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.

Exploring the History of Maine Through Robotics

In the fall of 2022, Ann McClellan asked Maxx Pillsbury, a student of the Sphero Bolt coding program at Mt. View Middle School, how he might use the Bolt to tell a story. Both interested in Maine history, Ms. McClellan and Maxx began exploring using the Bolt to tell the story of ten historically significant places in Maine.

Maxx coded his Bolt to be Samuel de Champlain, an explorer who traveled the coast of Maine. Maxx and Ms. McClellan used a rope to model the nooks and crannies of Maine’s rugged coastline and painted designs on paper to represent characteristics of the area being explored.

Once they planned the layout, Maxx programmed the Bolt. While working, Maxx decided he also wanted the Bolt to narrate the history locations. He wrote a script, chose sounds to enhance the audience’s experience, and found music to play.

You can view a video of the robot moving through the project here:

The final product is impressive and took perseverance and critical thinking to problem solve through challenges that presented themselves throughout the process. For instance, placing the Bolt just right was imperative to its success.

“If the angle was just slightly different when it was set down, then it could mess the whole thing up,” Maxx said.

Ms. McClellan agreed, “Directionals and movement controls were challenging. These had to do with speed, angles, and time. We maintained humor, flexibility, and perseverance, so we got through the programming!”

Maxx is eager to apply what he learned from this project to his other classes. “In my history classes, I will already know some history about early explorers in Maine, and in math class, I can use what I learned about ratios with distance, speed, and time.”

For more information about the Sphero Bolt coding program or other ways to integrate computer science into your curriculum, reach out our computer science specialist, Emma Banks at Emma-Marie.Banks@maine.gov or visit: https://www.maine.gov/doe/learning/ltt/computerscience.

 

Experiential Maine! – Summer Coastal Ecology Collaborative  

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) will soon be releasing a Request for Applications (RFA) from community organizations that provide (or plan to provide) high quality, coastal ecology education and experiences for students in grades 6-12 as part of Experiential Maine! – a statewide initiative to increase access to hands on, outdoor education for all students in Maine.

This exciting initiative will help increase student access to experiential learning along the Maine coast during Summer 2022.  Fund awards must be used to expand student capacity in existing program opportunities or to design and implement an entirely new program during summer 2022. These will be two separate applications (one to expand existing programs, one to design and implement a program that did not previously exist). The Maine DOE will prioritize applications that prioritize access for students from low-income families and students with infrequent access to the coast based on geographic location.  

Here is a link to the Intent to Apply form which must be completed by April 21, 2022 at 5:00pm in order for your organization to be eligible for funding. 

For questions, please contact Page Nichols, Maine DOE Innovation Officer at page.nichols@maine.gov 

A Robot for All Seasons (and Classrooms)

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.”

An Ozobot being used at Nesrene Griffin’s Pokemon-themed station during a Family Coding Night at Connors Elementary School in Lewiston.
An Ozobot being used at Nesrene Griffin’s Pokemon-themed station during a Family Coding Night at Connors Elementary School in Lewiston.

There are as many types of robots as there are holidays on the calendar and creative teachers have found a variety of ways to incorporate them into their classrooms. Among the most popular robots in middle and elementary schools are the Edison, Botley, and Wonder Workshop’s trio of Dot, Dash, and Cue. These robots each have their own unique appeal and functionality. When selecting which robot(s) to introduce to the classroom, an educator considers both its purpose and its potential. Introducing middle level students to robotics can seem daunting, especially if the educator is new to robotics themselves.

Many Maine educators have found creative ways to roll out a robot to students that gives everyone an opportunity to learn. Often it is part of a special event, perhaps even during National Robotics Week!  A simple task can allow for collaboration and creative thinking as students troubleshoot through challenges with the robot. For the educator, it allows them to observe this process and the inevitable student engagement that follows. Consider these two examples from two Maine schools.

At Lincolnville Elementary School, teacher, Val Bemis, had her students design track layouts for Ozobots. Since it was October, students used Halloween themes to their track designs such as a haunted house or a trick-or-treating route. Students used “a lot of problem solving, persistence and patience in getting the robots to their final destinations,” Bemis said. “The students enjoyed it and had some celebrations when things went as planned or close to it!”  Once students successfully coded their robots to their goal they were rewarded with a “sweet reward.” This project was an extension of the 10 levels of online coding challenges in ShapeTracer 2 from Ozoblockly.com.

Several of the student-designed Santa sleighs.
Several of the student-designed Santa sleighs.

Another example of a thematic rollout comes from Hodgdon Middle School in southern Aroostook County. In the days leading up to the December break, students engaged in an engineering design challenge under the direction of science teacher, Sara McQuarrie. The students were tasked with creating a sleigh for Santa Claus that was pulled around by a Sphero robot (under a plastic cup). Sara provided each team with “Engineering Elves” and supplies. The constructed sleighs had to meet different criteria such as have enough room for Santa’s toys. Students learned how to calculate speed so they could predict who’s sleigh would be the fastest. They then tested out their predictions in several heats. Students enjoyed brainstorming why one sleigh was faster than another and critiquing their own designs. Finally, they ran their sleighs through a maze, which allowed them to test their coding skills with the Sphero. The activity was one of several choices that students had in the days prior to the winter break.

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.

“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.