Maine DOE’s new Science & Technology Specialist and a new Blog venue

It is a pleasure for me to introduce the Maine DOE’s new Science and Technology Specialist, Shari Templeton. Shari brings a passion for science education and student learning, not to mention 30 years of experience in four districts to her new state role. Until this month, Shari taught at Wiscasett High school and served  as the  district’s K-12 Science Coordinator.  We are fortunate that our conversations about science education will be watched over and supported by this talented teacher and committed professional.

The welcoming of our new State Science Specialist comes with another move.  Maine DOE is taking this opportunity to integrate regular posts related to science into the Commissioner’s Weekly Update.  Shari Templeton, will  share important information about science education standards along with information about education topics such as educator effectiveness and proficiency-based education.  To make this transition seamless all 370 members of the SciTech Framework community will be subscribed to the Commissioner’s Weekly Update this week.  We look forward to serving you with science news in this new format and we hope that you will continue to follow along in the Newsroom and the Professional Development calendar for the latest information and opportunities from the Department. It is important that individuals beyond the science education community know about the great work happening throughout the state in science education, and by integrating these updates in to the Department Newsroom and Update, we can be assured science ed news is getting many more eyes upon it and the attention it deserves.

Please put your hands together and join me in welcoming Shari Templeton to her new role!


A peek into Biddeford Middle School’s NGSS review conversation

Ann Putney from Biddeford Middle School (BMS) reflects on the conversations that the BMS science professional learning community (plc) had while providing feedback on the NGSS. 

From Ann….

As we launched into our review, questions immediately arose about the language of the PEs. “How will the kids understand this?” was Tammy Lavigne’s first question. At BMS, the PE that is currently being worked on in a classroom is required to be posted in the room and discussed with students as the unit progresses. One of Tammy’s great strengths is her knowledge of and focus on 12-and 13-year olds, and how to best match her curriculum to them. The way in which we will communicate Performance Expectations to our charges in more student-friendly language is a question for us in the future. And… we have to remember… this IS still a draft.

Ethan Davis

Ethan Davis

“Our kids could never do that,” was a second comment. We reminded ourselves that we were looking at grade-span endpoints. Maybe the PEs are difficult to achieve at right now at BMS, we agreed, but what if we looked at the NGSS continuum from Kindergarten onward? We began with the Kindergarten standard “Structure and Properties of Matter,” to see what was introduced there. We discovered continuity in the practices, in particular and the cross-cutting concepts that built confidence among our group that a “culture of Science education” would be achieved in a comprehensive implementation of NGSS. This was a key realization for several of us in two ways: 1) that NGSS must be implemented throughout the grades, beginning in Kindergarten, and 2) that the Frameworks vision “that students, over multiple years of school, actively engage in science and engineering practices and apply crosscutting concepts to deepen their understanding of each field’s disciplinary core ideas” could be fulfilled by implementing NGSS. In other words, if the “culture” exists, yes our students will be able to do this. (A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Cross Cutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. page 2)

Chelsea Brittain, Barbara Burgess, Lori Hickey and Tammy Lavigne

Chelsea Brittain, Barbara Burgess, Lori Hickey and Tammy Lavigne

The NGSS review process has truly been participatory. Biddeford Middle School’s teacher comments are being reviewed along with all comments from ALL states across the nation in order to ensure that the NGSS may be as workable as possible for all stakeholders, including classroom teachers in a small city in Maine.

Many thanks to my colleagues: Chelsea Brittain, Barbara Burgess, Ethan Davis, Lori Hickey and Tammy Lavigne and to BMS Principal Charles Lomonte for providing us with time to complete our review.

First LEGO League Competition Fills the House!

The 2012 competition table.

The 2012 competition table.

The First Lego League Competition at the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday was AMAZING. Five hundred and forty students (66 teams from 42 towns) competed all day in an event that challenges their communication skills, programming ability and teamwork to address challenges and demonstrate their understanding of issues facing the senior members of their communities with over1200 spectators watching.

Maine Robotics Executive Director, Tom Bickford and his wife Gail Bickford coordinate the event and provide support for coaches and summer camps for students.  The 2012 First Lego League Competition is sponsored by Time Warner Cable, Fairchild Semiconductor, the Maine School of Science and Mathematics and the University of Maine School of Engineering. With play by play support from the energetic master of ceremonies Eric Eckhardt, an engineer at Ratheon Corporation, the positive energy at the Civic Center during the First Lego League Competition rivaled any sporting event!

Events like First Lego League are generating a whole new generation of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) career professionals.  Many of this year’s judges and referees are young engineering/computer professionals who participated in robotics programs or current high school students engaged in VEX and FIRST programs.  They are eager to help motivate and encourage the 9-13-year-olds to pursue STEM pathways.

