How a Veteran Teacher Creates a Cutting Edge Learning Environment

At Opportunity Education, we’re always encouraging our students to drive their own learning. Luckily for the students at University of Maryland’s Upward Bound program, Debora Gaskins, Lead Mentor and Chemistry teacher, is a shining example of the importance of taking responsibility for your education. Back when she was in high school, Debora was told that she couldn’t enroll in a chemistry class because she wasn’t on the “college-track.” Although she previously aspired to become a doctor, this rejection switched her career goals. In that moment, Debora decided she was going to become a chemistry teacher so that she could have a classroom that welcomed everyone. Her dedication to future students paid off, as she has now been in the classroom for 27 years, teaching a range of science and math courses for various educational levels.

Quest Forward Learning is used in Upward Bound to complement the standard lecture. Students are provided with an hour and a half daily in the “Quest Labs,” which is time students work on quests that correspond to the content they’re learning in the classroom. According to Debora, this time allotted to personalized education enables students to be “better prepared for learning the material in the classroom, because they’ve already begun developing and creating ideas that are a result of engagement with the Quests, rather than rote memorization of content.” Debora believes the students’ overwhelmingly positive response to the Quest Forward Platform stems from their interest in technology and the unique presentation of academic material. As a pre-college program, Upward Bound is helping these students prepare for an undergraduate education in innovative ways. “Quest helps students learn better and learn everywhere. In their courses, they’re learning how to prepare presentations, develop questions, and educate others—all foundational skills of an undergraduate student,” says Debora.

Early on in her teaching career, Debora encountered a student who was very intelligent, but not performing well in the classroom setting. After discussing what would motivate him, the student elected to teach the class a lesson, which started a chain reaction amongst his peers. For the rest of the year, only students taught the class. This showed Debora the value of presenting the curriculum in unique ways to engage students, and now she has been incorporating student teachers, group projects, games, songs, or poems in her lessons for years. By adopting the Quest Forward Learning ecosystem, she discovered these resources were already supplied, giving her the freedom “to not lecture to students, but instead support them as they work individually or in groups,” which is her favorite part about being a mentor. Unlike a hands-off online classroom, quests allow her to be “present, personable, and encouraging throughout the assignment,” which is advice she would give to all mentors on building relationships with their students.

While Debora understands change can be difficult, she would encourage all teachers to try the Quest Forward Platform. She believes it helps students develop the skills and work ethic for a changing world in a discovery-driven way. Ultimately, she stresses that Quest Forward Learning, and educational platforms alike, are the direction education is going, so “if you want your students to be on the cutting edge of technology and the real world, Quest Forward is that cutting edge.”