Integrating Podcasting at Caribou Community School 

Creation and innovation are core elements to middle school learning, thanks to Kim Barnes and Heather Anderson, who both teach 8th grade English language arts (ELA) and social studies at Caribou Community School. In a recent unit of study about resiliency, Mrs. Barnes and Mrs. Anderson had the creative idea that podcasting would be a great way for students to demonstrate their knowledge on the topic. 

Mrs. Barnes said the idea was conceptualized from the work she did with the revised ELA Standards and thought that podcasting was a truly “authentic way to braid [the] standards into the work [they] were already doing.” 

Though they knew they wanted to use podcasting in their unit, Mrs. Barnes and Mrs. Anderson also felt they needed some support with teaching their students the more technical aspects. They reached out to the Department of Education’s Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) Ambassadors who were able to create and present lessons to the Caribou 8th grade students. This all-day event focused on supporting the work Mrs. Barnes and Mrs. Anderson were doing in the classroom, as well as leading the students through the process of podcasting on their Chromebooks. The Ambassadors explained the value and possibilities of podcasting and then demonstrated how to create and edit podcasts using WeVideo. Students then practiced the process of podcasting in pairs or small groups by choosing a topic of their own, or just discussing a predetermined prompt. One group took the opportunity to begin a sports podcast, where they discussed recent events in sports and even planned out how often they should record the podcast in order to continue with it. 

From this experience, Mrs. Barnes noticed that the engagement of the students skyrocketed. Students reported that they really enjoyed the creative part of making podcasts and, immediately, many of them began listening to other podcasts outside of class for fun. Some students were also motivated to begin a school podcast.  

The busy day proved to be quite fruitful. Mrs. Anderson and Mrs. Barnes felt that the event not only helped the students, but it also really energized them, as teachers. One student shared that the work with podcasting “is changing [his] perspective about reading and writing to a more positive one as ELA has always been a struggle for [him].” 

This story was written and coordinated by MLTI Ambassador Rob Dominick 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 FIRST Lego League Championship Event Highlights Maine Students’ STEM Skills

The 22nd annual Maine FIRST Lego League Championship on December 18th was a hybrid event that offered teams from across the state an opportunity to compete in-person or remotely.  Messalonskee High School in Oakland hosted the in-person part of the event with a half dozen teams in attendance.  The virtual part of the event included another seven teams that connected over Zoom.  This also allowed judges to connect from as far away as California and Israel.  The streamlined day ended with a fifteen minute Awards Ceremony over Zoom.

The Champion’s Award went to the “Smart Fun Engineers” for the fourth consecutive year with a high score of 335 points, of the possible 670, for their robot’s performance.  The team from Farmington was certainly ecstatic to learn about their win this year.

The Champion’s Finalist Award went to the Lego Legends from the Brewer Community School.  This diverse team with members ranging from eight to thirteen even includes a member from nearby Orrington (who does not have a Lego Robotics team) who showed up with personalized team t-shirts and matching hats.  Their coach, Joarly Arnold, received the Mentor Award.  Joarly, who works for General Electric and is part of their corporate team of GE Girls, said she is passionate about getting children engaged with STEM, including robotics.  She has been working with the team for four years, and due to her background in information engineering, she believes kids “should have an early introduction to STEM, as it teaches them not only science and mathematics, but increases their critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making skills; skills that they will use regardless of their future career path.”

FIRST LEGO League Team 32423 from Brewer Community School.
FIRST LEGO League Team 32423 from Brewer Community School.

The Robot Design Award went to the Fort Fairfield RoboTigers, which had to overcome many challenges around team members quarantining throughout the season.  They were among the teams connecting virtually, and found the experience of interacting with the judges to be highly beneficial.

The Innovation Project Award went to the Veazie Viking Robotics team who proposed carbon fiber shipping containers.  The team researched the material and its potential for making shipping of goods more fuel efficient due to the lighter weight, and more cost effective due to improving manufacturing processes.  Other teams designed ways of transporting goods and medication to rural parts of the state.  The team from Fort Fairfield focused on a way to prevent the region’s favorite product, the potato, from bouncing out of trucks as they travel down the road.

The Core Values Award went to the Lego Coop Kids from the Berwick area.  This group of seven included five sixth graders and two fourth graders who were competing in the FIRST Lego League for the first time, after recently forming.  The judges were highly impressed by their ability to work together and have fun, which are key aspects of the Core Values.

RSU #52 teacher Geoff Cyr, who has been involved in the FIRST Lego League for eight years in numerous capacities, received an Outstanding Volunteer Award.  Geoff, who serves as the Volunteer Coordinator, is always looking for individuals to get involved in the FIRST Lego League in Maine.  While experienced referees and judges are always needed, there is always a need for more.

Members of the Leeds Central School team present their projects to judges Jon Graham (Maine Department of Education) and Dr. Laura Gurney (Husson University).
Members of the Leeds Central School team present their projects to judges Jon Graham (Maine Department of Education) and Dr. Laura Gurney (Husson University).

