Professional development is pivotal to continued growth as an educator, staying in tune with current best practices, new content, curricula, pedagogical strategies, and more. This summer the Program in Teacher Preparation went back to an in person QUEST summer institute! While teacher participants from all over New Jersey signed up for these sessions to continue their professional learning experiences, we also had two Princeton University Teacher Prep alumni join QUEST as lead facilitators. Being involved in this role allows educators to continue learning and growing in a new and different way. During QUEST, Ryan Herbert *19 and Kate Miller ‘08 helped engage teachers in the process of place-based learning in science, analyze multidimensional data sets, facilitate reflective discussion from the lens of a practitioner, and provide resources throughout the learning process.
My journey in the field of education which started with a Princeton astrophysics professor, and the Teacher Prep Program, has taken me on many twists and turns, from a public high school in Brooklyn, to rural school rooms in Kenya, to the dinosaur-clad halls of the American Museum of Natural History, to a PhD program in science teacher education. This past summer I had a chance to marry all of those experiences during an opportunity to teach for the QUEST summer program. Teaching for QUEST combined all of the things that I love about teaching: an opportunity to work with motivated inspiring teachers, to get out of the traditional classroom and into an informal learning environment, and new and exciting ways of exploring science and data literacy. Additionally, it was a joy to work again with Dr. Rubenstein, who’s lovely wife guided my summer adventure in Kenya nearly a decade ago.
After two long years of conducting research and writing a dissertation during a global pandemic, being back in person, out in the summer sun, and back on Princeton campus was exactly the emotional and intellectual boost that I needed. The teachers that participated in the QUEST program are full of energy and infectious optimism for teaching. I learned so much from them during the week-long program, but most importantly, I felt that collectively we built a space where sharing a nerdy love of science and learning was productive and energizing for everyone involved. Working with teachers to offer support and space for learning, especially for building capacity for teaching and learning data literacy, has become both an area of expertise and for continued focus and growth for me. Working with the QUEST participants and leaders reinvigorated that journey for me and gave me a ton of hope for what comes next.
Returning as a lead teacher for this year's QUEST was a wonderful experience! Being in person after our virtual years of QUEST meant a lot. We were able to take teachers out to a forest field site where they got to engage with nature and pursue questions that piqued their curiosity. Through a collaboration between Princeton's Professor Rubenstein and Virginia Tech's Professor House, we were lucky to test out advanced machine learning software with our teachers. This software allowed them to use pictures of leaves as robust data, and it added new dimensionality to their questions. It was a productive week chock-full of real, exploratory science that can be brought back to their classrooms.
Being able to re-engage with TeacherPrep as an alum this year was particularly meaningful for me. I am currently between jobs, so this opportunity to return to the classroom before my next position refreshed my passion for science and education. I am proud of all of the teachers at our workshop for their high engagement and unique projects. With the exploration possible from the novel machine learning software, teachers were able to answer questions in ways that I never considered possible. I learned a lot from each participant, reminding me that teaching is a two-way street. As TeacherPrep intended, everyone involved experienced what it is like to be a lifelong learner!