Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Smith Leads a Science Transformation

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Michelle Smith, a University of Maine researcher and assistant professor in UMaine’s School of Biology and Ecology is participating in five projects aimed at improving nationwide science instruction and assessments.

Read more here.


MainePSP Post-Doc Receives NARST Scholarship

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Congratulations to MainePSP Post-Doc Shirly Avargil on her NARST Scholarship!

Shirly Avargil, a current postdoctoral research associate with the Maine Physical Sciences Partnership and the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education, has recently been selected by the NARST Equity and Ethics Committee to receive the Jhumki Basu Equity Scholars Award.  As a 2013 Basu Scholar, she will receive a scholarship that supports the expenses of attending this year’s Annual NARST Conference that will be taking place this March in Puerto Rico.  Only 15 NARST members were chosen to receive this award, which supports advanced-level doctoral students and junior scholars from underrepresented groups in the United States.

The Basu Scholarship program is designed to not only provide a financial award to its recipients, but also to help support and develop their research skills.  This is carried out by requiring recipients to attend the NARST Conference and to participate in the Pre-Conference Workshop.

Avargil’s research focuses on teachers’ conceptions of progress in science education.  She is currently working on several research projects involving pre-service teachers at the University of Maine (teaching partners and chemistry students), and in-service teachers in rural Maine (teacher enactment of new science Framework and knowledge for assessment)

Last Collaborative of Academic Year – May 31 at UTC in Bangor

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Hello, colleagues!

Many of you were at the fabulous MainePSP Summit held a few weekends back. As always, thank you for being in this partnership. I had a great time, and hope you enjoyed it, as well. For those who didn’t attend, maybe next year! A special thanks to those who spoke on panels and had their students present work!

This Thursday evening, May 31, we’ll have a collaborative meeting at the UTC in Bangor. You’re all invited – teachers get a stipend of $50, and everyone gets dinner… Join us at 5:30!

This week’s activity will deal with the idea of graphing information, universal gravitation, and ways in which we can use each other’s materials in our classrooms. We’re taking a SEPUP activity, looking at the ideas involved in completing it successfully, and hopefully looking at student work, as well. These materials are part of SEPUP, but some PBIS teachers have used them, as well. This gives us a chance to talk about how and why we might borrow ideas and materials from each other. As usual, we’re looking to just simply spend time together, share ideas about how to teach better, understand the materials we have, talk about the science involved, engage in inquiry about the science as well as about teaching, and have a good time.

Please join us on Thursday! Hope to see you soon, for this last collaborative of the 2011-2012 academic year.

May 24 PSP Collaborative

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Hello, colleagues!

Many of you were at the fabulous MainePSP Summit, held last weekend. As always, thank you for being in this partnership. I had a great time, and hope you enjoyed it, as well. For those who didn’t attend, maybe next year! A special thanks to Jen Curtis and Kelley Littlefield (who spoke on panels), Beth Haynes (whose students presented work from SEPUP), and Kim Buckheit (who participated in a roundtable discussion). I hope I didn’t miss someone in that list…

This Thursday evening, we’ll have a collaborative meeting at the Searsport Area High School. You’re all invited – teachers get a stipend of $50, and everyone gets a fabulous dinner cooked by the culinary arts students. Join us! We’ll meet in Michelle Colbry’s room, and I’m sure she’ll hang out some signs to help us find it.

This week’s activity will deal with the idea of graphing information, universal gravitation, and ways in which we can use each other’s materials in our classrooms. We’re taking a SEPUP activity, looking at the ideas involved in completing it successfully, and hopefully looking at student work, as well. These materials are part of SEPUP, but some PBIS teachers have used them, as well. This gives us a chance to talk about how and why we might borrow ideas and materials from each other. As usual, we’re looking to just simply spend time together, share ideas about how to teach better, understand the materials we have, talk about the science involved, engage in inquiry about the science as well as about teaching, and have a good time.

Please join us on Thursday! Hope to see you soon, for this last collaborative of the 2011-2012 academic year…

9th Grade Task Force meeting – Thursday, May 10

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Hello MainePSP Teachers,

You are cordially invited to a presentation by the Grade 9 Task Force from 5:30-8:00 PM on Thursday, May 10 at the United Technology Center in Bangor. (directions at  The purpose of this meeting is to gather input and insight from grade 5-12 teachers, curriculum coordinators and administrators in MainePSP partner districts before a recommendation is made to the MainePSP Leadership Team regarding which instructional resources should be piloted at the ninth-grade level this fall.  The meeting will begin with dinner and a stipend of $50 will be provided to all participating teachers.

