First Virtual QUEST

“This was the most amazing PD I have taken in my 23 years of teaching. .... I cannot wait to be able to continue on my QUEST journey and take many more in the years to come. Thank you so much!”

Risk in the time of the Corona Virus Pandemic QUEST institute participant

In response to NJ’s Covid-19 restrictions, QUEST, Teacher Prep’s summer professional development program for teachers, went fully virtual! QUEST institutes have been held each summer for over 30 years and are designed to enhance teachers' knowledge of science and mathematics through laboratory experiments and experiences aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards. The program is co-taught by current researchers and teachers to support the development of teachers’ skills to apply science/math content knowledge in their classroom and increases teachers’ enthusiasm, knowledge and confidence in teaching science and math.

This year, QUEST offered three teacher institutes on Zoom, free of charge, to K-12 teachers. Meeting online, educators had the opportunity to not only discuss research but participate in activities designed to be adapted for use in their classrooms, either in-person or virtually.

“Thank you…it was my second QUEST and it was amazing!”

Risk in the time of the Corona Virus Pandemic was the first QUEST seminar offered this summer. Seventeen teachers from K-12 participated in this four-day QUEST program from June 28th to July 2nd, uncovering the answer to how animals (including humans) modulate risk during times of uncertainty. Seminal readings and an introductory lecture by Princeton University’s Daniel Rubenstein, the Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a member of the Teacher Preparation Program’s advisory council, introduced two key biological concepts—the ‘Landscape of Fear’ and the ‘Life-Dinner Principle’. These resources helped teachers to design and carryout experiments on ordinary grey squirrels in their own backyards to answer the question:  how do animals modulate risk to maximize survival?  Professor Rubenstein was joined by Dr. Anne Catena of Teacher Preparation along with local NJ teachers - Teacher Prep alumna Cory Picketts ‘04 of Ocean City Schools and Helen Corveleyn from Hopewell Valley Regional Schools, who helped guide the participating teachers through the learning process, culminating in a presentation of their research results to peers and administrators to collectively consider the problem of how animals manage risk.

 “The emotional toll that this school year took on children, especially at the elementary level, is still an unknown, especially how it will affect their learning potential in the short and long term.  Reminding us this week of the effectiveness of “play” in instruction was invaluable! THANK YOU!”

July 7 to July 9, Elementary Math: from anxiety to mastery for teachers in grades K-5, was offered in collaboration with Bedtime Math. Seventy-six K-5 teachers participated in online sessions facilitated by Laura Overdeck ‘91, Diana Pecina and Shayna Sackett-Gable of Bedtime Math, a nonprofit which has spent the last several months adapting its 8 years of research-proven classroom and home-based activities to create effective, engaging remote instruction. The QUEST sessions included the research informing how kids learn math, the barriers created by math anxiety, and ways to overcome those challenges. Each session introduced activities drawn from Fun Factor, Bedtime Math’s groundbreaking math program for K-5 students and teachers, adapted for use either in school or in a virtual classroom.  Teachers were provided all materials to do the activities for free.

“Thank you so much for all these wonderful ideas! I can’t wait to use them in my classroom!”

UnleadED: What’s in our Drinking Water?, the third virtual QUEST institute, was also held from July 7-9. The Flint Water Crisis brought the problem of lead in drinking water back into the national spotlight. Highlighting how lead in water disproportionately impacts black and low-income children and families.  However, many US municipalities also feature similar water quality issues, including here in New Jersey. Using distributed data collection, UnleadED explored the issue of lead in drinking water in our own communities. Led by an interdisciplinary Princeton University research team, a collaboration between a sociologist, a geologist, a biologist, and an education policy scholar, New Jersey water samples from the thirty-one QUEST 6-12th grade teachers were collected and analyzed for lead. Using this data and information on the chemistry of lead, teachers discussed the health and societal implications of lead in drinking water as well as explored solutions.

The interdisciplinary research team included Jennifer Jennings ‘00, Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs and a former high school teacher at Trenton High School, whose recent research has focused on large-scale informational interventions in K-12 schools.  Scott Latham, Associate Research Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson School and Education Research Section who has been working with Jennings to study the spatial distribution of lead in school drinking water in New York City to understand the structural and environmental factors associated with variation in measured lead water levels. John Higgins, Professor of Geology who has been testing homes in Trenton, NJ for lead exposure in paint, dust, and water, and conducted the QUEST water lead testing in his lab, as well as instructed on the geological components of the unit. Advising on the biological components of this QUEST institute was Robert Darnell, Visiting Scholar at the Lewis-Sigler Institute on Genomics and Professor of Biology at Rockefeller University.  Laurie Ruffenach of Ewing Public Schools and Teacher Prep alumna Barbara Fortunato ‘98 of West Windsor-Plainsboro Public Schools served as teacher leaders to support participating teachers’ data analysis, reflection and school-based implementation