Possible Pilot Opportunity for Focus on First Instructional Program

As part of the Maine Department of Education’s (DOE) efforts to adapt and offer open-source, interdisciplinary, whole student instructional programming for the early elementary grades, the Maine DOE is considering a pilot to work on adaptation of a grade 1 program during the 2022-23 school year. To date, the Maine DOE has piloted, adapted, and posted the Pre-K for ME and K for ME instructional programs, both of which are based on the Boston Public Schools’ Focus programs.  In order to continue providing aligned programming into the early elementary grades, the Maine DOE is interested in piloting Boston’s Focus on First program and working with pilot educators to make adaptations/enhancements specific to Maine.

If you are a grade 1 teacher interested in being part of a pilot, please consult with your building principal and consider attending an overview session on May 2, 2022 from 3:30-4:30 p.m.  Details about the Focus on First program, initial planning for a possible pilot during the 2022-23 school year, and the expected responsibilities of school participants and the DOE in the pilot process will be shared. Time for questions will also be provided.  If interested, please complete this form and a link to the May 2nd session will be provided as the date approaches. The May 2 session will be recorded and a link to the recording will be shared, so if interested, complete the form even if you are unable to attend.

Please contact Lee Anne Larsen, Early Learning Team Coordinator, at Leeann.Larsen@maine.gov with any questions.

Week of the Young Child: Family Friday

Every year, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) hosts Week of the Young Child. This year the celebration will occur from April 2nd through April 8th. Members of the Early Learning Team at the Department of Education are sharing a video each day highlighting early childhood educators across Maine enhancing high-quality experiences for young children ages birth through eight.  Each day’s video is focusing on NAEYC’s theme of the day. Today is Family Friday!

Today’s video highlighting music in early childhood settings can be found here:

The resources linked within the video are below:

You can find the daily videos and resources posted on our Early Childhood Professional Learning and Resources page here.

Thank you to those who have contributed to the videos and photos. We enjoy highlighting your work and sharing your commitment to young children with our colleagues throughout Maine.

Throughout the week, be sure to share additional photos and ideas using #WOYC2022 and #MEWOYC2022.

Any questions regarding the Week of the Young Child can be directed to our Early Childhood Specialist at Nicole.Madore@maine.gov.

Commissioner Makin Visits Oxford Elementary in Celebration of the Week of the Young Child

As part of the Maine Department of Education’s celebration of the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s Week of the Young Child, Commissioner Pender Makin visited pre-k and kindergarten classrooms at Oxford Elementary School.

The Week of the Young Child provides an opportunity to shine a light on the importance of early learning and to focus attention on the needs of young children, their teachers, families, and communities.

During Makin’s visit, Pre-K students were exploring concepts related to shadows and reflections in centers they could self-select, which included activities such as testing how light can pass through materials, experimenting with materials to see which produce reflections and which do not, and creating pieces of artwork using materials with reflective properties.

In Kindergarten classrooms, children were engaged in a unit of study focused on construction in which they were reading and discussing books related to the topic, exploring engineering concepts through hands-on activities, and working as a classroom community to design a building project that could benefit their community. In one Kindergarten class, students were designing a hotel for homeless families that included a dog park.

Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms in the Oxford Hills School System utilize whole student, interdisciplinary instructional programs that the Maine DOE, in collaboration with Maine educators, have adapted for Maine using work originally developed by the Boston Public School System.  Both instructional programs are content rich (aligned to Maine’s learning standards) and are designed around opportunity for structured play.

Oxford Elementary’s Literacy Coach, Kim Desjardins pointed out, “When we ask adults what they remember from their Kindergarten experience, most will reply they remember ‘playing’ with blocks or ‘playing’ in the kitchen. The word play is a powerful word that has been lost in our Kindergarten curriculum for many years. Young children are born to play and interact with each other. K For ME encourages students to inquire about the world, participate in deep conversations to problem solve and work with others to develop social skills. Our students love to come to school and learn!”

The Pre-K for ME and K for ME programs are open source and are used in a growing number of Maine schools, including Oxford Hills where Kindergarten teachers were part of a 2-year pilot that helped inform adaptation of the program for use by other Maine schools.

Oxford Elementary Principal, Tiffany Karnes, shared, “It is such a joy to go into a Kindergarten or Pre-K classroom and hear the conversations students are having with each other as they engage in their center work.  Whether it is in the dramatic play area or the block area, students are using their imaginations and incorporating the vocabulary they have learned.  They are building wolf dens when they are learning about animal habitats or dressing up as characters from a book that they have heard during read-aloud and acting out their story.  The level of oral language and increase in vocabulary that we are seeing far exceeds anything we have seen in the past.

