Conference allows deep exploration, collaboration

By Tim Follo

BRUNSWICK — Summer may mean vacation for students, but not for 155 of their teachers who spent three summer days recently at Bowdoin College for the annual Maine Learning Technology Initiative Summer Institute.

Teachers work together at the MLTI Summer Institute at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.
Teachers work together to learn GeoGebra at the 2011 MLTI Summer Institute.

Rather than come away with exposure to a wide spread of ideas, this summer’s participants spent the three days of the conference in the same intensive focus groups, delving into individual topics related to enhancing learning through technology.

Participants could choose from 10 topic-based cohorts. In addition, the conference featured multiple guest speakers and offered a choice of 10 hour-long “poster sessions” that allowed participants to explore ideas outside their cohorts’ focus.

The cohort setup allowed for a more thorough analysis of each topic, making the ideas generated much more likely to be implemented in schools across Maine, said Steve Garton, coordinator of educational technology at the Maine Department of Education.

“In Maine, teachers already know and use the technology, so they need deeper support,” he said.

The cohorts covered a range of topics, from using technology in standards-based education to using individual pieces of software to the challenges of teaching the skills required of students in a digital age.

One cohort, “Digital Citizenship K-12” focused on safe and responsible Internet use among students.

Lisa Hogan, technology integrator in Topsham-based School Administrative District 75, urged colleagues to allow students to teach each other about the Internet and grant Facebook access at school so students learn time management.

Another cohort, “Using MLTI to Support Learning in Science” introduced participants to Open Educational Resources — free, digital academic texts that can be periodically updated.

Presenter Phil Brookhouse introduced conference participants to a range of tools — including NoteShare, Logger Pro, DataStudio, Vital Signs, EcoBeaker — and invited discussion about how to implement each piece into successful lesson plans.

“This allows them to see things that we can’t do for real, like compressing a year into a day or observing microscopic processes,” said Tabby Dionne, a seventh-grade science teacher at Whittier Middle School in Poland who took part in the development of EcoBeaker.

While the Summer Institute cohorts allowed for deep exploration into important topics, more time and support are needed to fully implement the new materials, said Glenn Evans, a biology teacher at Mount Ararat High School in Topsham.

“There’s a huge amount of useful stuff here,” he said. “I personally need more time to grapple with what’s being introduced.”

Jeff Mao, the Department of Education’s learning technology policy director, encouraged participants to stay in contact with each other and with presenters to continue collaborating.

Tim Follo will be a senior at Falmouth High School in the fall.

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