Portland Public Schools Unveils New Mobile Makerspace to Provide All Elementary Students with STEM and Technology Learning Experiences

Joined by students, educators, and community members, Portland Public Schools held a ribbon cutting last week at Rowe Elementary School for their new Mobile Makerspace which will bring immersive, project-based STEM and technology learning experiences to all Portland elementary students.

The Mobile Makerspace will travel to elementary schools for two-week visits this fall and spring. Once at the schools, students along with their classroom teachers will visit the Mobile Makerspace for mini or immersive experiences depending on their grade level. It will provide every PreK-5 student in Portland Public Schools with at least one design/innovation/engineering experience each year. One project example involves sail cars. Based on grade-level standards, students will be exploring properties of materials as they try to determine the best material, the best size, and the best shape for their sail. During their experience, students will employ the Engineering Design Process to guide their work – Asking – Imagining – Planning – Creating – Experimenting – Improving.

“We want our students to be scientifically and ecologically literate as well as technologically capable problem solvers. We want our Portland Public Schools students to not just be consumers of technology but creators. Through rigorous and engaging science education, our students will learn to be caring, active participants in the world and become equipped to comprehend, analyze, and create solutions to global issues. The Mobile Makerspace is one way that we are addressing this vision,” said Portland Public Schools STEM Director Brooke Teller.

At the ribbon cutting, a group of 5th grade students got to explore some of the high- and low-tech gear and opportunities contained in the Mobile Makerspace, including the 3-d printer, technology projects, books on STEM-related topics, and creative building opportunities.

“I am so excited and honored to be the mobile makerspace coordinator for Portland Public Schools. I get to bring STEM opportunities and engineering design challenges to Portland’s elementary students. And I get to do this at a time when research is telling us that our young learners should be engaged with science and engineering practices,” said Mobile Makerspace Coordinator Karen Shibles. “In addition to a focus on NEXT GEN science and engineering standards & practices, there will be an emphasis on those key 21st Century skills, also known as the 4Cs: critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity.”

Portland Public Schools, in partnership with the Foundation for Portland Public Schools, worked with the community to design, build, and outfit this mobile lab. The trailer was secured from On the Road trailers, Blue Planet Graphics installed the artwork, and Casco Bay High School alum Charlie Hindall made the artwork.

“We believe that these mobile makerspace experiences will be a spark that ignites a student’s further curiosity and engagement with all that science, technology, engineering, and math have to unlock for them. We believe that these experiences will be brought back into the school buildings, and in conjunction with a district wide science curriculum, students will receive the joyful and just science education they deserve,” said Teller.

A Moving Child Is a Learning Child: FREE Early Childhood Text Study

“All learning begins with the body…the body is the brain’s first teacher. And the lesson plan is movement.” (Connell, G. & McCarthy, C. 2014)

Join specialists from the Maine Department of Education’s Early Learning Team for a web-based professional development opportunity. Early childhood educators in the Pre-K through Grade 2 span will utilize a virtual text study format each month for 60 minutes.  The sessions will be held on Thursdays.  The series will utilize the text, A Moving Child is a Learning Child by Gill Connell and Cheryl McCarthy, 2014. Reading will be completed independently between sessions.

A Moving Child is a Learning Child is grounded in best practices and current research. This hands-on resource connects the dots that link brain activity, motor and sensory development, movement, and early learning in an effort to best support and educate the whole child. The expert authors unveil the Kinetic Scale: a visual map of the active learning needs of infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and children in primary grades that fits each child’s individual timetable. Educators will find a wealth of information, actionable tips, and games they can use to support the whole child across domains of development. If you’re looking for new ideas to grow your practice, engage children in a way that meets their individual needs and build deeper, more meaningful relationships with your students, then consider joining us for this opportunity.

The text study is set to begin on Thursday, November 3, 2022, from 3:30-4:30pm. and will continue the following Thursdays:

  • November 17
  • December 8
  • January 5
  • January 26
  • February 16

Registration will be open through September 28th and limited to 30 participants on a first come, first served basis.

Those interested are encouraged to register. Participants will receive a copy of the book and up to 18 contact hours at the end of the text study.

