To create unforgettable STEM experiences for students, teachers need to have them first.
That’s how Trina Davis sees it. An associate professor for Texas A&M University’s Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture, she’s pioneering new models of technology-enhanced learning for both preservice and practicing educators.
Every summer, teachers roll up their sleeves and immerse themselves in hands-on inquiry side-by-side with university researchers. Davis then helps them reimagine their classroom approach and develop curricular materials based on their own authentic research experiences.
In Glasscock Island, a 3D virtual space Davis designed, preservice math teachers hone their craft by running teaching simulations and experimenting with problem-solving lessons combining music and math. Her hope is that they’ll be inspired to incorporate both creativity and 3D immersive learning experiences into their own classrooms.
At the intersection of tech integration, STEM learning and digital equity, Davis is working to reinvent how teachers learn to teach. By researching – and disseminating – best practices for technology-enhanced learning, she aims to disperse the pockets of excellence endemic to the education field.
“What kinds of experiences are we equipping teachers with so they really understand and become great integrators of technology in teaching and learning?” she asks. “We need to continue to make sure we keep digital equity on our radar so those experiences are for everyone. Every aspect of the work I’ve done for the past 20 years has been to make sure we are scaling really good practices and experiences, and not just creating pockets of excellence.”
Better professional learning, she believes, is the key to both leveling the digital playing field and enticing a diverse new crop of STEM-qualified graduates.
“If you don’t have focused professional development that goes alongside putting resources in classrooms, the technology just doesn’t get used,” she says. “Even if the tools are there, you’ll still see the digital-use divide. Without effective and high-quality PD alongside them, students are not getting innovative, higher-level technology integration or the kinds of experiential learning opportunities it creates.”
Her career journey – from a sixth-grade math teacher in Texas, who used websites in her lesson plans back in the pre-graphic days of the internet, to a researcher and teacher educator who impacts teacher prep programs throughout the state and region – has been a serendipitous one.
A year after landing her first teaching job, she was tapped as a district technology coordinator. That led to a position in the dean’s office at Texas A&M’s College of Education, where she ran technology training programs while earning her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction. Now a tenured professor, she pursues funding for groundbreaking research programs such as the KATE Project, which involved redesigning a teacher prep course to incorporate virtual classroom simulations, giving preservice math teachers early experiences in teaching algebra for equity, such as calling on girls and being sensitive to how cultural biases might influence the way math problems are framed.
While her interest in digital equity stems from her struggles at a resource-poor school where she scrambled for small pots of money to bring more technology into her classroom, joining ISTE helped expand her reach and provided the underpinnings for some of her greatest successes.
In 2001, she joined the organization as one of the first fellows in an annual minority leadership symposium. Within a year, she was planning digital equity summits. By 2007, she had become ISTE’s first African American president, meeting with President Barack Obama’s transition team during her tenure to advocate for edtech funding. She later helped revamp the ISTE Standards for Educators, bringing the new standards back to her campus to help preservice teachers unpack and embody them.
As teacher educators increasingly abandon the one-size-fits-all approach to professional learning, Davis remains a steadfast innovator in the push to develop new models that actually work. She favors a more hands-on approach, working intensely with teachers to help them critically reflect on their practice, develop new curricula using research-based approaches and solve real-life problems of practice – all while offering plenty of support and follow-up as they strive to take what they learned back to their students.
“Most teachers want to do well. They really want to be effective,” she says. “When you start looking at effective models of professional development, to the degree that we can design programs that help teachers take a critical look at solving a particular problem of practice, those are the kinds of learning experiences teachers will find valuable.”
Nicole Krueger is a freelance writer and journalist with a passion for finding out what makes learners tick.