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 at QUEST while teacher participants from all over New Jersey continued their professional learning experiences, we also had two Princeton University Teacher Prep alumni join QUEST as lead teachers. Being involved in this role allows educators to continue learning and growing in a new and different way. During QUEST, Barbara Fortunato '98 and Julianne Kleinknecht ‘09 worked directly with professors, researchers, and local educators. While they utilized their teaching expertise to make connections and provide opportunities for reflection for the participants, the benefits of the experience supported their own lifelong learning as well.
I am so fortunate to have been a lead teacher for the 2023 QUEST Summer Program entitled “Phenomenal Fusion: Energy & Climate Justice.” As a teacher of classical physics through the late 19th century, it was so refreshing to work with Shannon Swilley Greco at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab on teaching about present-day plasma science and fusion as a potential source of energy. The format of the workshop allowed me to experiment with phenomenon-based science instruction in ways that energized me while in an environment where fellow teachers supported me. I was inspired by using fusion science as an anchoring phenomenon for teaching electricity and magnetism amongst other topics, and I was able to see how teaching science in the context of current developments in both science and engineering can be engaging for all learners. Additionally, I was enlightened in talking about issues of equity in current and future energy sources.
The true power of the QUEST program is the collaborative environment that is created by the dedicated teacher participants. Each participant brought a unique perspective, whether they had been teaching for one year or twenty-seven years, or whether they taught middle school or high school, or chemistry, physics, or environmental science. We all worked together to explore the topics of plasma and fusion from all different academic and personal angles, and I truly enjoyed the process of learning something new from each teacher. The teacher participants impressed me with their willingness to share their passion, enthusiasm, knowledge, and experience to help all of us grow collaboratively. The community we created reenergized me to continue to embrace lifelong learning with others.
At the end of each school year, I've found myself looking forward to this summer adventure. From a week down the Jersey shore studying terrapins, to a trip up to Maine to research tidepools, I've always concluded the QUEST program with a renewed passion for science and a burst of creativity for the classroom.
This summer was my third opportunity to be a lead teacher in QUEST. But this time, I came with a new perspective. I had been out of the classroom on maternity leave, but had a front row seat to my toddler son's process of discovering the world. Throughout this year's QUEST, I could not help but see him in each adult participant as we oohed and aahed over a bee landing on a flower. It was something we had seen countless times before, but this time, we had been encouraged to observe the natural world with wide-open, curious and questioning eyes. A child's eyes. We were immersing ourselves in the student experience, in order to learn how to become better teachers. Looking at the adults clustered around a butterfly that had landed briefly, listening to their excited chatter and endless stream of questions about what they were seeing, catching sight of Dr. Rubenstein sprinting across a meadow, net in hand, in hot pursuit of a pollinator, I realized that my child's curiosity and joy in learning about his world was not a stage he would grow out of. It is our human nature. It's in each of our students, each of our teachers, each of us. Sometimes we just need a week each summer to find it again, and that is the magic of QUEST.