Maine DOE’s Second Annual Computer Science Showcase Features Innovative Student and Educator Projects

Students and educators from 40 school administrative units (SAUs) across Maine recently participated in the Maine Department of Education’s (DOE) Second Annual Computer Science Education Showcase at the Collins Center at the University of Maine. The Showcase highlighted innovative computer science education programs and projects in schools across Maine, with hands on, interactive exhibits.

Exhibits featured a variety of computer science education projects, including robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), 3D design, coding, augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR), data science, cybersecurity, and more. Robotics students participated in a live demonstration on stage where they had to work together to move objects and overcome structural barriers, requiring teamwork and problem solving.

The Showcase also included a panel discussion with educators, a student, industry representatives, and experts highlighting the importance of computer science education, opportunities for students and educators, and where the field is headed.

“If you can just simply show them and introduce students to these [computer science] concepts, then it opens up a whole world to them. You can be a kid from Maine and do really amazing things in the computer science field,” said Allison Braley, a teacher from RSU 25.

“These are foundational skills we are talking about, and they are across every sector. These are critical 21st century skills that everyone needs regardless of what pathway you choose in life. Kids can stay in Maine, they don’t have to go to Boston or California for these jobs. Employers are here. It doesn’t matter what background you’re from or what zipcode you’re from, this is for every student,” said Angela Oechslie from Project Login.

“If computing is an elective and only for some, you mostly get those students who set out to do that because they see themselves as who society says should do it. The beauty of looking at computer science from pre-k through 12 is that it can be universal, and you can make those opportunities for anybody to stumble across them—it’s young women, it’s those who are the first generation in their family to go to college, it’s kids in rural areas, it’s kids from underrepresented groups. We can diversify the field and we can make the field richer by giving everyone a chance to say that’s the thing I love,” said Penny Rheingans from UMaine.

“Most of the really difficult problems we need to solve over the next 30 years are going to be solved using computer science,” said Judson McIntosh, an Engineering Manager at Tyler Technologies.

Maine continues to lead on computer science education and is the only state to provide interdisciplinary computer science education to all pre-K through grade 12 students in the state. Earlier this year, more than a thousand students from across the state participated in the Maine DOE’s Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) Student Conference. Students had access to more than 40 sessions that engaged them in essential computer science skills and knowledge, including animation, AI/machine learning, AR/VR, audio editing, CAD/3D Design, robotics, coding, and video game design. More than a dozen of the sessions were led or co-led by students.

Nearly 100 educators from across the state attended a multi-day institute in July, focused around computer science education. Educators spent two and a half days engaging in sessions and collaborating to integrate computer science into their classrooms and upcoming school year activities. Topics included Robotics & Programming, Coding & Hardware, Augmented & Virtual Reality, and much more. The more than 600 participants at this year’s Maine Educator Summit also had access to multiple workshops and sessions related to computer science and technology skills and integration.

Last year, the Mills administration launched a new Maine DOE initiative to provide every Maine school with a free mobile computer science lab. 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 initiative made available professional learning opportunities for educators tailored to each computer science topic area.