In a four-day educator training that took place last month at the United Technology Center (UTC) in Bangor, 14 educators from across Maine gathered for a unique professional development opportunity offered through a partnership between two educators from RSU 19, Eastern Maine Community College (EMCC), and UTC that aims to help educators integrate advanced technology and experiential learning into every lesson plan, and to help fill the workforce gap in Maine.
Utilizing a $50,000 grant that EMCC President Lisa Larson obtained through the Maine Community College System, the 3 credit Introduction to Experiential Teaching through Technology course was offered as an opportunity for educators to “learn practical learning experiences to integrate traditional and newly advanced technologies into project biased lesions,” similar to the teaching methods found in career and technical education (CTE) settings throughout the state. The idea is to bring the experiential teaching philosophy to classrooms long before the high school CTE experience. The earlier integration of experiential learning gives students a taste for possible career paths but just as importantly, learning experiences that allow them to utilize and understand the advanced technological tools of their future and to utilize and exercise their own problem-solving and management skills.
The course was led by RSU 19 educators, Keith Kelley and Kern Kelley who are brothers, partners, and advocates for integrated experiential student learning. It provides classroom teachers, at any grade level and of any subject matter expertise, with not only the tools but also the mindset and methods to teach project based and integrated lessons to their students. This type of learning environment provides students with real-world, problem solving experiences with technology, bringing full circle the content areas that make up the very well-known acronym STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math).
Each educator’s school paid $381 total for the four-day hybrid course that includes the four in-person sessions, bi-weekly reading and reflection assignments and online discussions and provides educators with contact hours plus 3 college credits, in addition to a “STEAMRoller” cart of hardware and equipment valued at over $2,000 each. They will also each have the opportunity to host a STEAMRoller bus for a day at their school, which includes an experiential student conference provided by course instructors and their partners. At the student conference, educators and students will be able to participate in a day filled with breakout sessions on various topics such as 3D printing, drones, and virtual reality to name a few.
Hermon High School Principal Brian Walsh is excited that one of his 9th grade science teachers is attending the course this summer so that he can share his knowledge and the tool kit with the other 9th grade science teacher so that they can integrate hands-on project-biased learning experiences, not just to 9th graders but throughout the high school as well. Walsh has felt a void where they were unable to fill an industrial arts position in prior years and hopes this will help bring new STEAM learning experiences, career pathways, and experiential opportunities to the students at Hermon High School.
Tonya Therrien, Benton Elementary 5th Grade teacher decided to take the course with the hopes of bringing back to her classroom, “a way to utilize technology more with the kiddos, beyond just using it for research.” She wants her students to know how to use technology as a tool. When asked what she thought of the training so far, she said, “this is probably the most worthwhile class I’ve ever taken, and I’ve taken a lot of classes.” She then added that she has two master’s degrees which both required a fair amount of coursework.
Aaron Pody, a high school Life Sciences teacher from RSU 18 came to the class to learn about ways to teach the content with more relevance to his students. He has been pleased to find that there are ways to bring technology into the classroom that are not cost prohibitive.
RSU 26 educator Karen Frye from Orono was excited to bring back what she has learned at the course to provide her gifted and talented students with the rare opportunity to do some hands-on problem solving, which will further enrich their learning experience and give them some problem-solving skills.
The 3-credit course and the STEAMRoller bus events are intended to give participating educators and schools a taste of experiential learning methods, along with emerging technologies, tools and resources. The course is expected to be followed up by an Experiential Education certificate program that EMCC is expected to launch in January of 2020. The new program aims to provide the state with educators that can help fill the growing workforce gap in technologically skilled workers.
The launch of the experiential training was deemed a success by organizers and participants alike. The innovative approach to an obvious need has the potential to further help Maine schools lead their students toward successful career choices, experience with problem-solving, and the ability to successfully navigate the technology of our future.
This article was written by Rachel Paling in collaboration with course instructors Keith and Kern Kelley, and staff at both UTC and EMMC. If you have story ideas for Maine DOE’s Maine School’s Sharing Success campaign, please contact Rachel Paling at firstname.lastname@example.org.