In celebration of Computer Science Education Week, Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin visited Nokomis Regional Middle School and High Schools to showcase how Maine is leading the nation in offering universal computer science education to all students at all grade levels in the state. Through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, the Maine Department of Education provided every Maine public school with a free mobile computer science lab to ensure that every student, pre-K through grade 12, has access to interdisciplinary, project-based computer science education with real-world applications.
“We are the first state in the nation to provide universal access to computer science education for all pre-K through grade 12 students,” said Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin. “Computer science encourages students to think outside of the box and to solve problems creatively. This is authentic, engaged learning with students using the skills and strategies of computer science to solve real world problems and share their knowledge. Seeing this teaching and learning has been inspirational beyond words. These students are engaged, working collaboratively, and have immense pride in the projects they are working on. When you have educators who are so openhearted, openminded, and eager to share, they are inspiring their students and peers across the state.”
At Nokomis Regional Middle School, Makin met with sixth grade students and their educators who provided live demonstrations of the robotics projects they completed from equipment available to all Maine schools. Students designed, coded, and built their robotics projects while also strengthening their teamwork, collaboration, and communication skills. Students worked asynchronously with a teammate and had to provide notes, video updates, and other status updates. All students attend computer science education at Nokomis, with each grade level building on the skills and knowledge they learned in the previous grade. Fifth graders engage in projects focused on building teamwork and compete using cars and boats they build, sixth graders expand on those skills as showcased for the Commissioner, seventh graders add in production skills by building skateboards, and eighth graders build 3D design skills. The projects can also be integrated across all content areas.
Students at Nokomis Regional High School continue to build on the real-world skills and knowledge they learned in middle school while also sharing that knowledge with others. Makin joined a group of Student Leadership Ambassadors of Maine (SLAM) as they broadcast a live show to 37 other schools across the state to share their skills and knowledge with their peers.
“This is not a separate class—it’s an extension of every class,” said Keith Kelley, Innovative Technology Teacher at Nokomis Regional Middle School. “Students are building the robots, they learn coding, they compete, they are doing technical reading, they are having to learn how to virtually interact with a classmate and document their work to share with that teammate. It’s real-world engagement and our classes all build on each other. These projects can also be integrated into every content area so it’s fabulous the state is offering this to all schools. Kids live in a virtual world—and they are learning to use technology ethically, efficiently, and safely through hands-on engagement and working with others.”
“You don’t have to be a technology teacher to engage in computer science education. I was a language arts teacher and a librarian—any teacher can do this,” said Kelley.
Through the mobile computer science lab program, schools were able to order one of three mobile lab options: Robotics and Programming, Augmented and Virtual Reality, and Coding and Hardware. Each lab contains computer science equipment valued at $5,000 and is designed to be integrated into any content area and skill level. Additionally, the DOE is providing free professional learning opportunities for educators.
The DOE has a comprehensive computer science education plan guided by seven key principles: authentic and project-based instruction, computer science as a prek-12 learning continuum, equitable and inclusive access, educator-produced professional learning and statewide sharing, integrated applied learning, educator-informed policy and state planning, and computational thinking as a foundation. You can read more about Maine’s computer science education framework here.