The Maine FIRST Lego League did have a different look and feel than previous events held at the Augusta Civic Center, but dedicated volunteers, judges, coaches and teams have been able to keep the spirit alive through a difficult and unpredictable period.  The opportunities for students to come together as a team, work through multiple challenges and present their projects is vitally important to their success in school and beyond.  Hopefully the success of this season will encourage others to form or revive robotics teams at their school.

Madison Memorial High School STEM Geometry, STEM Lab & Sustainable Agriculture Project Recognized by Samsung

Madison Memorial High School (MSAD/RSU 59) STEM Geometry, STEM Lab & Sustainable Agriculture project has been named Samsung’s Solve For Tomorrow 2021-22 Maine State Winner.

As part of Maine’s state-wide career exploration program, Madison High School’s project helped kick off the Franklin and Somerset Counties’ STEM Pilot Project which aims to fund vocational and innovative programs in science, technology, engineering, and math. The project also helps connect students in Franklin and Somerset Counties with career exploration programming, paid internships and scholarships for Maine Community Colleges serving students from these counties.

The Madison Memorial High School STEM Geometry, STEM Lab & Sustainable Agriculture Project was highlighted by Samsung for their hard work to develop a STEM solution to an issue that impacts their local community.

“The innovative practices of fostering the Engineering Design mindset, using 3D technology as well as sustaining and regenerating natural systems will help address local food insecurity and contribute to the overall reduction of Madison’s global footprint,” said Kathy Bertini, MASD/RSU 59 Curriculum Coordinator, STEAM Person, and 2019 Somerset County Teacher of the Year.

“In order to give MSAD 59 students the best opportunities moving forward, it is critical that we connect innovation with technology,” said Madison High School Principal Chris LeBlanc. “Our students will have a skillset that allows them to use the area’s natural resources in a way that ensures sustainability while enhancing the local community.”

Kennebec Valley 21st CCLC Program Students Create Ice Cream Truck as Part of STEM Activity

Students in the 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) program at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley created an ice cream truck on World Kindness Day this past October.

“We drove it to the construction site and gave the construction workers an ice cream and then delivered ice creams to all the kids in the building,” said Holly Jordan, the Teen Center/21st Century Community Learning Center Grant Director at The Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley.

Using creative problem solving and innovation, the students used a motorized wheelchair as the movement for the truck and then created an interior base with PVC pipe and plywood to place the ice cream structure on and then made a freezer compartment in the basket area of the wheelchair.

Check out this video of the truck in action:

Programming Edison Bots at Brewer Community School

Edison Bot up close
Edison Bot up close

Pictured: Poster in Mr. Kumpa’s room connecting computer science tasks to classroom concepts.

Computer science isn’t so scary, just ask Bob Kumpa’s 8th-grade science students at Brewer Community School in Central Maine. As a precursor to a physics unit, students integrated computer science skills into class by programming an Edison Bot to navigate a maze of their creation.

Students drew any design they desired on a poster with the expectation that they would then program an Edison Bot to navigate through the design. Mr. Kumpa also required the Bot perform actions like going in reverse, spinning, and turning. There was no lack of creativity as students designed themed tracks such as Chutes and Ladders, Super Mario, trick-or-treating, passing on a soccer pitch and even one where the Bot travels the digestive system.

Eighth grader, Julia Rall, who also programmed her Bot to perform the Star Wars theme song, says the creativity aspect is her favorite. She wasn’t intimidated about the computer science, saying, “I feel like we’ve made it pretty easy. It’s just a lot of kinks that you have to work out.”

Students programmed their Bot either with Block or Python coding included in the program EdScratch. To navigate their design, some students elected to conduct the trial and error method, or, like project partners Julia Spencer and Delaney McDonough, some attempted to precisely measure out the distance and angles ahead of time. Delaney said that she and Julia felt that was the best way to do it because “that way we didn’t have to [unnecessarily] keep doing it over and over again.”

Kumpa told us the experience of perseverance via debugging does not happen by chance, but rather was one of the fundamental parts of the activity. It is those types of skills he hopes will translate to other sciences and other subjects, which is the main reason why he used the Edison Bots in the first place.

The Bots were supplied in 2018 from a grant through the Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center) at the University of Maine, in conjunction with their Maine STEM Partnership division, for a three-year study looking at the impact of computer science. Kumpa, who has done extensive work with the RiSE Center over the past 12 years, described the goal of the study to see if “teaching computer science will improve the learning of other sciences.”

Besides Brewer, there are 18 other schools involved in the study across the state. While Kumpa is focused on connecting computer science to physics, other schools have the option of also integrating computer science into life science or earth science.

Should this study prove fruitful, Kumpa said the hope will be to “allocate dollars towards moving computer science to the younger grades.” Bringing students more exposure to computer science provides not only regular experience with problem solving and critical thinking, but also an opportunity to shake off the intimidating stigma of computer science.

For further information about the Edison Bots or the RiSE Center, please feel free to reach out to Bob Kumpa at rkumpa@breweredu.org.