Maine Teachers Learn About the Benefits of Technology in Elementary School Classrooms

This article was written by Simon Handelman, a Maine DOE Intern from the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Institute.

Imagine how surprising it was seeing my own mother sitting in a classroom at Casco Bay High School, on a Friday morning in August. Allow me to clarify, I was not surprised to see her attending the professional learning class there; she is an extremely dedicated teacher. All I mean is it was serendipitous to see her on a day I might have otherwise stayed in Augusta at the Department of Education. My mother, Ellen Handelman, is the art teacher at Harrison Lyseth Elementary School in Portland. She, like so many other enthusiastic Maine teachers, is spending her last weeks of  summer vacation attending professional learning classes, one after another. I do not believe she has had so much homework since college. 

We were at Casco Bay High School that day for the same reasons. A session was being taught by former Cushing Community School teacher Beth Heidemann, and philanthropist David Perloff. They were underscoring the benefits of technology in elementary school classrooms. For my mother, the highlight of that day was a winning a 3D printer for her very own classroom. When I asked her to express her excitement about the printer, she said “my students can witness (in real time) how science, technology, engineering, and math combine with art to create usable objects which pair form and function.” 

Casco Bay PL Session1
Teachers at Casco Bay PL Session use downtime to network and catch up with friends.

My mother is constantly developing methods to display for her students the foundational importance of art education. She firmly believes “everyone is an artist,” and I agree. In fact, that same mantra of was repeated again and again at Casco Bay that day. Heidemann’s company Go2Science, which she founded with scientist Curtis Bentley, allows kindergarten through second grade students to travel virtually around the world, investigating hypotheses for a representative group of scientists. Heidemann’s message: “everyone is a scientist.”  

Casco Bay PL Session2
Teachers at Casco Bay PL Session Listening to a Presenter

Perloff’s Perloff Family Foundation, which donated the printer my mother won, believes all young students are equipped to learn about complicated technology, if given the chance. His foundation provided three hundred fifty 3D printers to Maine public schools, and the Maine Medical Center Children’s Hospital. Perloff believes “everyone is an engineer.” 

Other elementary school teachers in attendance raved about occasions in their own classrooms when young students expressed high level critical thinking. In one case a teacher told the group that her kindergarten class was able to fix the internet for a substitute teacher, using only verbal directions (for safety reasons).  

As the summer months come to a close, teachers across the state are eager to return to their students. There are many fantastic professional learning opportunities available in Maine, and many more dedicated teachers prepared to become the best they can possibly be.   

Innovative New “Experiential” Educator Training Takes Center Stage

Course Instructor Keith Kelley and EMMC President Lisa Larson looking through a STEAMRoller cart included with the course.
Course Instructor Keith Kelley and EMMC President Lisa Larson looking through a STEAMRoller cart that is included with the course.

In a four-day educator training that took place last month at the United Technology Center (UTC) in Bangor, 14 educators from across Maine gathered for a unique professional development opportunity offered through a partnership between two educators from RSU 19, Eastern Maine Community College (EMCC), and UTC that aims to help educators integrate advanced technology and experiential learning into every lesson plan, and to help fill the workforce gap in Maine.

Utilizing a $50,000 grant that EMCC President Lisa Larson obtained through the Maine Community College System, the 3 credit Introduction to Experiential Teaching through Technology course was offered as an opportunity for educators to “learn practical learning experiences to integrate traditional and newly advanced technologies into project biased lesions,” similar to the teaching methods found in career and technical education (CTE) settings throughout the state. The idea is to bring the experiential teaching philosophy to classrooms long before the high school CTE experience. The earlier integration of experiential learning gives students a taste for possible career paths but just as importantly, learning experiences that allow them to utilize and understand the advanced technological tools of their future and to utilize and exercise their own problem-solving and management skills.

The course was led by RSU 19 educators, Keith Kelley and Kern Kelley who are brothers, partners, and advocates for integrated experiential student learning. It provides classroom teachers, at any grade level and of any subject matter expertise, with not only the tools but also the mindset and methods to teach project based and integrated lessons to their students. This type of learning environment provides students with real-world, problem solving experiences with technology, bringing full circle the content areas that make up the very well-known acronym STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math).

