ORONO – When Emily and Katie Morse’s love of Pokémon morphed into a passion for the Japanese language, they knew that Machias Memorial High School could not offer them the Japanese program they wanted. With the use of their Maine Learning Technology Initiative MacBooks, the twins were able to take online, self-paced language courses at Brigham Young University while earning credits toward their high school diplomas.
Tim Walsh, a Kennebunk High School freshman, became an Apple Certified Associate in the iWork Suite after mastering the MacBook applications necessary to design environmentally friendly rooms for Kennebunkport’s Nonantum Resort last year. Now, Walsh mentors current eighth grade art students who have undertaken the same project at Middle School of the Kennebunks.
All three of these students shared the educational progress their laptops have provided them with a crowd of 1,000 students at the ninth annual MLTI Student Conference at the University of Maine campus. As keynote speakers, they described how the MLTI program helped them customize their learning.
The student presentations constituted the first of three major events of the day—a day devoted to celebrating MLTI, an initiative that’s provided seventh and eighth grade with laptops to enhance their learning since 2002. (And a majority of high school students since 2009.)
As Bangor Savings Bank’s Chief Strategic Officer Yellow Light Breen told the students, MLTI presents technology to students “not as the end goal but as the enabler and the ‘empowerer’ .”
Now in its 10th year, the MLTI program makes anytime, anywhere learning a reality for more than 60,000 students in grades 7-12. The Maine Department of Education has plans as part of its strategic plan, and as part of a recent legislative directive, to develop a comprehensive, multi-year digital learning strategic plan designed to expand access to digital learning opportunities for all Maine students.
“If Maine’s schools are to remain relevant in this changing world, they must adopt an approach that recognizes digital learning options and must begin tailoring their own educational programming to allow for ‘anytime, anywhere’ and self-directed and self-paced learning,” said Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen. “Today highlights some of the amazing ways in which students get engaged and can enhance and expand their learning through technology. We, at the state, can help by providing a clearinghouse of digital learning resources and by establishing, reporting on digital learning best practices, and developing a vision for the next phase of digital learning in Maine.”
The second block of the day offered more than 20 “breakout sessions” in which students delved into their laptops’ capabilities, ranging from designing video games to developing apps to searching for planets in outer space.
In one workshop, President and Director of Maine Robotics Tom Bickford taught a roomful of students to program their own robotic devices.
For seventh grader Jack Ryan of Winthrop Middle School, the tutorial session he attended was his favorite part of the conference. “Learning new stuff about how to make fictional stories into games and interact with them was the best,” Ryan said.
The conference’s final “Uber Session” had students buzzing in their seats, laptops open and ready to generate a symphony of sound using GarageBand to transform their computer keyboards into musical keyboards.
After the crowd’s “MLTI rocks” chant, which kicked off this culminating event, energy continued to pulse among students as keyboardist and Coordinator of Educational Technology for the Maine Department of Education Steve Garton divided the crowd into three groups and assigned each a series of chords.
With Garton serving as the ensemble’s conductor, audience members teamed up with 12 on-stage musicians and two members of the New World Symphony wired in from Miami to conduct a performance that none of them will forget.
An additional goal of the conference is to offer students a taste of college life. By making them navigate the campus, engage in lessons within a college classroom, and eat lunch in one of the school’s dining halls—challenges and experiences that many students are facing for the first time—the program aims to encourage students’ long-term college aspirations.
At the conference’s close, randomly selected students received door prizes, which included an array of college scholarships and an iPad.
In accordance with the day’s technology theme, students from Auburn Middle School used Twitter hashtag #mlti2012 [https://twitter.com/#!/search/#mlti2012] to live-tweet the event’s festivities right from their MacBooks.