February 21, 2018
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Maine schools get physical science grant

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — A $12.3 million National Science Foundation grant awarded to the University of Maine will help teachers at 48 middle and high schools in Maine redesign their physical science curricula.

The grant is the largest ever received by the UMaine-based Maine Center for Research in STEM Education, or RiSE. It will be used to form the Maine Physical Sciences Partnership, which will create 12 jobs and generate curricula for 12 high schools and 36 middle schools.

The physical sciences study nonliving systems and include chemistry, physics and engineering.

University faculty in the areas of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and education all are involved in UMaine’s RiSE Center, according to a UMaine press release issued Thursday. RiSE director Susan McKay, a professor of physics, will oversee the new partnership.

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

Secondary school teachers will begin meeting 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, according to the press release.

The curriculum will be tailored for students in grades six through nine, which are crucial years for students, according to McKay

“A lot of students close the door on science and math in grades 6-9,” she said in the press release. “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, she said, because many schools in Maine are re-evaluating their curricula following the recent wave of school consolidations.

The districts in the partnership fall into one of three geographic regions: Penobscot River, which includes 21 schools from Hampden to Lincoln; Down East, 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 on the project are the 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 re-evaluate 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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