The STEAMRoller Cart includes: Seville Classics UltraHD 2-Door Rolling Cabinet and a 6-drawer Rolling Storage Cabinet, Vise, Portable Vise Table, Power Strips, Cordless Orbital Hand Sander, Corded Orbital Hand Sander, Power Drill, Impact Power Drill, Rotary Dremel Tool, Irwin Clamps, Kobalt 100-Piece Household Tool Set with Hard Case, Hand Tool Bag, Hammer, Locking Pliers, Tape Measure, Speed Square, Spade Bits, Flash Forge 3D Printer, 3D Printer Tool Set, Frog Tape, Duct Tape, Rocketbook, FriXion Pens, iPod Touch & Case, Tripod, Raspberry Pi, Soldering Iron, Scrappy Circuits, Safety Goggles, Disposable Gloves, Breakout of the Box DRAWER, and a Breakout EDU Kit.
The STEAMRoller Cart includes: Seville Classics UltraHD 2-Door Rolling Cabinet and a 6-drawer Rolling Storage Cabinet, Vise, Portable Vise Table, Power Strips, Cordless Orbital Hand Sander, Corded Orbital Hand Sander, Power Drill, Impact Power Drill, Rotary Dremel Tool, Irwin Clamps, Kobalt 100-Piece Household Tool Set with Hard Case, Hand Tool Bag, Hammer, Locking Pliers, Tape Measure, Speed Square, Spade Bits, Flash Forge 3D Printer, 3D Printer Tool Set, Frog Tape, Duct Tape, Rocketbook, FriXion Pens, iPod Touch & Case, Tripod, Raspberry Pi, Soldering Iron, Scrappy Circuits, Safety Goggles, Disposable Gloves, Breakout of the Box DRAWER, and a Breakout EDU Kit.

Each educator’s school paid $381 total for the four-day hybrid course that includes the four in-person sessions, bi-weekly reading and reflection assignments and online discussions and provides educators with contact hours plus 3 college credits, in addition to a “STEAMRoller” cart of hardware and equipment valued at over $2,000 each. They will also each have the opportunity to host a STEAMRoller bus for a day at their school, which includes an experiential student conference provided by course instructors and their partners. At the student conference, educators and students will be able to participate in a day filled with breakout sessions on various topics such as 3D printing, drones, and virtual reality to name a few.

Hermon High School Principal Brian Walsh is excited that one of his 9th grade science teachers is attending the course this summer so that he can share his knowledge and the tool kit with the other 9th grade science teacher so that they can integrate hands-on project-biased learning experiences, not just to 9th graders but throughout the high school as well. Walsh has felt a void where they were unable to fill an industrial arts position in prior years and hopes this will help bring new STEAM learning experiences, career pathways, and experiential opportunities to the students at Hermon High School.

educators looking at a computer screen togetherTonya Therrien, Benton Elementary 5th Grade teacher decided to take the course with the hopes of bringing back to her classroom, “a way to utilize technology more with the kiddos, beyond just using it for research.” She wants her students to know how to use technology as a tool. When asked what she thought of the training so far, she said, “this is probably the most worthwhile class I’ve ever taken, and I’ve taken a lot of classes.” She then added that she has two master’s degrees which both required a fair amount of coursework.

Aaron Pody, a high school Life Sciences teacher from RSU 18 came to the class to learn about ways to teach the content with more relevance to his students. He has been pleased to find that there are ways to bring technology into the classroom that are not cost prohibitive.

educator wearing VR gogglesRSU 26 educator Karen Frye from Orono was excited to bring back what she has learned at the course to provide her gifted and talented students with the rare opportunity to do some hands-on problem solving, which will further enrich their learning experience and give them some problem-solving skills.

The 3-credit course and the STEAMRoller bus events are intended to give participating educators and schools a taste of experiential learning methods, along with emerging technologies, tools and resources. The course is expected to be followed up by an Experiential Education certificate program that EMCC is expected to launch in January of 2020. The new program aims to provide the state with educators that can help fill the growing workforce gap in technologically skilled workers.

