Students and educators from across Maine showed off their computer science skills at the Maine Department of Education’s Computer Science Education Showcase at the Roux Institute. The showcase highlighted innovative computer science education programs in schools across Maine, with hands on, interactive exhibits featuring robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), 3D design and printing, coding, augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR), data science, cybersecurity, and more.
Maine has long been a leader in integrating technology and learning, and that holds true with computer science education. Instead of computer science being a separate course only some students take or an “add on”, Maine provides the support and resources to encourage all schools to provide interdisciplinary, project-based computer science learning experiences that incorporate computational and critical thinking, innovation and design processes, and applied learning at all grade levels and across all subject areas.
The Computer Science Education Showcase illustrated the state’s approach, with VR headsets transporting users to Maine State Parks which a student developed over the course of last summer, 3D printing demonstrations, a full-size arcade game developed by students, 6th graders demonstrating their block coding skills, a wide array of apps and websites around difference content areas created by students, and a robotics room with world champion level robotics teams. All Pre-K through 12 grade levels were represented, with educators highlighting how they were incorporating computer science education at younger grade levels, including having 5th grade students partner with kindergarten students to teach them basic coding skills and a new mobile makerspace that will rotate between elementary schools offering computer science education for Pre-K through fifth grade students.
Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin, University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy, 2022 Presidential Scholar Sirohi Kumar, Bethel second grade teacher Alice Lee, Jackson Labs Vice President for Education Charlie Wray, and the Roux Institute’s Chief Administrative Officer Chris Mallett participated in a panel discussion on how Maine is paving the way for students and teachers to be successful in the world of computer science. The discussion focused on reaching more students, making computer science more accessible to all, taking an interdisciplinary approach to computer science education, and how the critical and computational thinking, collaboration, and creative design skills developed through computer science education are critical to success in nearly every career and 21st century life.
“Computer science is about approaching a problem with optimism, logic, critical thinking, design thinking, creativity and vision. We need to make computer science accessible for every educator and every student and continue this tradition that we’ve started in Maine of interdisciplinary, project-based computer science education across all grades that is really contextualized in a way that is meaningful for kids,” said Education Commissioner Pender Makin.
“There is this perception of computer science that it’s for an elite group, and in reality that’s not the case–it can be used for everything including art, science, and music. I think computer science education should be framed for everyone at a very young age that computer science can solve whatever problem or scenario you have regardless of what field it is,” said Sirohi Kumar a 2022 Presidential Scholar from Mount Desert Island.
“The more we can engage with computer science at the Pre-K through 12 level, the more ready everyone is for whatever comes afterward. These students here tonight are getting a head start with these skills. It’s going to matter for your futures,” said University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy.
“Building those skills of computer science at the youngest level—problem solving, debugging, innovating, and creativity. These basic skills are really what our young learners need to take off academically,” said second grade teacher Alice Lee from Bethel.
“We now live in a world that is immersed in big data and the amount of data being generated is so tremendous that this next generation has this great opportunity to enter so many career fields where computer science has a touchpoint. It’s not just being a software engineer or computer scientist, but all of us can learn and solve problems with big data and the amount of careers that can come out of good computer science education is endless,” said Jackson Labs Vice President for Education Charlie Wray.
“This concept of computer science for everyone is important. These competencies and literacies are no longer siloed; they work across the spectrum. The logic and reasoning that comes from computer science paired with the creativity of a liberal arts education, it’s the intersection of these skills that all of us have the potential to develop that is going to propel the Maine economy and the Maine workforce of the future,” said the Roux Institute’s Chief Administrative Officer Chris Mallett.
The Maine Department of Education and the Mills administration continue to support and bolster computer science education in Maine:
- The DOE works continually with educators, business leaders, and others to update and adapt Maine’s statewide computer science education plan and the Department’s work is guided by seven key principles;
- Governor Mills signed onto Governor Hutchison’s computer science compact;
- The DOE hired a computer science specialist to work with schools and has committed additional resources to support educators and schools in integrating authentic, project-based Pre-K through 12 computer science education;
- Governor Mills signed a bill providing $50,000 in professional learning support for educators on computer science, with an emphasis on educators in rural areas and serving marginalized communities, and another $50,000 will be awarded this coming school year;
- Next month’s Educator Summit will feature several professional learning opportunities for educators on computer science education;
- The DOE developed its first Pre-K through 12 online computer science learning progression last year focused on computational thinking and a new progression will soon be launched; and
- The DOE is doubling the number of Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) Ambassadors that work in schools to support the integration of technology and learning, including computer science education.