Principal Karnes elaborated, “The K for ME curriculum has been a game-changer for our kindergarten students and teachers.  Prior to implementing K for ME, our kindergarten students were struggling with behaviors and were not making the academic progress we wanted.  Students were coming from a play-based Pre-K for ME classroom into a traditional kindergarten classroom and the seat time, the lack of structured play and other academic demands were very stressful for both students and teachers. Once we started to implement K for ME, we saw increased engagement, improved language development, and higher academic achievement.  Students and teachers were happier, and parents commented on how impressed they were with all that their children were learning.”

For more information about the Maine Department of Education’s early learning efforts, including Pre-K for ME and K for ME, contact Lee Anne Larsen, Early Learning Team Coordinator at leeann.larsen@maine.gov.

“Plus, Robots Are Cool” – Robotics and Computer Science in the Pre-K Classroom

Pictured: A student retells a story from the PreK for ME instructional program.  Sequencing and retelling the events of the story supports literacy skill development while working to program the bot, edit the code, and reprogramming the bot.

April 2nd – 10th is National Robotics Week, a time to focus attention on this exciting, interdisciplinary component of computer science. In Maine public schools, robotics comes to life in a variety of ways. From our high school students participating in robotic competitions, down to the youngest elementary student programming robots to follow a sequence, robotics is a grassroots effort that can be found in many schools, some of whom will be spotlighted throughout this week. National Robotics Week, dating back to 2009, has a simple mission – “to inspire students in robotics and STEM-related fields and to share the excitement of robotics with audiences of all ages.”

If someone went to observe robots being used in a Pre-K classroom, they would likely see a pair of students working together, either in decided roles or in turns, programming the robot to complete a specific task. Students actively engage as they lean in to push buttons and watch intently as the robot moves around a mat. They are not sitting back and passively watching a screen. “Students will tell me ‘the Bee-Bot isn’t doing what I told it to.’ This is when they learn that the robots don’t have brains and will only do what you tell it to,” says Audra Leland, a Pre-K teacher at the Eddington School. “We work through frustration and learn perseverance.”

Audra was a second-grade teacher at the Enfield Station School when she began using a Bee-Bot that she acquired from the Perloff Family Foundation. She continued to use it with kindergarteners and first graders and created new mats that aligned with the different age levels and classroom content. Some examples of content she used on the mats are: the alphabet, numbers, colors, shapes, nursey rhymes, classmates’ names, and a Thanksgiving Day game called “Now and Then.” When she changed schools and shifted to Pre-K, Audra continued with Bee-Bots in her classroom and added Coding Critters.

Melissa Brown, a Pre-K teacher at the Line Elementary School in Newfield, received two robots, the Bee-Bot and the Sphero-mini, through he Maine Department of Education’s Pre-K for ME curriculum pilot.

“After reading The Snowy Day from the PreK for ME instructional program, children design a sequence of steps to make tracks on paper and then with the Sphero. Creating a collaborative painting with Sphero not only fosters community within the overall classroom culture but also engages the students in the process of algorithmic thinking, computational processes, and debugging to find and fix errors within the program.” – Melissa Brown
“After reading The Snowy Day from the PreK for ME instructional program, children design a sequence of steps to make tracks on paper and then with the Sphero. Creating a collaborative painting with Sphero not only fosters community within the overall classroom culture but also engages the students in the process of algorithmic thinking, computational processes, and debugging to find and fix errors within the program.” – Melissa Brown

The technology components of the Pre-K for ME curriculum were developed by Dr. Donna Karno of the University of Maine at Farmington, who has long been advocating for technology integration in early childhood education. “Less than 50 percent of early education teachers are currently using technology in their classrooms, in part because of the stigma associated with screen time and children, and in part because of their discomfort and lack of knowledge with setting programs up,” says Dr. Karno. All three educators acknowledge that incorporating these robots and computer science align with much of the skill-building that happens in the early elementary classroom.

Audra Leland’s strategy for starting is to do “unplugged activities” that do not involve any electronics at all. “We start by moving our bodies, following directions. Once they understand that every movement is told and that is what they must do, we take out the Bee-Bots.” This sort of approach to initiating students to computer science is common at the elementary and even middle level. The robots have their value as learning tools, but “the excitement and joy the children show when I take out [the robots] is one reason that I continue to integrate the tools in our learning,” according to Melissa Brown.

While both Pre-K teachers recognize their peers’ unfamiliarity with computer science concepts, they are quick to point out the overlap that exists. Melissa says, “for example, children in our Pre-K classrooms are recognizing and creating patterns with manipulatives, sequencing the events of a story in their literacy work, or sharing social problems and working together to find solutions. Robots simply add another dimension to this work.”