In addition to the participation in First Lego League parents and guardians can support STEM interests in a variety of ways.  The following is only a partial list of programs and actions that support STEM learning in Maine.

At the elementary level:  Students might participate in Oddessy of the Mind, 4-H programming, Maine Audubon programming, Ferry Beach Ecology Center, Bryant Pond,and Maine Museum programming like Bug-mainea. Parents and community members can and should advocate for strong elementary Science programs in their schools

At the middle level: Students might participate in the Girls in Engineering at U Maine (GEM), Math League Competitions, competitions like eCybermissions (National Science Teachers Association), local science fairs and citizen science programs like Vital Signs through the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Parents and students should be aware of the Reach Center, launched a year ago through a $3.2 Million private donation, is committed to supporting promising STEM youth in grades 5-12.  There website includes a great repository of STEM related opportunities.

At the high school level – Students might participate in First Robotics,U Maine Windblade Competition, or VEX as well Science Olympiad, and can apply for STEM internships and exploratory programs through the National Youth Science Camp, the MERITS program, U Maine Summer Engineering Program for HS Juniors, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory summer Internships, and Jackson Laboratory summer Internships, opportunities through Educate Maine’s Computer Science/Information Technology/Computer Engineering Initiative. Specialized STEM programs exist or are in development at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, the Maine School of Natural Sciences, Bangor High School, Falmouth High School, and the Baxter STEM Academy. The University of Southern Maine offers scholarships in their STEM focused Pioneers program and the University of Maine offers merit-based scholarships to attend the University of Maine Engineering program.

SO many opportunities to grow STEM learning.

Tom and Gail Bickford

Tom and Gail Bickford

Laurette Darling and her first year team from Albert S. Hall School, Waterville

Laurette Darling and her first year team from Albert S. Hall School, Waterville.

School students volunteering at the First Robotics event.

Messalonskee High School students volunteering at the First Robotics event.

Sam Blunda, Amanda Blunda and Andy Davidson, teachers supporting First Robotics teams.

Sam Blunda, Amanda Blunda and Andy Davidson, teachers supporting First Robotics teams.

Eric Eckhardt, master of ceremonies.

Eric Eckhardt, master of ceremonies.

Update on release of second public draft of NGSS

Many of you have asked me to post the slides that Stephen Pruitt, Vice

Stephen Pruitt, Vice President for Content, Research, and Development,
Achieve, Inc.

President for Content, Research, and Development at Achieve, shared during  the Maine Science Teachers Conference.  I have posted them as Pruitt 2012 MSTA Presentation on the Resources page.

During the conference Stephen announced that we can expect to receive more details about the release of the second public draft after the election. Stephen also shared that Achieve hopes to release the second and final public draft of the Next Generation Science Standards by the end of November and that the final document is expected to be completed by end of the first quarter of 2013.


Certainly the strongest message that Stephen delivered at the conference is that Maine educators are doing the right thing and supporting implementation of the NGSS the right way with two actions:

1.  Getting familiar with A Framework for K-12 Science Education, and

2.  Providing feedback on the second draft of the NGSS.

I will share information about the how to provide feedback when Achieve provides the details.

In the meantime, National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) just published an article called “Exploring the New Standards: How to form a study group to examine the Next Generation Science Standards, second public draft.” My thanks to NSTA for their leadership in producing this great resource.

Commissioner recognizes Maine educators at MSTA Conference

At the end of last week the Maine Science Teachers Association hosted their annual conference.  It was quite a line up of speakers including Commissioner Bowen who recognized the 2012 Presidential Award Finalists.

Maine is FULL of educators with the expertise and dedication exemplified by these four individuals.  Read on…

October 5, 2012 Press Release

AUGUSTA – Today, the LePage Administration honored three science teachers and one math teacher from Maine as finalists for the 2012 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.  Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen recognized the educators at the Maine Science Teachers Association conference in Gardiner, which focused on rigorous new science standards.

The National Science Foundation, which is known for its rigorous selection process, will select up to one mathematics and one science winner per state to be recognized next spring in Washington, D.C.

The four Maine teachers are Lauree Gott, a science teacher at Veazie Community School in Veazie; Sally Plourde, a second grade teacher at Prides Corner School in Westbrook; Elizabeth Vickery, a kindergarten teacher at Cushing Community School in Cushing; and Karen Jagolinzer, a fifth grade teacher at Frank H. Harrison Middle School in Yarmouth.

“Thank you for what you do for our students, and for your colleagues,” Bowen said. “We like to talk a lot at the Maine DOE about sharing best practices. You are living, breathing, walking best practice machines. It is evident that you do and will continue to share your practices and your example with teachers across Maine.”

