Molly Ockett School 3rd Graders Study Maine Forests in Outdoor Classroom

Brian Cushing, a 3rd grade teacher at Molly Ockett School in MSAD 72 was looking to do something different with his students this past fall after a year of working indoors through the pandemic.

Inspired by a “Forests of Maine Teacher Study Tour” he took in the summer of 2021 at the Maine Outdoor Center on Millinocket Lake near Mt. Katahdin, Cushing created a lesson for his 3rd graders that gave them the opportunity to study Maine forests.

“Our field experiences [on the Forests of Maine Teacher Study Tour] were what inspired me most to have my students get outside and learn about forestry,” said Cushing. “Our teacher field experiences took us from harvesting and processing the harvest to retail operations.”

In a 10-session study that integrated reading, writing, technology, science, and geography components, Cushing collaborated with Tin Mountain Conservation to create something really special for this students. He worked with Tin Mountain to co-teach lessons on tree identification, internal structure/components of trees and how to tell how old a tree is when cut down by counting rings on tree cookies.

Cushing decided to use their local school site in Fryeburg, which is located on several acres of mixed woods on one side, for a place to set up their outdoor classroom.

“Students enjoyed having an outdoor classroom,” said Cushing. “Being indoors so much of the day during this pandemic can be monotonous, and even though protocols are in place for outdoor classrooms, it was a change, the air was fresh, and they were learning about a new topic.”

In addition to learning about tree science, the students also studied animal habitat, and what mammals live in the Maine woods. They kept science journals for their weekly lessons, the majority of which were outside at their school site. They also worked in teams of two or three and used their laptops to research selected Maine mammals such as black bear, moose, snowshoe hare, flying squirrels, and bobcat, and then created visuals to present their findings to their classmates, as experts on their chosen mammal.

“They were so enthusiastic to research and write about their mammal, and then to present to the class,” said Cushing. “This was the first time any of them had been able to do any kind of team work since the pandemic hit.”

As part of the collaboration with Tin Mountain, students also had the opportunity to assemble a Maine moose skeleton in class, as part of a traveling museum that came to their classroom. Students also got see a Maine black bear skin, a taxidermied pileated woodpecker, and a saw-whet owl.

“The best part for me was seeing how integration really makes sense to students,” Cushing reflected.

To learn more about Tin Mount Conservation visit their website. To learn more about Mr. Cushing’s study on Maine forests, reach out to him at brian.cushing@msad72.org.

Mini-Grant Funds of up to $2,000 Available for CTE Culinary Arts Programs

The application process is now open for mini-grant funds from the UMaine Extension Professional Development in Agriculture Literacy (PDAL) program to support Maine High School Career & Technical Education (CTE) Culinary Arts Instructors.

These funds can be used for agricultural literacy education programs at Maine High School CTE Culinary Arts Programs. The deadline for email submission of the application materials is 5:00pm on March 1, 2022. Selected projects will receive funds by March 31, 2022.

Follow this link for grant applications: https://maine.agclassroom.org/programs/grants/

To apply, complete the application form and provide a short description of your proposed project, estimated budget, timeline, and how it will impact agricultural literacy education and/or promote the use of local foods in your Culinary Arts Program.

For more information or technical support contact Kathy Savoie at ksavoie@maine.edu.

Teacher’s Creative Lessons on Food Insecurity Lead to Agriculture Award

Image: Manchester School Principal Danielle Donnini (left) and Fourth Grade Teacher/Awardee, Stacey Sanborn (right).

Stacey Sanborn, a fourth-grade teacher at Manchester School in Windham, has had a lifelong passion for gardening, especially as it alleviates food insecurity. She’s passed that love on to her students. It is for her innovative and creative approach that Sanborn has been awarded the Maine Agriculture In The Classroom Teacher of the Year (MAITC) Award for 2022.

The MAITC organization singled out Sanborn as a teacher who incorporates agricultural education in the classroom while at the same time, aligning it with core curriculum standards in science, math, social studies, and art. But perhaps just as importantly, Sanborn also introduces the importance of food insecurity and how it affects others’ lives.

Sanborn said incorporating gardening as part of the curriculum is important because Maine is a farming and aquaculture state, and students get to experience how much we are all a part of something bigger and how life is interrelated.

“Teaching students about agriculture helps them to develop the understanding of where our food comes from,” she said. “Students can see the importance of protecting a long Maine tradition of farming. It gets them out of the classroom and into the outdoors where the students are motivated learners with plenty of opportunity for fun and hands-on experiences.”