To learn more about opportunities for Robotics in Maine schools, check out Robotics Institute of Maine (RIM). For information about computer science in Maine schools, please check out the Maine Department of Education’s Computer Science page. If you have a robotics success story at your school, email jonathan.m.graham@maine.gov.

Public Pre-K Expansion Distinguished Educator Opportunity 

As part of Maine’s Jobs and Recovery Plan (MJRP), the Maine Department of Education (DOE) was awarded $10 million in American Rescue Plan funding to support the expansion of public pre-k opportunities in Maine.  To assist with the provision of technical assistance and professional learning for the new and expanding pre-k programs being funding through this opportunity, the Maine Department of Education is seeking a Distinguished Educator to be part of its Early Learning Team.  Under the Distinguished Educator program, the Maine DOE contracts with a public school system to borrow an educator for a designated period, in this case the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years.  Following service in the program, the Distinguished Educator returns to their sending school system.   

Maine educators who meet the qualifications described below are strongly encouraged to consider applying for this opportunity.  Distinguished educators share their expertise with the Maine DOE and other Maine educators while also growing as professionals through a range of new and exciting experiences. The application period for this position will remain open until April 27.  Interested applicants should submit a letter of interest and resume to Lee Anne Larsen, Early Learning Team Coordinator (leeann.larsen@maine.gov).  Candidates selected for interviews will be notified by May 2. 


The Public Pre-K Technical Assistance Provider engages in professional work related to planning and providing technical assistance and professional learning for public preschool programs, including programs in partnership with Head Start and private providers.  The position conducts technical assistance visits, including observations of classrooms, provides on-going assistance to programs through one-on-one conversations or group learning opportunities, and reviews data to help support program improvement.  The position is part of the Early Learning Team within the Maine Department of Education’s Office of Innovation.  The position coordinates regularly with the DOE’s Early Childhood Specialist and Early Childhood Monitor. This position requires statewide travel. 

REPRESENTATIVE TASKS of this position include but are not limited to:  

  • Delivering appropriate technical assistance and professional learning to enhance program implementation — may specifically address evidence-based early childhood curriculum, learner-centered instruction, differential learning, assessment, developmental education and/or experiential learning, developing and implementing MOUs with community providers, etc.  
  • Providing interpretation and explanations of statutory provisions to local school authorities, CDS contracted providers, and the public. 
  • Supporting SAU compliance with the Chapter 124 Public Preschool Program Standards and providing technical assistance related to program improvement. 
  • Analyzing data contained in SAU annual reports of pre-k programming. 
  • Other duties applicable to support of public pre-k expansion efforts, as assigned. 

KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS, AND ABILITIES REQUIRED to successfully perform the work assigned: 

  • Experience with the early childhood general education and special education communities in Maine and with public school education in Maine. 
  • Knowledge of current learning research and exemplary early childhood educational instructional strategies in all early learning domains. 
  • Knowledge of current and emerging state and federal legislation, rules and regulations impacting early childhood education, including Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) childcare licensing and Child Development Services (CDS). 
  • Knowledge of exemplary evidence-based early childhood curriculum, learner-centered instruction, differential learning, assessment, developmental education, and experiential learning, and understanding of the relationships among these areas. 
  • Knowledge of and experience with Maine’s College and Career Ready Learning Results and Maine’s Early Learning and Development Standards.  
  • Knowledge and experience with developing and implementing public pre-k programs in partnership with community providers (e.g. Head Start, Child Care, etc.). 
  • Knowledge of community involvement issues in education policy decisions and operations.  
  • Ability to interpret and explain statutory provisions to local school authorities, community providers, and the public. 
  • Ability to effectively provide information, technical assistance, professional development and program development support and expertise. 
  • Ability to use technology-based communications (i.e., Internet, Web) and e-mail systems and both laptop and desktop computer systems, word processing and data applications. 
  • Ability to communicate effectively orally and in writing.  
  • Ability to effectively facilitate meetings, organize and manage multiple projects.  
  • Ability to apply and facilitate group dynamics and to use exemplary interpersonal skills in order to work collaboratively, develop positive working relationships, and involve stakeholders at the local and state level.   

MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS:  A Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and two (2) years of professional level experience in public pre-k programming is required.  A Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and five years of early childhood teaching and/or administrative experience is preferred. CLASS Observer certification at the pre-k level and experience with public pre-k partnership implementation are also preferred. 

Questions may be directed to Leeann.Larsen@maine.gov