Registration is free and can be completed here.

For further information, please contact Nicole Madore, Early Childhood Specialist at Nicole.Madore@maine.gov

 

A Year of Success and Innovation: Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures at MSAD 17

The first round of RREV (Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures) Awardees were announced in August of 2021. RREV is an initiative of the Maine Department of Education, funded by the Education Stabilization Funds through the US Department of Education’s Rethink K-12 Education Models, that bolsters Maine educators’ innovative efforts to support their students with agile, effective, and resilient learning experiences that improve learning outcomes for all students. Now, after a year of experience and development, the Department of Education would like to thank the awardees for their dedication to innovative education and highlight their achievements that have resulted from the RREV contracts over the past year. Continue reading to learn more about the ways in which the Brewer School Department has used their RREV funding this past year.

After noticing students’ need for extra academic and social health assistance over the past few years, Agnes Gray Elementary School in MSAD 17 knew they needed to offer students improved help on their paths to success. For them, the solution was clear: taking the kids outside. When they began their RREV journey in August of 2021, educators at Agnes Gray aspired to hire an Outdoor Learning Coordinator to work regularly with students and teachers to provide meaningful outdoor learning experiences and to build a fully furnished yurt to provide shelter for outdoor learning in inclement weather. Now, a year later, they have fostered a culture of encouragement and are proud to say that every single classroom has gotten outside and used the outside environment for learning regularly.

Outdoor Learning Coordinator Sarah Timm says this past year, she has had to rely on her teamwork skills to build an outdoor curriculum for students. A lot of the outcome, she says, relies on teachers comfort level with the outdoors. While some teachers were eager to get outside, others were more hesitant, and that’s okay, Timm says. She believes that in order for this pilot to work, educators have to be allowed to grow at their own pace and they need to know that “any teacher can go outside at any time.” What’s important is not how much time they are spending outside, but rather how they are using their time outside: the outdoor learning is successful because of the engaging activities that incorporate the environment surrounding students, not just their location outside the school building.

By working with teachers at their comfort level, Timm has been able to create outdoor units for every grade, allowing all students to experience outdoor learning. A point she emphasizes is that outdoor learning isn’t just for science. First graders took their social studies units outside and fifth graders took their reading outside. Students from all grades experienced movement breaks as well, which are short trips outside designed to get students moving while they learn. One group of first graders even collected acorns on a movement break, which a retired teacher then turned into flour which she then used to bake muffins for them. Another group pretended to be the earth and the sun and explain why seasons happen and why days are shorter in the winter.

It’s not just movement breaks that allowed kids to get a break from the classroom, though. Many classes taught entire units outside. These units are specially designed to create authentic learning by using the outdoor environment to make the learning more relevant. The kindergarteners spent time identifying birds and building shelters in the woods. Second graders were able to learn most of their life science units outside, along with some social studies, even constructing their own Native American Museum after researching and recreating existing artifacts. Other students and parents then had the chance to visit the second graders’ museum, which was constructed in the school’s post and beam cabin. In third grade, students took on an engineering unit. They spent time outside during the winter learning how to build bridges with snow and learning about force through pulling each other on sleds. They also got to incorporate some meteorology into their studies, learning which kinds of snow stick best to make bridges. In fourth grade, students took on service-learning projects, investigating the old stonewalls surrounding their campus and mapping out new trails through the woods. For students in fifth and sixth grade, most of their science courses were completed outside, learning about and visualizing the water cycle. They also covered history lessons outside, creating, growing, and defending their own ancient civilizations in the woods.

Timm believes, “taking kids outside isn’t just cute and it doesn’t just feel right – it is right.” Since starting this outdoor program, she says, they have seen an impact on students’ engagement and interest. They are more focused, and they are eager to learn because their learning is authentic, curated, and engaging. “This is what we did when we were in school,” Agnes Gray Principal, Catherine Bickford, says, choosing to view this introduction to the outdoors as a return to teaching methods that have been abandoned in recent years. Bickford believes they are simply learning and reinventing from past mistakes, not creating entirely new ideas, and thinks that is key to sharing this innovation with other schools.