At this meeting, members of the Task Force will share information about the two sets of Earth Science instructional resources that are being considered for implementation in grade 9 at MainePSP partner schools, EarthComm and Foundation Science: Earth Science.  Specifically, the presentation will include information about the task force process, findings about how well EarthComm and Foundation Science address key ideas within content knowledge and scientific practices, and findings about the support they provide in the areas of mathematics, literacy, and technology.

After the presentation, participants will work in district groups to discuss the evidence provided by the task force, discuss the pros and cons of EarthComm and Foundation Science, and each district group will be asked to come to consensus about which resources could serve the district’s students well.  Several days later, the Task Force will present their report, along with districts’ input, at the MainePSP Leadership Team Meeting on May 15th, and the Leadership Team will make a decision about whether EarthComm or Foundation Science will be piloted in the fall of 2012.

If you are planning to attend this meeting, please reply to Tracy Richardson at by Tuesday, May 8th and please let her know about any dietary restrictions.  The input of middle school and high school teachers is essential to this discussion and we hope to see you on May 10th!

Not reading science, doing science: Maine students try new program

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff
Posted April 18, 2012

Last year, Jordan Dunlap of Belfast didn’t really like learning about science. But this year, things are different, conceded the 15-year-old from Belfast, a student at Troy Howard Middle School. Jordan is one of about 1,300 middle school students in the state who are participating in a pilot program that aims to change the way Maine youngsters are taught science. For more information, click here.

SEPUP Update, April 2, 2012

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

By Joanna Meyer

With the arrival of spring, SEPUP classrooms find themselves moving through Issues & Earth Science at an ever-increasing pace.  Although Units A (Studying Soils Scientifically) and Unit B (Rocks and Minerals) went somewhat slowly as students and teachers adjusted to the format and flow of the instructional materials, these units provided an excellent foundation.  In Unit C (Erosion and Deposition), students quickly became invested in the fate of Boomtown, a fictional city that needs to choose the best site for future development based on topography, weather processes, soil composition, and other factors that affect geomorphology.  One teacher noted that “The [cliff model] activity best represents what I like about this program: hands-on, everyone participates, and writing is always incorporated.”  The unit concluded with a City Council Meeting in which groups of students presented their conclusions on where Boomtown should build.

In Unit D (Plate Tectonics), students compared three possible sites for nuclear waste storage.  In order to make the best decision, students learned about the structure of the earth and the geologic processes that happen within it.  This knowledge allowed students to better understand a range of risk factors such as volcanism and earthquakes.  As always, the SEPUP materials facilitated student learning through a variety of activities from investigations, readings, experiments and computer simulations.  Teachers reported that students really enjoy working on the unit scenarios, which motivate students by providing a focus for learning.

As spring begins, SEPUP classrooms are in the midst of Unit E (Weather and Atmosphere).  This long unit includes learning about weather, climate, the properties of water, the water cycle, the atmosphere, and the role of oceans in weather and climate.  Students are thinking about short-term and long-term change as they learn about the fields of meteorology, hydrology, climatology and atmospheric science.  Next up is Unit F (The Earth in Space), which is followed by Unit G (Exploring the Solar System).  In the former, students learn about the causes of diurnal cycles, seasonal cycles, annual cycles and phases of the moon while the latter focuses on the objects in our solar system, the role of gravity, and tools that can be used to study objects in space.  The remainder of the school year promises to be full of engaged, active learning focused on the development of scientific thinking as well as science knowledge.

Teaching Partner Article

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

By Allison Dorko

The Teaching Partner program is a strand of the Physical Science Partnership that connects inquiry-based science curriculum, middle school teachers and students, and University of Maine graduate students. This program offers UMaine graduate and undergraduate science majors a chance to work with PSP teachers in their classroom.  Twenty PSP Teachers currently work with a Teaching Partner on a weekly basis.

The Teaching Partner program began in fall 2011 with 22 teachers and so far has involved 16 Teaching Partners, some of whom have been working with the same teachers the entire school year.

A Teaching Partner is paired with one or more middle school science teachers and works with the teacher in the classroom for six hours a week. Teaching Partners assist in a variety of different ways, including planning lessons, preparing materials, assisting as students work on inquiry-based activities, and sometimes teaching entire lessons. Additionally, many Teaching Partners participated alongside classroom teachers in the Summer Academy and Teacher in Residence programs in summer 2011; this collaboration is planned for summer 2012 as well.

