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UMaine Partnering With Public Schools On $12.3 Million Grant To Redesign Science Curriculum

Contacts: Susan McKay (207) 581-1019 or susan.mckay@umit.maine.edu

Owen Maurais, executive director, Penobscot River Educational Partnership, (207)581-3651 or owen.maurais@umit.maine.edu

ORONO– Almost 50 Maine middle and high schools will have a chance to redesign their physical science curricula thanks to a $12.3 million grant awarded to the University of Maine.

The National Science Foundation grant, which is the largest ever received by the UMaine-based Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE), will be used to form the Maine Physical Sciences Partnership and create 12 jobs, in addition to generating the curricula that will eventually be used in 12 high schools and 36 middle schools.

Faculty in the areas of science, technology, engineering mathematics (STEM) and education are all involved in UMaine’s RiSE Center. RiSE Director Susan McKay, a professor of physics, will oversee the new partnership.

The grant will also be used to fund professional development programs for schoolteachers and UMaine faculty and students, as well as the purchase supplies for local schools.

Teachers will meet starting this fall with UMaine faculty to select the curriculum and adapt it for implementation. There are several criteria for curricula selection, including alignment with Maine State Learning Standards and proven effectiveness in enhancing student learning.

Through the Maine Physical Sciences Partnership, schoolteachers will be offered stipends to attend week-long summer academies focused on implementing the curriculum for the start of the 2011-2012 school year.

The curriculum will be tailored for students in grades 6-9, which are crucial years for students. The course of study would be organized so that students who reach ninth grade have a common background, which McKay hopes can be achieved through the sequencing of the curriculum’s main ideas.

“A lot of students close the door on science and math in grades 6-9,” she says. “I think we can really set up students for success if we can take some of the research about how to sequence ideas and implement a curriculum using that research, so the seventh-grade teacher knows what the students have done in sixth grade.”

The time is right for the partnership, according to McKay, because many schools in Maine are reevaluating their curricula following the recent wave of school consolidations.

The middle and high schools involved in the partnership each fall into one of three geographic regions: Penobscot River, which includes 21 schools in a swath from Hampden to Lincoln; Downeast, which is made up of 23 schools in an area that includes Ellsworth and Mount Desert Island; and Mid-Coast, which includes four schools in Searsport and Belfast.

Other organizations partnering with UMaine are Acadia Partners for Science and Learning, Institute for Broadening Participation, Maine Department of Education, and Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance.

The Maine RiSE Center seeks to reevaluate and reform introductory level science and mathematics courses, establish research-guided practices for K-12 science teacher preparation, and build infrastructure for ongoing educational improvement with teachers, schools and administrators throughout the state.

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