TTurnerTom Turner has been involved in education for 19 years in education. During that time, his roles varied from classroom teacher to high school administrator to elementary school principal to the member of the Superintendent’s cabinet. Common threads in his work history are an innovative use of technology and progressive practices —no matter the position.  Tom currently serves as the Director of STEM and CTE with the Orange County Department of Education (OCDE).  Under his guidance, the separate math, education technology and science groups (including health and nutrition) at OCDE morphed into a STEM team, incorporated the very important OC Pathways grant and saw the redesign of the work area into a no-walls collaborative space.  The STEM/CTE team works with districts, schools and classrooms to support the best practices of integrated and project based learning.


What excites you most about STEM Education?

For me. the most exciting part about STEM education is the opportunity for students to experience more real world connections to their classroom curriculum.  Standalone content has its time and place but the real energy in a classroom comes from students realizing how their learning touches the real world.  The added engagement sprouting from the relevance of integrated learning inspires me.

What are your hopes for the future of STEM Education?

I hope that the future of STEM education includes more opportunities for students to do and experiment and build.  We see glimpses of this with maker spaces, devices that allows students to become content creators, and project based learning.  There is a long road ahead for teachers to feel comfortable in attaching instructional goals and methods to this STEM movement, but I see great steps being taken.

What are your current and/or past experiences with STEM Education – are there any highlights you would want people to know about the work you are doing with OCDE?

As a principal, I ran STEM units with students during lunch. They were ambitiously chaotic but also gloriously unrestrained from the typical classroom management.  My favorite project involved students redesigning and re-purposing an empty portable on campus.  Teams brainstormed, used various design tools and budgeted to match their vision.  Real world experts visited and gave advice — including the district maintenance director, CTO and a parent who designs learning spaces for Google.  This culminated in presentations to a large room full of peers and a panel of experts who provided feedback and the selection of their “favorite” design to then be imparted on the vacant portable. At OCDE, the STEM team is working with schools to create that same immersive experience.  For instance, Heritage School in Tustin is opening this fall as a unique STEM facility where NGSS and PBL will be catalysts for student learning.  OCDE is working with Beth Blackman, the Principal at Heritage, to support in the creation of the curriculum and experiences that will allow for an immersive and completely 21st century atmosphere.