Teacher Quest Program: Incorporating “forward-thinking” perspectives into the teaching experience

Florida’s Technological Research and Development Authority has been a leader in building the state’s technological foundations, ground up. The Teacher Quest program, for example, serves as an exemplar of TRDA’s commitment to ensure a fulfilling classroom experience for students and educators alike. It is a multi-week, paid summer professional development program made possible through a collaboration between select science and technology-based businesses, and is open to public and private school teachers, pre-K through 12, who possess a current Florida professional teaching certificate. Since the establishment of the program in 1997, nearly 1,500 math, science and technology teachers from across the state have participated in the program.

Diane Matthews, director of education at TRDA points to the initiative as “a relevant and worthwhile professional development program resulting in a stronger STEM teaching force in Florida.” The program has fueled a statewide effort to increase the number of engineering and science graduates from Florida schools, and significantly impacted teacher retention through initiatives that provide compensation for up to seven weeks of summer employment. Teacher Quest has also narrowed the gap between business and education “by defining skills relevant to current and future workforce needs.” It is a cost-effective way to bring skilled temporary employees who can introduce new perspectives in the workplace.

In terms of its impact in Tampa bay, the program shares a close partnership with the Helios Education Foundation and FLATE in identifying industry partners for the Teacher Quest program. This partnership has enabled educators to work closely with manufacturers such as Linvatec, Harris Corporation, and .decimal since 2005. It has also facilitated teachers to “serve as conduits in connecting mathematics and science to everyday skills needed in the workforce,” and to design curriculum that makes math, science and technology more exciting and relevant for students.

Teacher Quest has also been an effective vehicle in driving the success of the FLATE summer robotics camps. Allan Dyer, teacher at Dowdell Middle Magnet school and FLATE robotics camp instructor summarizes the experience as an “opportunity to challenge” himself, as well as an avenue to provide “much needed hands-on technology experience” for students. Gil Burlew, engineering and technology teacher at Braden River High School in Bradenton, and recipient of FLATE’s 2008 manufacturing secondary educator-of-the-year award also describes the program as an effective mechanism to sharpen technical expertise, and develop partnerships with local businesses.

Indeed, an evaluation conducted in 2008 by TRDA clearly reflects the program’s impact on the local economy. One hundred percent of the respondents in a post-employment survey indicated the experience motivated them (as educators) to seek ways to improve their teaching. The same percentage also ranked Teacher Quest as a positive professional development program, and stated they would share their experience with colleagues. Additionally, more than 75% of the respondents believed students got excited about their classes and improved teamwork, and approximately 80% reported students being more engaged in classroom projects.

For more information on TRDA’s Teacher Quest program, visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/madeinflorida, or contact Diane Matthews at dmatthews@trda.org.

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