Additionally, one of the most important parts of the Teaching Partner program is the interaction between the Teaching Partner and the classroom teacher. Dan Laverty, a U Maine graduate student and Teaching Partner in three middle school science classrooms, says that “I think the biggest thing I do for classes is the partner type relationship. There’s the constant talking of what we’re doing today, how we’re going to do it, and we talk after class about how things went and what assessment we’ll use. It’s reflection on the activity, and it’s reflection with another person who knows the content and the students. I think that’s what’s most useful: someone with whom to hash over the science teaching.” One of the benefits of these conversations for teaching partners is the acquisition of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Dan says that “teachers, with their experience, have a better grasp than I do of student ideas” and he learns from that. Teaching Partners and classroom teachers can also discuss pure science content. These conversations are important; Dan notes that he thinks teachers tend to talk “with the teacher next door” a lot about students – the human part of teaching – “and of course that’s important. But having a Teaching Partner allows for frequent conversations about science and teaching  science.”

Another benefit to the Teaching Partner program is a transfer of best practices throughout the teacher community.  Teaching Partners working with multiple teachers are able to participate in a lesson in one classroom, and then participate in that same activity in another teacher’s class, sharing first-hand experiences throughout the community.  It’s almost impossible for teachers to get releases to observe each other teaching, especially outside of their own school.  As Teaching Partners visit different teachers, they become the pathway for the transfer of knowledge of what is working and what is challenging in various classrooms across the region.

The U Maine Masters of Science in Teaching Program (MST) typically has its graduate students complete their student teaching internship in their fourth semester of the program. With the advent of the Teacher Partner program, some graduate students are in the classroom in their second semester. MST students teach or TA courses in mathematics or science in other semesters, and thus students experience both college-level and public school teaching. “It has been really nice to have experience teaching in a public school before I student teach,” says Jason Bakelaar, and MST student who is currently writing his thesis and will student teach next spring. “Particularly in a middle school classroom – it’s nice to have an experience teaching there, as I intend to student teach in a high school classroom.”

Teaching Partners are supported on campus with a seminar course in which they read journal articles about issues related to teaching, write reflections on how the research connects to their teaching, and discuss their experiences. The journal articles are chosen by students and discussions are student-led.

More information about Teaching Partners can be found here:

MLA Program

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

By Allison Dorko

One of the goals of the Physical Sciences Partnership is to provide opportunities for undergraduate STEM students to explore careers in science and mathematics teaching. The Maine Learning Assistants (MLA) program, currently in its second year at the University of Maine, is one of the ways the PSP is achieving this goal.

The MLA program is modeled after the Colorado Learning Assistant (CLA) program, developed by the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2003. The CLA program has been very successful in terms of increasing the number of well-qualified K-12 physics teachers, increasing undergraduate student learning in physics courses, and increasing content knowledge in the students who served as CLAs. Dr. Michelle Smith, a new faculty member at U Maine, was involved with the CLA program and is now working with Learning Assistants in at U Maine.

Maine Learning Assistants (MLAs) are undergraduates who demonstrate high achievement in their courses and express an interest in teaching. Learning assistants apply to the program during the fall semester. Candidates are interviewed; those selected are paired with a faculty member or teaching assistant for a spring course. Maine Learning Assistants then assist in lectures and/or recitation sections, facilitating collaboration among learning teams of 6 to 20 students. Dr. Michelle Smith, a STEM education researcher, is very passionate about this program and describes the MLAs as “committed, enthusiastic, bright undergrads who can relate to their peers.  MLAs really recognize the importance of helping fellow undergrads and at the same time, they get valuable teaching experience.” This year, there are three MLAs in chemistry courses and six in physics courses. Last year, there were 9 MLAs, also assisting in chemistry and physics.

The work of an MLA goes beyond attending the science of math class in which (s)he is assisting: the MLAs attend the prep sessions with faculty and TAs. In prep sessions, MLAs review the inquiry-based activity that their students will do and discuss what difficulties students may experience as well as what common alternative conceptions exist regarding that content. These meetings are critical to the success of inquiry-based teaching and participating in the prep sessions allows MLAs to experience the teaching process beyond what happens in the classroom. Additionally, these prep sessions and concurrent classroom experience deepen these undergraduates’ understanding of course content. MLAs comment that they are “much more familiar with the course material” after working as a learning assistant. Dr. Smith has data from the CLA program that supports these students intuitive notions; in some cases, CLAs in Boulder outscored TAs on a Concept Inventory exam. Learning assistant programs also provide teaching opportunities for students who may later go to grad school and become TAs; and in the words of one MLA, “that will make us more effective when we’re in grad school, because we’ve already had teaching experience.”

