workshop. Working in partnership the Florida Chapter of the AVS (FLAVS), funds were secured to bring teachers from schools all over the state to the workshop. This attendance package included hotel and travel expenses provided through the FLAVS and FLATE as well as a full conference registration provided by the AVS Education Committee to attend all conference activates. One highlight activity included a guided tour through the conference exhibit, which is the largest conference exhibition of vacuum related equipment and technologies in the world.

In addition to the workshop and conference participation, the teachers were invited into the manufacturing facility of Plasma-Therm in St. Petersburg Florida. After arriving at Plasma-Therm by a charted bus, the teachers received a warm welcome including souvenirs, an overview of their manufacturing process, and then they suited up in “bunny suits” for a first hand look inside the manufacturing clean room. The group was shown the various production stages for manufacture, assembly, and final product qualification testing for the company’s plasma etch chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) product line. All the educators on the tour commented on how great this tour was. They loved seeing the equipment being “manufactured” – which included many views of what “inside” these automated process machines.

The School District of Hillsborough County (SDHC) is teaming up with FLATE for the final stage of this outstanding teacher professional development experience. The District will support an additional professional development workshop to be conducted by FLATE in the spring of 2013. The main objective of this event will be to reinforce the STEM concepts presented at the SEW as well as coordinate the development of lessons and hands-on experiences based on the equipment sets provided by the AVS. Although this follow up event is targeted at SEW attendees from the SDHC, the other SEW participants from Florida will be invited to attend.

In summary, FLATE wants to extend a warm thank you to all of the individuals within these partners’ organizations that made this great workshop a reality for so many Florida teachers. Although, the next SEW will be at AVS’s 2013 meeting next November in Long Beach California we are confident that this year’s workshop in Tampa will be a benchmark event for all future workshops. We also know that the partnership between FLAVS and FLATE will produce an opportunity for teachers from Florida to attend that workshop in Long Beach. “Wow! This was an incredible workshop – with a great mix of professional development for me, materials for my classroom, terrific mix of teaching styles, and awesome tours and it was so very nice to be treated as a professional side by side with the researchers attending the conference. We all learned so much, and extended our own professional networks”. You can find out more on the AVS website, www.avs.org, under education and Science Educator Workshop.