Category Archives: March 16

Cultivating perseverance and a ‘growth’ mindset

Sitting down with Christine Miller to talk about what it means to be an Expeditionary Learning (EL) school, it doesn’t take long to realize that the St. George School is not a typical K-8 educational institution. For one thing, Miller, who is the school’s Instructional Coordinator, has a job that involves responsibilities that many school principals would recognize—among them facilitating instruction and focusing on curriculum and performance—but the St. George School doesn’t have a principal.

“We went to a shared leadership model [when we withdrew from Regional School Unit 13],” Miller explains, “so we don’t have a principal anymore. To have the teachers working in teams—K-2nd grade, 3rd-5th grade, 6th-8th grade, unified arts and special services—and being trusted with the freedom to collaborate with each other to figure out how to do what’s best for their age group is definitely not common.”

Miller adds that, unlike with the usual principal’s role, the unique piece of her role is that she has the opportunity to work with students more directly and with teachers more directly. “I don’t have to worry about things like the budget—that’s the superintendent’s job.”

That the school’s superintendent—and not its principal—is responsible for its budget is also unusual, Miller points out. “It is not really common for a school to be its own Municipal School Unit, so it is very rare to have a superintendent full time in the building. In addition to carrying out his administrative responsibilities, Mr. Felton is in classrooms and working with kids and is very involved in everything.”

Choosing to become an EL school also sets the St. George School apart from other schools. “There are only a few EL schools in Maine and only one other elementary school,” Miller notes. The St. George School is now in its second year of the five-year process involved in getting certification as an EL school.

If the “expeditionary” in Expeditionary Learning sounds like this type of education involves pith helmets and adventure, that is not far off the mark. EL, in fact, is a nationwide organization that started with Outward Bound, the outdoor education organization which aims to foster personal growth and social skills in young people through challenging experiences.

Herring Gut teacher Ann Boover assists 2nd graders with their investigations into lobsters.

“EL works well for us because we are trying to be innovative and to think about learning outside of the classroom,” Miller notes. She cites last year’s 2nd grade class and its “expedition” on lobsters and lobstering. “They looked at lobstering in our community, at how our community depends on lobstering, on what we can do to keep lobstering here. They went to Herring Gut to study the lobsters, they monitored a web cam placed in a trap, they talked to lobstermen, they produced a video about lobsters and lobstering, they created placemats about lobstering and sold them to local restaurants.”

Unit teaching, Miller admits, is nothing new, but she says EL is more focused and concentrates on specific standards appropriate to the topic. In the case of the 2nd grade lobster expedition, that meant teaching the students how to convey information about lobsters and lobstering through writing, how to read informational material, and how to use math and science skills when collecting scientific data at Herring Gut. The students even read a book about lobstering in French during French class. Most important, Miller emphasizes, the EL experience makes learning “authentic” because it is rooted in meaningful, real-life enquiry and has a goal of coming up with a valuable final product that can be shared with the community. “The kids get an understanding of why they need to know how to write, of why they need to know science.”

Given the Outward Bound genesis of EL, it is also not surprising that a key feature of the EL approach to education is that students are expected to take strong ownership of their learning.

“In just about everything our students are self-assessing their learning,” Miller explains. “So rather than parent/teacher conferences, we have student-led conferences. The students know what is expected of them, what the learning targets are and the steps to take to become proficient in meeting those targets. They know that they all won’t necessarily be able to ride a bike the first time they get on a bike, that it takes multiple opportunities to try riding, that it takes practice. So for the student it is more about what can I do as a learner—I may not know how to do this but I can try in different ways and if that doesn’t work there are multiple opportunities to try again. We’re focused on teaching perseverance and a ‘growth’ mindset across the school.”

In this regard, the thing that most obviously reflects the St. George School’s perseverance and growth mindset is that no student becomes pigeonholed as, for example, an “A” student or a “C” student. Instead the students are evaluated in terms of “meeting standards,” “exceeding standards,” “partially meeting standards” and the like. Everyone, Miller says, is expected to meet the standards, but it’s not that they have just one shot, just one test in which to do so. “We have multiple measures of what success looks like. And no matter where our kids are we have good data to support that they are growing. Meeting kids where they are is what we do.”

For the school’s teachers, meeting students where they are, along with working collaboratively in teams and focusing on interdisciplinary “expeditions,” presents a significant challenge.