Over the course of the next year, Timm is excited to develop new outdoor units for Agnes Gray educators to incorporate into curriculum and bring their students outside for even more authentic learning. Timm and Bickford also hope to “take the show on the road” by expanding the programming to other elementary schools in the district. They are looking to create a menu of units to take to educators so that they are aware of the many options available to them for taking students outside, no matter their comfort level. They also hope to show educators in their district, and across the state, that it does not take much to bring learning outside, especially if they collaborate in the ways that Timm and Bickford aspire to.

Martin Mackey, the former RREV Project Director who tragically passed away in April of this year, embodied the RREV spirit: to think and act boldly to meet the needs of students. His passion was to “change lives.” As such, he challenged each and every RREV participant to do just that as they designed pilot ideas that would ultimately have a lasting systemic impact on students.  After 18 months of leading RREV, Martin’s passion had been passed on to almost 200 educators who had participated in innovation professional development. From those educators, 27 Pilot ideas were brought to fruition and have received over $5.7 million in RREV awards. Through their pilot ideas, these educators have pledged to commit themselves to innovation.

The Maine DOE encourages all schools and districts across the State of Maine to learn more about these innovative educators and their RREV pilots through the RREV website and the online RREV collaborative platform known as EnGiNE. It is through EnGiNE that we all hope to continue the Martin Momentum to change students’ lives through innovative and responsive educational programs.

Old Town Elementary School ‘Learning Garden’ Becomes an Extension of the Classroom

When Old Town Elementary School started a school garden many years ago, the purpose was to beautify the school grounds and give students a chance to explore and play in a more natural setting. Since then, the garden concept has literally “grown” as the school has started to use the garden as an opportunity to integrate the space into the day-to-day curriculum. In conjunction with the Cooperative Extension Staff at the University of Maine, the school has developed a Legacy Curriculum, with each grade growing and caring for different crops.

Starting in kindergarten, students grow apples and sunflowers. They plant their apple trees in the spring and watch as they blossom and grow different apple varieties, which they can taste in the fall. They also plant their sunflowers in the spring and use them for a kindness project, where they gift the flowers to people to brighten up their days.

First graders make seed tape indoors with carrots and radishes. A month before school ends, they plant their radishes and have a harvest on the last day of school. To demonstrate that different plants take different amounts of time to develop, they plant their carrots in the last week of school and harvest them when they come back to school in the fall, when they have taste tests with different dips and cooking methods.

Second graders grow pumpkins. They weigh and measure the circumference of their pumpkins and collect seeds to cook as well as to plant. They learn how to prepare pumpkin in a healthy, easy, low-cost way that they can bring home to family. On the last day of school each year, they compare their pumpkins’ growth rates.

In third grade, students grow various microgreens indoors under a grow lamp. They can taste test the different greens and vote on their favorites. After the votes are collected, they graph and analyze the results to see which one was the most popular.

Finally, when students reach fourth grade, they grow single seed potatoes. They cut them in half – planting one half in the school garden and one half in a container they bring home to care for over the summer. Once the potatoes are ready, students harvest them and prepare multiple healthy potato recipes and vote on their favorites, which they then graph.

Old Town Elementary Schools educators say they have seen a great sense of pride and joy with their students and their role in the growing their grade levels product. Since this change in the curriculum, the students and staff see the garden as an extension of the classroom. Students take pride in planting and harvesting the bounty, even creating an opportunity on Tuesday afternoons to contribute to the school’s farm stand. The farm stand, which is open to both Old Town Elementary School families and the public, has created a great opportunity for the school to impact their citizens and provide a great resource to be proud of, a resource that would be possible without their learning garden.

A Year of Success and Innovation: Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures at St George Schools

The first round of RREV (Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures) Awardees were announced in August of 2021. RREV is an initiative of the Maine Department of Education, funded by the Education Stabilization Funds through the US Department of Education’s Rethink K-12 Education Models, that bolsters Maine educators’ innovative efforts to support their students with agile, effective, and resilient learning experiences that improve learning outcomes for all students. Now, after a year of experience and development, the Department of Education would like to thank the awardees for their dedication to innovative education and highlight their achievements that have resulted from the RREV contracts over the past year. Continue reading to learn more about the ways in which St George Public Schools has used their RREV funding this past year.