Though being an MLA is a fair amount of work, the MLAs find the experience rewarding. One physics MLA commented that “it is rewarding to see students understand a concept they were struggling with. In fact, even if they weren’t struggling with a concept, it can be quite rewarding to see students understand it.” One benefit to the students is that the MLAs are not always physics majors, and can identify with the students because the MLA himself may have struggled a bit with the content initially, and so remembers the difficulty. “We can understand where the students are coming from,” another MLA notes.

MLAs are enrolled in a one-credit seminar course to reflect on their experience. The course is taught by Dr. Mackenzie Stetzer, one of the new PSP faculty. The course meets weekly for two hours. Students read a journal article relevant to inquiry-based teaching weekly; in the class, they discuss the article and how it relates to their teaching. MLAs also discuss anything interesting that has occurred in their teaching during the week. Class time also includes a video of someone else teaching and analyze it from a teaching perspective, considering questions such as “what are the students thinking? What are their mental models?” Students find these articles and videos engaging and useful; one of the spring 2012 MLAs commented that she was “interested in becoming a teacher before becoming an LA, but some of the articles we read in the LA class contribute to my interest and make me excited to teach someday.”

The program will continue in the fall 2012 and spring 2013 semesters, expanding to give the MLAs the opportunity to work with six different courses including chemistry, physics, biology, and marine science. Applications will be available toward the end of this semester. Interested parties should contact Dr. Mackenzie Stetzer.

Profile of a PSP Teacher: Heather Rockwell

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

By Allison Dorko

Heather Rockwell, a sixth grade science and math teacher at Mattanawcook Junior High School, is piloting the SEPUP instructional resources in her classroom and working with the 9th Grade Task Force to choose a set of earth science instructional resources for implementation this coming fall. We asked Heather about her impressions of the program thus far.

There are many things Heather likes about the SEPUP instructional resources and how it engages her students. Heather says that she likes how “it is not content-based first with activities where they fit; the sequence is really about learning by doing science with content embedded within all the activities.” Another benefit Heather sees to the different types of activities within SEPUP is that “depending on the type of activity, different student leaders arise.” Additionally, the content is so engaging to students that they have been playing the Rock Cycle game in study hall. Heather’s favorite activities are the ones in which students “take the evidence presented and make a decision based on all their knowledge.  For instance, in one activity students had to decide where to build a community in Boomtown or when they had to decide what was wrong with the garden.  It is in those final activities in the units that they get to synthesize their learning and realize that sometimes even the best decisions are not always perfect.  There are tradeoffs that need to be taken into account.” Her students’ favorites include the Cutting Canyons and Building Deltas activity “because it was cool how it made banks” and “it was looking at mud and rain in a close up way.”  Other students said the Volcanic Landforms activity because it was like watching an actual volcano to see what happened” and “it involved mixing chemicals.” Students also enjoyed comparing the model to “the real thing.”

Heather has participated in many professional working groups within the PSP. Last year, Heather was a member of the task force that helped select the SEPUP curriculum; she also worked as a Teacher in Residence in summer 2011. Heather is currently a member of the 9th Grade Task Force. The task force is working to select a set of earth science instructional resources for implementation. Heather is part of the group evaluating the curricular materials for Key Ideas 1 and 2, which deal with Maine Learning Results 1 and 2. These key ideas address systems, models, nature of science, investigations, science, society, and technology content.  Heather says that she “became involved because I wanted to see how the curriculum would sequence from the 6-8 work to the 9-12 work.  I also felt like last year’s work was some of the best professional development I have done looking through resources and talking about what quality science instruction looks like in a classroom.” She notes that the community of science teachers is important to her: “the conversations that happen amongst the members in the group are as vital as the work that is being done.”

Additionally, the PSP professional groups have helped Heather improve her teaching. Heather is grateful for the support she has from other science teachers and U Maine faculty and she appreciates the “community of trust within the PSP. It has made me feel really comfortable asking the how and why questions of science. I feel more confident in my ability to teach concepts.” Heather has met many other teachers through the collaboratives and the 9th Grade Task Force, and she feels like “now I have many people to gain ideas from and ask questions. No one pretends to have all the answers, so it really is about learning from each other.”

Thanks to Heather Rockwell for all of her hard work and for providing a window into her PSP experience.