“The teachers all had to buy into this goal of becoming an EL school,” Miller stresses. “We all had to say we know it’s a lot of work—it’s a new way of looking at the way we’ve always done things. It’s incorporating all the content areas together for different lengths of time rather than just saying math is from 9am to 10am, writing is from 10am to 11am. It’s collaborating with other teachers, whereas in the past teachers were used to just being in their classroom with their class. This is more interdisciplinary, which takes more time to plan, to find the time to get with other teachers to discuss learning objectives and goals.”

Miller says there is also a lot of extra professional development involved. “Each teacher chooses two professional goals each year. An example might be learning how to incorporate technology into their literacy instruction. My job is to help them find professional development opportunities or to find resources for them or to support them by coming into their classroom and doing an observation to give them feedback. The teachers have to be willing to constantly change and improve. What we ask the kids to do we have to do ourselves.”

In some ways, Miller adds, teaching today is different than it used to be. “Maybe we are more aware of needing to meet the needs of the whole child. I think that is something we’re really doing well here. Our school is small and tight enough to feel that we really know the students well. We are very in tune with the whole child in front of us.”

Miller, who grew up in St. George (a Jacobson, her great grandfather came here from Sweden to work in the quarries), also believes it is not possible to talk about how the St. George School’s innovative approach to education is benefitting students without acknowledging the support the larger community provides. “There’s something about this community that we really care about one another. The school has an open campus in a way—we get extra support from the town’s Recreation Department, the Jackson Memorial Library, Blueberry Cove Camp, Herring Gut Learning Center, math camp and sailing camp in the summer. And the kids just eat it up!”—JW

PHOTOS: Top, Julie Wortman, bottom, courtesty Herring Gut Learning Center

Inside the Makerspace: a place for learning Yankee ingenuity

by Tucker Adams, Liam O’Neal, and Gavin Young    by Tucker Adams, Liam O’Neal, and Gavin Young   

Mr. Paul Meinersmann

A Makerspace is a place where people with shared interests, specifically in computing and technology, can go to share or work on projects with others. In the St. George School library, there is such a place. Maintained by Mr. Paul Meinersmann, the school’s technology director, it’s an exciting new space. Classes work in the space when they are ready to create projects that match what they’ve learned in class. Recently for example, 5th graders etched designs inspired by Native American art into pieces of slate with the laser cutter. Middle-level kids can go there during lunch recess on Wednesdays and Thursdays to work on and share projects.

Our small group of three reporters went to the Makerspace to ask Mr. Meinersmann some questions about just what he does up there. When asked about what tools he has in the Makerspace, he replied,  “Here in the Makerspace we have two large tools. Last year we were given the 3D printer by the Perloff Family Foundation, and we’ve used it for a variety of projects. This year, with some money that was donated, and then some matching funds that we’ve raised, we purchased a laser cutter. Now, the laser cutter is a pretty amazing tool, because we can cut paper, fabric, wood, acrylics, engrave glass or stone, or on wood, on fabric, and so there are a variety of things with that.”

We then asked him what projects were happening in the space now. “Well, we just wrapped up a laser-cutting project with the 2nd grade where each of those students who are studying a different animal this year drew an animal, and we went through a few iterations of them. So they did a first draft, and we cut it out on the laser cutter and gave them some feedback, and they did a second draft. So ultimately each kid has their drawing, and then cardboard cutout, and then the final wood cut-out. I think they’re going to paint them up and make shoebox dioramas using those animals they’ve been studying.”

The next question for Paul was about what tools were his favorites. “Well, the laser cutter’s pretty amazing, with the number of things we can do in terms of taking flat objects like those kids did with the drawings, and also look at how we can do three-dimensional drawings. But then there’s also more advanced things we can do. For example, the marsh alewive project is looking at how we can take the topography of the watershed of the marsh and break that down into different layers and cut each layer out in the laser cutter and assemble it as a three-dimensional map of the watershed.”

Mr. Meinersmann was then asked what he wants to see in the future for the space. “It’s not so much what’s in the space, but I’d like the students across the curriculum, across the school, utilizing the tools in the space that ultimately end up producing a final product. The challenge is getting it involved in more classes. I also want to have kids come to me and say, ‘Hey, I want to build something,’ and then work with me to come up with how to make that happen.”