Since being named a RREV Awardee last August, St George Public Schools have been working with Mid-Coast School of Technology to create a PreK-12 Career and Technical Education Program. The program builds upon a long tradition of place-based education that grounds student learning in the history, traditions, and natural environment of St. George and provides a model for preparing students to develop the technical, creative thinking, and social-emotional skills to thrive in an innovation economy and strengthen local and regional economies by meeting existing labor force needs and creating new businesses and industries.

The program implementation and increased Makerspace use over the past year has had an “energizing effect” on the community, Superintendent Mike Felton says. “Teachers are saying thank you and getting excited,” Makerspace Director Paul Meinersmann added. It’s not just teachers that are excited, though. Students are loving the “hands-on, minds-on” learning, too. One student that was feeling disengaged at the start of the year now aspires to be an engineer after spending time using the equipment in the Makerspace.

Part of the engagement, the educators say, comes from the independence and confidence instilled in the Makerspace. Students are asked “What do you want to learn?” rather than being told what to learn, and, once they feel comfortable completing a task on their own, they are allowed to do so. Another important aspect is that students receive credit for their work. A 5th grade student who helped design and create donor plaques for the new, soon to be constructed Makerspace was both surprised and proud to find his name engraved on the back of the plaques next to Meinersmann’s.

students on toboggan
St George Students at the US National Toboggan Championships

Another group of students who were beginning to feel disinterested had the opportunity to work in Apprenticeshop in Rockland. The Apprenticeshop has hosted a Junior Boat Building program that the school has participated in for multiple years, but this year, instead of a boat, the students built a toboggan. Once their toboggan was completed, the group of three students took their toboggan to the US National Championships to compete. The construction of the toboggan reengaged the students in their learning and captivated their minds by showing them just a few of the possibilities open to them after graduation.

The district is working up to build a PreK-8 CTE/Makerspace Building at St. George School, and Felton says this past year

has been integral to making the building successful when it opens. “We need vision and heart to fill the building,” he said, and that’s exactly what they’re building through the implementation of the program this past year.

Outside of the Makerspace access and use, fundraising efforts have also helped to spread the vision and create a network of people investing in the school. The community has collectively raised over $1,450,000, which includes the $250,000 from the RREV grant. Contributions came in every shape and size, from big and little donors alike. One family sold eggs on the side of the road to pitch in, while some individuals donors made contributions up to $250,000. In addition, 13 businesses have sponsored the project.

The school hopes to break ground on the building in the fall and to provide programming to every child. Felton sees the building, and the program as a whole, as an “equity builder,” a true community resource that’s accessible to everyone, all the time, that everyone knows they can use.  The school is looking forward to having the building completed by the end of the upcoming school year and is hoping to offer summer programming for students next year.

Although RREV funding ends June 30, 2023, the vision at St George does not end next year. In the long term, Felton says he hopes for the district to act as an example and a model for other schools and districts, not only across Maine, but across the country. The goal is to spread awareness about the power of this type of learning, which he views as increased student and family engagement, and job set up. By connecting and advocating with other states, Felton says he believes that other schools can be encouraged to connect higher career and technical education with younger grades, setting students up for success.

Martin Mackey, the former RREV Project Director who tragically passed away in April of this year, embodied the RREV spirit: to think and act boldly to meet the needs of students. His passion was to “change lives.” As such, he challenged each and every RREV participant to do just that as they designed pilot ideas that would ultimately have a lasting systemic impact on students.  After 18 months of leading RREV, Martin’s passion had been passed on to almost 200 educators who had participated in innovation professional development. From those educators, 27 Pilot ideas were brought to fruition and have received over $5.7 million in RREV awards. Through their pilot ideas, these educators have pledged to commit themselves to innovation.

The Maine DOE encourages all schools and districts across the State of Maine to learn more about these innovative educators and their RREV pilots through the RREV website and the online RREV collaborative platform known as EnGiNE. It is through EnGiNE that we all hope to continue the Martin Momentum to change students’ lives through innovative and responsive educational programs.