Notable conference attendees included keynote speaker Yvonne M. Spicer, Ed.D, of the Museum of Science in Boston, who discussed STEM awareness, standards and opportunities to inspire 21st-century students; and Stephen Pruitt, vice president for content, research and development at Achieve, who shared information about the development of the Next Generation Science Standards.

Science educators in attendance participated in four breakout sessions, ranging in topic from the ethical issues of genetics to using iPads for engineering to understanding LEGO robotics.

Maine is a lead state in the effort to develop and implement new, more rigorous and relevant science standards. These standards define the science content and concepts that students need to learn in order to be successful in the workforce, economy and society of the coming decades.

The award winners were selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians and educators following an initial selection process carried out at the state level. Each year, the award alternates between elementary and secondary education, going either to science and math teachers in grades 7 through 12 or to those teaching in grades K through 6 (as it did for the current finalists).

Winners of the Presidential Teaching Award receive $10,000 awards from the National Science Foundation to be used at their discretion. They also receive an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for a White House awards ceremony and several days of educational and celebratory events, including visits with members of Congress and science agency leaders.

“These teachers are four great examples of the caliber of teaching that will both prepare and inspire Maine students to follow careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics [STEM],” said Anita Bernhardt, science and technology specialist at the Maine DOE. “We are fortunate to have them in our schools.”

Finalists will be honored at a Presidential Awards Recognition Dinner at Maple Hill Farm in Hallowell in November.

Detail on finalists

Gott, who teaches science in grades 5-8 at the Veazie Community School, has been teaching for 19 years and was nominated for Maine Teacher of the Year in 2002.

In 2008, Gott coauthored an article that ran in Maine Policy Review, issue 17, titled “A Revolutionary Model to Improve Science Education, Teachers, and Scientists.”

In addition to her responsibilities to her middle school-aged students, Gott teaches science methods courses at Husson College and participates in the University of Maine National Science Foundation Physical Science Partnership Grant and the Vital Signs Project with the Gulf of Maine Research Center. In 2010, The Honeywell Educators Space Academy named Gott a recipient of the “Right Stuff” award.

One former student described Ms. Gott as “amazing. She didn’t make science interesting just for those of us who loved it–she helped everyone love science.”

Second grade teacher Plourde, of Prides Corner School, has been teaching for 26 years and is nationally board certified. In the past, she has mentored student teachers from the University of Southern Maine and the University of New England. Plourde has been recognized for her outstanding work many times; she was inducted into the Unum Teachers’ Hall of Fame and is a recipient of the Catherine Sullivan Professional Service Award.

“Sally’s lessons are motivating and creative, often using our natural environment for hands-on experiences,” said Pamela Ridley, Plourde’s colleague at Prides Corner School. “Sally created (along with parent and student volunteers) a nature trail behind the school: The Prides Corner Panda Path.”

Plourde also represented her district at the Harvard Teaching for Understanding conference, and she has served on the Professional Education Review Board at the University of New England in Biddeford.

Kindergarten teacher Vickery is nationally board certified and has been teaching 18 years. She received the National Semiconductor Internet Innovator Award from the National Semiconductor Corporation in 1999.

Vickery has presented at several education conferences, and she has served on her district’s curriculum science committee since 2007, acting as team leader from 2005 to 2010.

“Beth Vickery’s classroom is a dynamic environment where her students are challenged to think and reason while also enjoying the wonders of being five years old,” wrote Marguerite Murphy of Camden Hills Regional High School. “I believe a big part of her students’ measured success is because she brings the world of science into her classroom.”

Jagolinzer, who teaches fifth grade in Yarmouth, has been teaching for 17 years and serves as a math learning area liaison for the grade 5 team and as a member of the fifth grade team professional learning community.

“When you walk into Karen’s classroom, the students are being challenged to think, represent and share their thinking, and apply that thinking,” said Bruce Brann, Jagolinzer’s principal at Frank H. Harrison Middle School.

Leveraging science practices with technology tools

In anticipation of (and excitement about) the Framework for K-12 Science Education and the development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), many educators in Maine are already integrating some of the Practices into current instruction. Here’s a chance to look more deeply at the 8 Science and Engineering Practices from the Framework for K-12 Science Education.