The launch of the experiential training was deemed a success by organizers and participants alike. The innovative approach to an obvious need has the potential to further help Maine schools lead their students toward successful career choices, experience with problem-solving, and the ability to successfully navigate the technology of our future.

Educators standing with STEAMRoller Carts

This article was written by Rachel Paling in collaboration with course instructors Keith and Kern Kelley, and staff at both UTC and EMMC. If you have story ideas for Maine DOE’s Maine School’s Sharing Success campaign, please contact Rachel Paling at rachel.paling@maine.gov.

Maine DOE Engages Stakeholder Input Through Regional Think Tank Series

Drawing its largest gathering of stakeholders, the Maine Department of Education (DOE) hosted its 5th event in a series of Think Tanks held at various locations throughout the state this spring and summer. The Think Tanks are a way for the Department to discuss various topics and gain feedback from stakeholders about ongoing initiatives, long term programming, and to inform future decision-making.

In this first round of Think Tanks, the following topics were discussed: redefining school success, the Maine Learning Through Technology Initiative (MLTI), educator readiness, educator excellence, and special education.

The July 8th event held in Augusta started off with a warm introduction from Deputy Commissioner Daniel Chuhta thanking participants for making the trek to Augusta, in some cases from as far away as Washington County. Shortly after, attendees split off into three large groups to discuss specific topics for the day.

The discussion about MLTI, hosted by Beth Lambert, Maine DOE Coordinator of Secondary Education and Integrated Instruction, was introduced with an explanation of the 20 year history of MTLI, an acknowledgement that information will be forthcoming in regards to the recent passage of the budget and the coming school year, and that the day’s feedback will aid in the planning of the future of MLTI beyond 2021 when all of the current contracts have come to an end.

“Before we begin, I want to mention that there is only one thing that is off the table for today’s discussion,” said Lambert in her opening remarks. “We will not be talking about whether or not to end the MLTI Program,” she noted. “MLTI has been around for 20 years, and we would like it to be around for many, many more years to come.”

Stakeholder presenting feedback

Over the course of the next few hours the group was split off into four smaller groups, each tasked with identifying values, concerns, and suggestions on large sheets of chart paper. A summary of those lists was then shared out with the entire group before the session ended prior to lunch.

Meanwhile in another session, a group was discussing the answers to a specific set of questions posed by Maine DOE Deputy Director of the Office of Special Services, Ann Belanger:

  • What is the most challenging aspect of the special education process?
  • Do you find the Maine Unified Special Education Regulations (MUSER) user friendly? What would make them more user friendly?
  • How can the Maine Department of Education support districts and parents in providing services to students with disabilities?
  • Are there topics/issues about which you feel that more information and/or training is needed? What are they?
  • Are there practices and/or policies that create barriers for students with disabilities?

Stakeholders engaged in worksessionParticipants then shared their collaborative responses with the entire group, working together to carefully record all the responses in notes. The group then worked together to create the ideal special education program, detailing the processes that would need to be involved to create this type of ideal setting.

For the session about redefining school success, Mary Paine, the Director of a new Office of School Success, introduced an initiative that engages educators, students, parents, and communities in conversations about what they think makes a school successful. Her session worked to further engage with stakeholders on this topic. The framework that results from the Maine Defines School Success statewide dialog will eventually complement Maine’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan by providing a broader set of indicators of success in Maine’s schools. In addition to being part of the Think Tanks series, the school success discussion will continue in school communities throughout the state over the course of the next school year.

IMG_3330

Led by Maine DOE’s Office of Higher Education and Educator Support Services, the educator readiness session prompted participants to discuss talent needs that are ideal for teacher candidates including pre-service and in-service, as well as what is needed to ensure teachers are prepared for equity and diversity in the classroom.

Each session resulted in walls of chart paper filled with written notes detailing suggestions, ideas, concerns, values, and much more. “We are pleased with the participation and appreciate that folks were willing to join us in these discussions across the State,” said Deputy Commissioner Chuhta.