Her students are involved in all parts of the gardening process – from seed to harvest – and as they do so, they learn the traditional “reading, writing, and arithmetic.” Ways in which the conventional curriculum is a part of the gardening program include activities such as composting and soil experiments, pollination, keeping detailed records, data collection, and analysis to name just a few. Sanborn also points out that the social studies curriculum plays a strong role in Manchester School’s agriculture program.

“Gardening offers the guiding principles of being part of a community and being an active problem solver,” she said. “Doing something for others – even if it is something small – can have a big impact.”

Some of what the students grow, they get to sample, making some of their favorite recipes such as carrot muffins and “Amazing Carrot Soup.” What they can’t use in the cafeteria, they give to the RSU 14 nutrition program and the Windham Food Pantry. But the social responsibility the students learn in Sanborn’s class doesn’t end there.

“A former student-gardener who lived with food insecurity started their own garden at home and were so successful they were able to share produce with other families in need,” Sanborn said.

The Manchester School teacher says she feels very honored to be a part of this program and is grateful for the recognition from MAITC, however, she believes this is not her award alone.

“I must recognize a former colleague, Master Gardener, and a great mentor, Pam Lenz,” Sanborn said. “She has put so much effort into this program and is a major part of its success. Pam has helped me to achieve everything I’ve done, and it is a true partnership. She was instrumental in keeping the program going during the early days of the pandemic when schools were not meeting in person. She continued by starting seedlings, planting them in the garden, and creating gardening videos that were used as part of the remote learning experience. Pam is just as an important part of this award and I couldn’t have done it without her.”

Bath Middle School Takes Hands-on Approach to Learning About Ocean Sustainability

Inspired by the Expeditionary Learning model, Bath Middle School has taken a hands-on approach to examining the issue of ocean sustainability.  As part of this project, as citizen scientists, the 7th-grade students took to the local waterfront to collect data on the invasive green crab species and graphed their results.

Students also visited the Maine Maritime Museum in downtown Bath to learn about the history of Maine’s fishing and shipping industry.  Working with Museum educators, they generated timelines through the examination of the museum’s artifacts.

The culminating activity was for students to design and build a product that would address an issue that threatens the sustainability of our oceans such as pollution, climate change, or invasive species.  On Thursday, December 16th, parents, and the community were invited to attend an event that displayed the students’ work.

parents at event

In a “Shark Tank” format, the top five projects were pitched to a panel of judges to determine a winning product.  Students created videos, websites, and prototypes to convince the judges of their product’s ability to impact and help solve an issue that puts the sustainability of our oceans at risk.

After much deliberation, the judges determined that the winning product was Compostable Condiments designed by Sadie C. and Laura K.  This product proposed using an invasive seaweed to make a biodegradable substitute for the plastic used in takeout packets like ketchup.

Congratulations to all the 7th graders for their innovative ideas that could help to preserve one of Maine’s most essential natural resources.

This story was written and coordinated by MLTI Ambassador Holly Graffam as part of the Maine Schools Sharing the Success Campaign. To learn more, or to submit a story or an idea for a story, email rachel.paling@maine.gov. 

Maine FFA Members Convene for Fall Workshop

Over 100 middle and secondary student members of the Maine FFA Association (formerly known as “Future Farmers of America”) met at the University of Maine in Presque Isle on November 19, 2021 for a workshop on leadership skills and FFA opportunities.

The FFA is available to students grades 7 to 12 at schools featuring an agriculture or natural resources class/program that has chartered an FFA chapter.  As the largest student-run organization in the United States, with over 750,000 members, the FFA relies on its student officers to conduct activities and trainings.

The November 19th workshop was no exception, as the three State FFA Officers, Nickie Deschaine, President; Delaney McKeen, Vice President; and Ryder Brewer, Secretary-Treasurer, presented sessions that they themselves had developed to FFA students from Ashland High School, Ashland Middle School, Easton Junior/Senior High School, Central Aroostook High School, Central Aroostook Junior High School, Presque Isle Regional Career & Technical Center, and Washburn High School.

Workshop topics included:  “What is FFA?” “Qualities of Leadership,” “Balancing Life” and “Opportunities in FFA.”  FFA-cited opportunities included travel, competitions, awards, scholarships and a number of specific events available to members. Workshop participants left with information and resources to take the best advantage of their school years and their FFA experiences. 

For more information on FFA and on starting an FFA chapter, please contact:  Doug Robertson, Maine FFA State Advisor, Maine Department of Education, 207-624-6744, doug.robertson@maine.gov