Elevating E in STEM

Booker Middle School teacher Karen Hart, with her students from computer science-focused summer camp 2022

“I’ve always had a passion for working with children,” Booker Middle School teacher Karen Hart asserts, “and making a difference in the lives of young people makes it all worth it,”

She taught math and science for two decades before joining Sarasota County and bringing her expertise to Booker Middle School. She instructed science classes and embraced a new endeavor teaching coding. While she was content to access some of the free online tools available, when her principal, Dr. LaShawn Frost, asked her to lead two new courses in computer science and app creation, she was pleased to learn the opportunity included professional training through Project Lead the Way. It prepared her with the curriculum and the training to deliver it.

Karen is no stranger to broadening her horizons. She participated in a 3-year training grant the University of Florida secured through the Department of Education called EQuIPD, which was designed to train K-12 teachers to deliver more effective classroom lessons, especially in STEM.

“If students are actively engaged and find meaning in the hands-on activity, it can help improve classroom management and behavioral issues too,” explains Hart.

After the grant cycle concluded, EQuIPD’s Principal Investigator and Director of Undergraduate Laboratories at UF Dept. of Materials Science and Engineering, Dr. Nancy Ruzycki, asked Karen Hart to teach a new, computer science-focused summer camp at Booker Middle, which is designed to increase the pipeline of underrepresented students in engineering and computer science by enhancing STEM knowledge and encouraging creativity.

Hart sought additional professional development opportunities to assist her students, including a couple of UF online short courses in Artificial Intelligence. “I believe that high-impact professional development related to the teacher’s content area and professional needs is important.”

The courses are also helping her to build up the 45 credit hours needed in addition to her master’s degree to be eligible to receive an annual education supplement from the district. But her goal is and has always been the same, to impact her students positively. “I think my students have benefited from all the STEM training I’ve received. It’s given me more strategies and resources to be a better teacher.”