HURRICANE ISLAND, Maine — This little island is once again seeing visitors, but instead of the granite quarriers of the late 1800s or the summer camp children of the mid-to-late 1900s, this time teachers and scientists are flocking to it.
The Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership is getting ready for its second summer season teaching teachers.
The privately owned 140-acre island hosted Outward Bound for about 40 years before the program moved to the mainland in 2005. Outward Bound’s buildings were then abandoned until the Hurricane Island Foundation took them over in 2010 and started refurbishing them for its educational programs.
John Dietter is the executive director of the center. He spent 17 years teaching science on North Haven. For him, daylong in-school professional development workshops didn’t make a difference to him — but intensive workshops with scientists showed him how to teach science better.
“Those were experiences that changed me as a teacher. Research on transforming education finds that in order to change a teacher’s practice it takes about 70 hours of focused work,” Dietter said. “It can’t be done in a six-hour session called ‘professional development.’ It takes substantial experiences to change people’s practices.”
For that reason, the Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership brings teachers to the island for a week at a time. The 60 or so teachers live on-island during the workshops.
“That is how we can make change happen. We’re trying to influence people’s practices in the classroom and improve student outcome,” Dietter said.
This year, the two sessions focus on place-based and project-based education. In the place-based workshop which Dietter will teach, he will use the island as a lens for other social studies lessons.
“Hurricane imploded in the fall of 1914. You get into, ‘Well what happened in the fall of 1914?’ It was the beginning of World War I. It was the beginning of rail transport. Concrete was being used as a building material. In a nutshell that’s the core idea of place-based education. It’s something you can do wherever you are,” he said.
Jud Raven, a high school history teacher on Vinalhaven, took a two-day, place-based education course on Hurricane Island last summer. In that time Raven listened to college professors talk about how to teach middle school students to use primary documents, like census records, for research.
“I gained a curriculum I could use right away,” Raven said. “I was doing U.S. history so this was a small section of what I am doing, but if I get back to teaching Maine studies this would be really easy to use it there.”
While most teachers might learn about place-based education and then relate it to their own hometown, Hurricane Island and Vinalhaven used to be the same town, so Raven gathered his students, put them in a lobster boat and brought them to Hurricane Island, too.
The students researched the island, wrote historical fiction about people who used to live there and then saw where those people used to live in the old quarrying town.
The Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership aims to have more students come to the island, although that can be a bit difficult. The island is only open seasonally — before the weather picks up and makes boat journeys difficult. And it’s miles from the mainland. Last fall the Hurricane Island Center did one-day workshops for schools. The center wants to expand that this year to multiday sessions, which will serve about 200 students.
The third group the center wants to bring to the island is scientists. This summer one marine biologist will use a submarine robot to study lobster larvae off the island’s shore.
“We would like to connect all of them — connect scientists with teachers and then with students,” Dietter said.
The Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership also wants to expand beyond school groups in the midcoast and invite individual students from around Maine to Hurricane Island. That idea comes, in part, from Dietter’s own experiences.
“We’ve identified some needs in this state. I have had gifted science students and I had wondered, ‘What are opportunities I can connect these students with?’ They are limited in this state,” he said.