Join MLTI Integration Mentor, Phil Brookhouse, for one of these workshops.  Phil will provide skills and strategies for supporting the Practices in your science classroom. Phil and I designed these session to explore the practices and expand on teaching and learning ideas for the integration of the Practices. Register now for a workshop session in your local area, bring your MLTI laptop and learn about some great new tools and approaches.
Please visit for a list of all events and to find links to online registration.
Some locations are being finalized and will be added as scheduled. If you have a space available for use, please contact Juanita Dickson.
We are trying to break up Aroostook County & Washington County into a southern & northern region to make drives shorter.  We hope you find this helpful!
Leveraging Technology with the Science Practices
  • October 18, 2012: Woodland Jr Sr HS
  • October 23, 2012: Lewiston High School
  • October 30, 2012 : York Region
  • October 31, 2012: Washington Region (Southern)
  • November 5, 2012: Penquis Valley HS
  • November 7, 2012: Presque Isle
  • November 13, 2012: Gorham Schools
  • November 20, 2012: Aroostook Region (Southern)
  • November 27, 2012: Midcoast Region
  • November 29, 2012: Kennebec Region
  • December 4, 2012: Cumberland Region

Word knowledge, the Framework, and the Common Core

Christine Anderson-Morehouse

Last week Christine Anderson-Morehouse, presented a session on Word Knowledge at the Department’s K-12 Summer Literacy Institute: Transition Planning for the Common Core State Standards.   Christine is both a longtime science education consultant and the director at Midcoast Professional Development Center where her work has included supporting several partner schools in a statewide, five-year Maine Content Literacy Project grant.  I am delighted that she agreed to share her insights with us in the entry that follows…  Thank you, Christine.

 Acquiring Word Knowledge—A Key to Science Understanding 

Words are not just words. They are the nexus—the interface—between communication and thought. What makes vocabulary valuable and important is not the words themselves so much as the understandings they afford.  (Common Core State Standards, Appendix A)

Language is at the core of the Practices in the Framework for K-12 Science Education, especially Practice 6 (Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions); Practice 7 (Engaging in Argument from Evidence) and Practice 8 (Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information).

The Common Core State Standards for ELA / Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects make direct connections to Science. We see this link in the Common Core State Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects (CCSS), the Language Standards, which are intended to be embedded across all other CCSS standards including reading, writing, listening and speaking.   Although we in STEM education might not think of ourselves as literacy teachers, it’s imperative that we incorporate effective word work into our daily instruction.

I am fascinated by the related and complementary research into language/vocabulary instruction that’s described in the Common Core documents (for example, CCSS Appendix A. Acquiring Vocabulary p. 32).

Academic Language and Background Knowledge:  Which Words? 

In science, we know that students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. It’s our job to provide scaffolded experiences (both hands-on and through reading) to engage students’existing understandings and lead them gradually to new concepts in order for them to learn in a way that “sticks”.  So, too, must we scaffold student use of language.  All students and especially struggling students need explicit support if they are to understand and use Academic Language, both the “Tier 2 Words” (general academic words such as “contrast”, “analyze”, “note”–words that are frequently used in school but rarely explicitly taught) and the “Tier 3 Words” (domain-specific terminology that represents both brand new concepts (“density”) and terminology that extends existing conceptual knowledge (the term “raptor” as applied to an already-understood concept of “bird”).  Our choice of Tier 3 words should assuredly be based on the standards in science.

In selecting the general academic words that we’ll take the time to teach, we’d be wise to work with our colleagues across the curriculum and identify the Tier 2 words to emphasize at each grade level in each subject.   It is widely accepted among researchers that the difference in students’ academic vocabulary levels is a key factor in disparities in academic achievement and that students struggle in school or drop out of college not because they can’t read (decode letters) but rather, because they struggle to unlock the meaning of these more general, academic words.  The AWL (Academic Word List)  consists of 570 of the most common terms used across disciplines organized by frequency of use.  An excellent book by Amy Benjamin, Vocabulary at the Center, includes similar word lists that are organized by categories of meaning.  Either of these resources, combined with the descriptions of science practices in A Framework for K-12 Science Education, can support cross-disciplinary discussions and decision-making about which words we’ll emphasize in the science classroom.

Effective Vocabulary Instruction:  How? 

Historically there has been an emphasis on the “assign/define/test” mode of studying word lists. These words were often the bold words from textbook chapters.  Research now tells us that words won’t stick when instruction follows this practice because it involves little in the way of student engagement nor experiences that build long-term memory.  Rather, students should have guidance so that they can create their own linguistic and non-linguistic representations in order gradually to shape their understandings of word meaning.   In order to support this learning, teachers must provide multiple and varied exposure over time with repeated opportunities for students to interact with one another about the words that they’re learning.  Learning word parts (roots,and prefixes and suffixes)and use of games—playing with words—can increase  a student’s probability for academic success.

Two valuable, general resources about research-based vocabulary instruction are an article by Robert Marzano about a six-step vocabulary process and an entry by Susan Ebbers on the Vocabulogic blog (scroll down to a list of “effective and engaging vocabulary practices”).  Specific to science, I’ve enjoyed using some of the practical classroom strategies such as the Frayer Model, Synectics and many other strategies described in Page Keeley’s Science Formative Assessments book.

Strengthening STEM learning requires the integration of literacy as described in the standards of the Common Core and the Practices of the Framework.