MLTI student conference draws over one thousand

Armed with iPads and laptops, middle and high school students from more than 50 Maine schools descended on the UMaine campus in Orono last month. Joining them were their teachers, chaperones, and Maine’s Learning Through Technology Team with partners from Apple, Cisco, Network Maine, Husson University, and UMaine. In all, more than 1,200 joined together for the thirteenth annual MLTI Student Conference.

“It was fun, a good learning experience, and I learned how to animate,” said Natalie Golding, a seventh grader from East Grand School in Danforth. All the fun basically was showing students how to get the most out of their learning devices. But the conference offered more, says MLTI Director Mike Muir. “We got the students on a college campus to be exposed to that environment, and we are helping students find a passion which we hope leads to a job.”

Aside from some 40 plus workshops spread out across the UMaine campus – addressing stop motion film, web design, creating podcasts, 3D printing, Sphero robots, beyond the selfie, and more – this year’s conference offered a first-of-a-kind opportunity. Students and their teachers discovered new ways to learn on their school-issued devices focusing on the use of Minecraft.

Minecraft is a pixelated game in which players mine blocks of materials to build structures, and create environments, making it one of Microsoft’s most popular video games ever released. What made Minecraft more popular at the 2016 MLTI Student Conference was how the visual creations accompanied a longtime true story of survival.

In 1939, a young boy by the name of Donn Fendler was lost and survived nine days on Mt. Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park before being rescued. His journey was told in the book Lost on a Mountain in Maine; a popular read for all ages for many years. At this conference, Fendler took the audience through the nine days of what he called “a horrid experience.” As he spoke of the elements he encountered like bugs, rain, and a bear, attendees created the environment using Minecraft and their MLTI devices, and the creations were projected on the large screen in the Collins Center for the Arts.

Aside from recreating Fendler’s journey digitally, students had the opportunity to speak with the 89 year old about being lost on Mt. Katahdin when he was just 12 years old. He clearly shared how scared and panicked he was, spoke of losing clothing and scavenging abandoned cabins for supplies, and ultimately being rescued.

At the close of the conference a dozen students received scholarships of one thousand dollars each; two from Husson University and ten from UMaine.

Muir says the challenge in organizing the yearly student conference is in addressing the question, “How can we make sure kids have a great learning experience?” If you ask anyone who attended, you would hear, “It’s been fun.” And then there is a seventh grader from Aroostook County with an eye on the future, saying, “I always wanted to learn how to make a game so I can get rich.”

Visit the following news articles for additional coverage of the conference:

For information on Maine’s Learning through Technology Initiative, click here or contact Maine’s Learning Through Technology Director Mike Muir at mike.muir@maine.gov.