IMG_3304

Following the July 8th event there will be an additional Think Tank held in Winter Harbor this fall to discuss the same topics and the Department is also planning to release a survey for those unable to participate in discussion topics at the Think Tanks already held.

“In the works is a new section of the Maine DOE website dedicated to the Think Tanks where the transcribed notes from each of the sessions will be available along with other information,” said Chuhta. “In the coming months, the notes will be synthesized to help us determine next steps and guide decision making on the topics discussed,” he added.

In a continuation of the Think Tank Series, the Department is expecting to launch another round of Think Tanks on a different set of topics over the course of the coming school year.

Mid-Maine Tech Center Students Improving Their Community, One Glass of Water at a Time

A team of chemistry students from Waterville Senior High School collected 85 water samples from different locations in Waterville, which were sent to the  Dartmouth Lab for analysis. Fifteen of the samples tested positive for arsenic—so the class researched inexpensive filters called Zero Water to keep water arsenic-free and make their community safer.

The project was covered by a team of Mass Media Communications students at Mid-Maine Technical Center (MMTC) as part of the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs. MMTC is the only school in Maine that hosts this program. It was presented on Maine Public Television and nationally on PBS Nature’s American Spring LIVE, and won third place in a national STEM Film Festival hosted by PBS.

Maine Spring Live – Clean Water from Mid-Maine Technical Center on Vimeo.

This story was written by Maine DOE Intern Emmeline Willey. If you have a story idea or would like to submit a written story for the Maine DOE Newsroom, email Rachel Paling at rachel.paling@maine.gov.

Freeport Girls Code Their Way to Finals 

As the computer-savvy become a more and more heavily sought-after breed of employee, young women across the nation are getting a head start in this growing field. GirlsGoCyberStart, a competitive, multi-leveled program, is teaching them the ins and outs of cybersecurity before they even graduate. Through various games, teens are honing skills in cryptography, web vulnerabilities, Python, Linux and forensics—and learning teamwork and determination along the way. 

“Cybersecurity is a growing and critical field. It is more important than ever before to train skilled experts in Maine and across the nation to defend our national and financial security,” said Governor Janet Mills at the launch of the program’s second year in February. Last year, almost 200 students from the State participated. “This program will help young women pursue the education and training they need for lifelong careers and leadership positions in cybersecurity.” 

Several Clubs from Maine entered the CyberStart competition. Each group of skilled teens would code their way through three levels of increasingly tough competition. 9,500 girls from across the nation entered the ring at the first stage back in February. Two participation challenges were also run, to encourage more girls to get involved. For every five girls registered to a Club who completed at least two challenges, their school would be entered once in the running for a $1,000 prize. At the end of the ‘Assess’ stage, in which girls are evaluated for their aptitude with code and security through a series of challenges, the three Clubs in each State with the most girls registered (having completed at least one challenge) will receive prize money by place in totals of $1,000, $750, and $500. Those winners from Maine this year were, in order: 

  • Hancock County Technical Center (1st) 
  • Deering High School (2nd) 
  • Sanford High School (3rd) 

The top schools in each state are decided by the second round, and those then proceed onto the Championship ‘Capture the Flag’ round. The CyberGEMS of Freeport High School were among the 120 schools to make it to the Championship, placing 87th in this final round. The team was comprised of four precocious teens who were nominated by their Club: Dena Arrison, Leah Rusecki, Taylor Harris, and Rachel Packard. 

Rusecki, a sophomore, commented in a press release prior to the Championship, “My class schedule is quite full, but having the chance to explore computer technology outside of regular classes is a great opportunity for us. Solving the cybersecurity puzzles and challenges has been really interesting! I hope to take a computer programming class next year.” 

Each member of the CyberGEMS took home $100, as well as an additional $100 for their school. More than that, every girl who participated in some level of the competition developed skills vital to the rapidly growing cybersecurity field—and with results from last year showing that number of students interested in cybersecurity doubled after playing, these students show promise at filling more of these high-paying, challenging jobs in the future. 

This story was written by Maine DOE Intern Emmeline Willey. If you have a story idea or would like to submit a written story for the Maine DOE Newsroom, email Rachel Paling at rachel.paling@maine.gov.