Deere Teachers

Davenport (Iowa) Central High School teachers Steve Kuttler, left, and Tony Taylor inventory parts stored in a tool crib at the John Deere Seeding Group in Moline, Illinois Wednesday July 25, 2012. The math teachers are part of a program to see how their subjects are used in the business world. (Jeff Cook/QUAD-CITY TIMES)


Steve Kuttler and Tony Taylor joked last week that they’re used to doing math in sweltering heat.

The two math teachers from Davenport Central High School said their classrooms are on the third floor of the building, which is not air-conditioned.

So, they haven’t minded working this summer in the high temperatures inside the John Deere Seeding Group plant in Moline, where they just finished a six-week job: inventorying parts used to repair machines that make agricultural planters.

Not only have they been counting machine parts, but now the teachers also are updating and organizing that data on spreadsheets for Deere, they said.

“What we’ve realized is students must have spreadsheet skills when we go back to the classroom,” Kuttler said.

“We do have a project where we use spreadsheets,” Taylor added, “but we need to do it on a more regular basis.”

Their work is part of the Real World Externships program for teachers, led by the Iowa Mathematics & Science Partnership and the governor’s STEM Advisory Council.

Several Quad-City area teachers are among the more than 50 science, technology, engineering and math teachers at middle and high schools across Iowa who have been working at participating companies this summer, learning how those so-called STEM skills are applied in the working world.

The program is funded by the Iowa Economic Development Authority and a grant from the National Science Foundation, as well as many partner businesses.

Teachers are paid $4,800 for working 200 hours at business sites, along with a requirement for some extra writing, the Davenport Central teachers said.

“The idea is to try to start forging the connection between the more traditional science and math teachers and the kind of STEM learning students need before leaving high school,” Kuttler said.

Pat Barnes, who leads Deere & Co.’s new Inspire program to bring awareness to STEM careers globally, said the Moline-based manufacturer brought in nine Iowa teachers at seven locations this summer as part of the state program.

Deere also worked with more than 90 Illinois teachers this summer, hosting special events and tours through the Regional Offices of Education in Rock Island, Bureau, Henry and Stark counties and through contacts in Champaign, Ill., Barnes said.

“If you talk to several of them, they say it’s just amazing what they learn,” he said. “We did tours and several said they just had not been exposed to that.”

Other businesses also are involved, including HNI Corp. in Muscatine, Iowa. That’s where Muscatine High School drafting and Project Lead the Way pre-engineering teacher Taylor Fountain has been “externing” through the program this summer.

The 33-year-old said he interacts a lot with HNI and Hon Co. in Muscatine during the school year because his students attend field trips and have work-based learning experiences there. But working there has given him an entirely new perspective, he said.

For several weeks, Fountain has been working with a group of design engineers who are redesigning office furniture called pedestals, which are three-drawer units that roll under desks for storage.

“I’ve been doing a lot of testing,” he said, adding that he has been checking competitors’ products, old products and prototype products for the company. “They have a big room where you test it. You apply force to the corner of the unit and see how strong it is, that kind of thing.”

He also has been involved with business meetings.

“Field trips are great, but they still lack a lot. Some kids are just there for the pizza and whatnot,” Fountain said. “Whereas this I can take it into the classroom. I’ve seen how this company works from the inside and I can show the kids that on a day-to-day basis.”