August 25, 2022

How TGR Foundation transformed my relationship with professional development

I vividly remember the day I signed up for STEM Studio in desperation for better professional development opportunities while attending a mandatory training that was so terrible, I would have preferred to be at the dentist than in that room. TGR Foundation was a life preserver.   

My initial experience in STEM Studio was so invigorating, it inspired my new journey of professional development. My cohort was a small but mighty group of educators; I still see a few of them at TGR Foundation trainings year after year.

STEM Studio is a transformative professional development program; it always places me in the position of an engaged learner. I still use many of the strategies from the initial STEM Studio training in 2018 and keep returning for more. The first STEM Studio taught me about engaging students with equipment to increase creative thinking. I was engaged with Breakout EDU boxes, flying drones, dissecting a sheep’s brain and other hands-on activities. 

I’ve implemented Breakout EDU boxes into my classes each year since and my students have loved trying to solve them. While I cherished this initial experience, the evolution of STEM Studio has been equally fun and always provides new ways to engage students and increase learning. 

My continued engagement with TGR Foundation led to an opportunity to join its inaugural master trainer program, which trained educators from around the world to be multipliers, in 2019.  Being in the room with so many different educators from Africa to Pittsburgh who taught subjects from English to math, was valuable.  The specifics really did not matter, we were all like-minded educators ready to spread the word and enhance student learning.   

STEM Studio moved to virtual format due to the pandemic. Although the hands-on portion of the training changed, it gave us the ability to continue working with educators all over the world. After the 2021 virtual STEM Studio, I was selected as a Department of Defense STEM Ambassador and have represented the Foundation as a partner in DSEC consortium for the past year.   

Being part of the DoD STEM ambassadors, which is managed and facilitated by TGR Foundation, is akin to being on an all-star team with excellent professionals from all over the country in a variety of STEM disciplines. With the addition of the second cohort this year, we’ve continued to meet virtually once a month; our conversations are so rich and engaging that I never want to miss a minute of our time together.   

One of the requirements of DoD STEM Ambassadors is to present at a conference of our choosing. I was one of four ambassadors that presented at the National Conference on Science Education (NSTA) in March of 2022, and this was a highlight of the program. Collaborating virtually and then in person with fellow STEM ambassadors was not only inspiring it was just plain fun. We had such a great time, loads of laughs and learned so much along the way. 


My conference presentation was adapted from TGR Foundation’s 2021 STEM Studio on “Making Inquiry Visible,” using thinking strategies including Question Formulation Technique.*  

I have found that my students with learning difficulties and English learners are less likely to share ideas with regular ed students, so I have been able to adapt the Question Formulation Technique to utilize independent thinking time and have students record their thoughts on a notecard. This has been very successful, ensuring participation from all students, not just the vocal ones.  

These notecards are from an introductory rate experiment using bread yeast, three of these eight cards are from English learners or special education students who obviously they have insight to share. 

Through TGR Foundation’s training program and my year as a DoD STEM ambassador, I have been exposed to excellent opportunities for my students. My zest for professional development has continued and taken me to Panama, MIT, the McDonald observatory in Fort Davis, Texas and the Pacuare Reserve in Costa Rica where I participated in leatherback turtle conservation. My route to lifelong learning has forever been changed as a result of my involvement with TGR Foundation.