Afterwards, we tested some of the things inside the space, like the BeeBots. The BeeBots are $75 tools for teaching young people programming. There are a number of buttons on top of the little machines, like forward, backward, left, right, and go. You basically program it to go on a path. After playing with those, we asked him to tell us anything he may have missed. “So, we talked earlier about the BeeBots, as a way to make this space accessible to the younger kids. We also have things like the Arduino, the Sparkfun Inventor Kit used to control sensors, or motors, or servos, to collect data and control a vehicle or a robotic arm. Then we’ve got little pieces we can loan out. For example, Mrs. England (St. George’s science teacher) currently has a thing called a pocket lab, to capture data that’s happening right at the moment, while it’s being created. Then you can download that data to measure a variety of things, like different types of force as you throw the object, acceleration, temperature, etc.  It’s an amazing tool that I think has been used with the 6th grade recently.”

Some of us 7th graders also go to the Makerspace on Wednesdays and Thursdays to use something called a Raspberry Pi. It is a $35 computer that can be used to learn programming and algorithms. It really is a good deal, because it comes installed with your normal computer things, plus a Raspberry Pi exclusive Minecraft Pi Edition.

Mr. Mike Felton, the school’s superintendent says about the Makerspace, “The Makerspace is both an innovative force and something that helps us return to our roots.  Students learn about new design software and how to transform ideas into reality using a 3D Printer and laser cutter.  However, at its heart, the Makerspace is about tinkering, inventing, and Yankee ingenuity—characteristics of every strong Maine community.”

Yes, the Makerspace is a wonderful place for all ages, and we would love to see it grow and expand across the many years to come.

Dontae’s buffalo etching

(Adams, O’Neal and Young are 7th grade students at the St. George School.)

PHOTO: Liam O’Neal

Rare Wyeth print donated to Lighthouse Museum

Bob and Jay Sierer (center) present the signed Wyeth print to Diana Bolton, Chairman, and Nat Lyon, Curator, of the Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum.

This past December Robert and Betsy Webber donated a rare, signed Andrew Wyeth print entitled “Marshall Point Light” to the Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum committee in honor of Bob and Jaye Sierer for their longtime service and dedication to the museum. The Sierers made the presentation on behalf of Robert and Betsy Webber.

Betsy’s mother, Elsie Lowell Green, originally purchased the print at Senter-Crane Department Store in Rockland, Maine in 1940. Elsie and Andrew Wyeth became friends while spending summers on Horse Point Road in Port Clyde. Their friendship lasted many years and in 2004 Andrew Wyeth signed the print for Elsie.

Andrew Wyeth painted the original watercolor in the 1930s, while still in his twenties. In 1940 Ketterlinus Printing Company of Philadelphia, which also printed works by his father, N. C. Wyeth, printed a calendar which contained the “Marshall Point Light” print. It is believed to be one of the first Wyeth watercolors to be released as a print. Not long after the production of the calendar Ketterlinus lost its building to fire, which destroyed most of the Wyeth calendars. Few remain and the print that was donated to Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum may be the only known signed print of “Marshall Point Light”.

The signed Andrew Wyeth print will be on display when the museum opens to the public in the spring of 2017.

PHOTO: Laura Betancourt

Winter pursuits

By Bryson Mattox

Addie McPhail tries out cross-country skiing.

On February 17th, all of the students and teachers of St. George School got to participate in Winter Pursuits Day. We had big snow storms earlier that week, so there was lots of snow and the temperature was comfortable. It was a perfect day to play outside.  Mr. Theriault, 3rd-grade teacher, thought of the idea, organized the activities, and rented the supplies from Maine Sport so that everyone in grades K-8 could try out a new sport.

Everyone had a choice of snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. For cross-country skiing, we went down to the soccer field and played around with the skis.  After maybe a half hour, we went on the nature trail for a little while, then we went in to heat up.  The parents’ group provided hot chocolate for us.

For snowshoeing we hiked and packed down snow on the nature trail.  It was packed full of fun and adventure and was a good workout, too. Kindergarten kids got to do winter ecology games with Ms. Palmer.  Everyone got to play in the snow and go sledding.  Overall, we had a ton of fun at Winter Pursuits Day.

(Mattox is a  5th grade student at the St. George School.)

PHOTO: Alison England

February SGBA meeting

On Tuesday, February 28, The St. George Business Alliance sponsored “Pulling on the Same Line: The Impact of Commercial Fisheries and Marine Activities on St. George.” Panelists were Josh Miller of the Tenants Harbor Fisherman’s Coop, Glen Libby of Port Clyde Fresh Catch, and Ben Martens of Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. For more information about the meeting, the new visitors/newcomer’s guide and the 2017 Business Expo/Job Fair, visit www.stgeorgebusinessalliance.com.

PHOTO: Betsy Welch