Maine educators form partnership for rural science education

Teachers Kathy Dixon-Wallace and Katie Danielson are looking at a diabase dike on rocks at Schoodic Point
Teachers Kathy Dixon-Wallace and Katie Danielson are looking at a diabase dike at Schoodic Point during the MainePSP conference.

Many of Maine’s most distinguished sixth- through ninth-grade science teachers in rural areas recently united with the University of Maine science and science education faculty for professional development on the shores of the Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park. Representing a unique collaboration between 18 rural Maine school districts, the Maine Center for Research in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education (RiSE Center) at UMaine, several non-profit organizations and the Maine DOE, the participating teachers were there as part of the Maine Physical Sciences Partnership (MainePSP), which supports teaching and learning of the physical sciences in grades six through nine.

Supported by a $12 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the MainePSP is building a sustainable science education infrastructure to support rural science educators. The program started three years ago with 25 teachers and has grown to include 70 teachers representing 18 districts.

“MainePSP is unique in that it starts with the teachers,” said MainePSP Resource Coordinator Jason Baker. “Having teachers as the champions of this program ensures it will become part of the school culture, withstanding inevitable changes in administration and school priorities.”

As part of the program, each teacher is provided with a full program of study, a set of all the instructional materials for the course and access to a specially-designed online community. Because each year’s instruction is made to run simultaneously in each school in Maine, the online community allows teachers to provide real-time support to each other. Participating teachers can take part in live discussions, journaling, resources, assessments and video enrichments on the MainePSP website.

Veazie teacher Lauree Gott is a third-year veteran of the program. Being the only science teacher in her building, the MainePSP community has become her strongest support system. With access to university faculty and resources far beyond the budget of her rural school, Gott has become a champion of the program within the state of Maine.

The MainePSP program is data-driven, meaning teachers and faculty members are constantly using their experiences and measurements of student learning to improve the program and make it as effective as possible. Once a month, UMaine faculty members travel to the three regional areas of Maine to discuss science teaching and learning with teachers in the region. Every six weeks, all teachers within each subject area meet face-to-face to discuss what is working, what isn’t working and any novel ideas they may have to improve the program.

“The biggest success of the program is really changing the way science is taught,” said Principal Investigator Susan McKay, a physics professor and director of the RiSE Center.

In addition to enhanced teaching and learning, MainePSP also enables continuity of teaching across the state. “With the common language and curriculum, students are able to seamlessly move from school to school without losing the opportunity to learn,” added Gott.

MainePSP has two more years of funding, with the hopes of reaching at least 100 teachers by 2015. Through the hard work, dedication and championing from these outstanding educators, Maine is changing the face of science education in the United States.

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