Julie Meltzer, director of curriculum, assessment and instruction at the MDI Regional School System. Meltzer said that jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are on the rise and pay well. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Science, tech focus touted



BAR HARBOR — Mount Desert Island High School ranks seventh among Maine’s 260 high schools for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), according to Niche, a company that compares schools in each state in various categories.

STEM education also is a priority in the other schools in the MDI Regional School System, said Julie Meltzer, the system’s director of curriculum, assessment and instruction.

“It has to be a priority here, given the resources we have in the community,” she said. “We need to be offering a program that’s strong enough to satisfy and get the support of our very demanding – and rightly so – parents who work at Acadia National Park or the MDI Biological Laboratory or the Jackson Lab and want excellent science education for their kids.

“STEM jobs are growing very fast, and they tend to pay more, and you can enter STEM fields at different levels. If we have excellent STEM education here, we can engage more kids who might not have seen that in their own future and offer them opportunities they may not have gotten.”

Engineering and design are now part of the science curriculum in grades K-9.

This spring, the high school is offering an introductory course in design thinking, and next year, it will add two environmental science courses.

3D printing

The school system has four 3D printers provided by the Perloff Family Foundation, which recently agreed to provide four more. The schools will purchase four as well.

“These printers allow our students to actively participate in the design thinking process,” said John Young, the school system’s educational technology coordinator. “They can make prototypes of things and then go through several iterations of the prototype until they get something that’s going to work for whatever problem they’re trying to solve.”

Meltzer said 3D printing isn’t likely to be a passing fad.

“So getting kids used to this technology, which we expect is going to become as ubiquitous as personal computers, is important if we’re preparing kids for their future,” she said. “It fits with our wanting to inculcate creativity and critical thinking.

“Also, it’s very engaging. It’s very cool to be able to design something and then have a 3D model of it quickly, so you can see what the flaws are and use an engineering mindset to figure out how to fix it.”

Young added, “We’re teaching our students about real life, real world problems they’re going to face and giving them opportunity to practice solving those kinds of problems.”

STEM fund

Pete and Becky Carroll, owners of Maine Coast Engineering in Southwest Harbor, plan to give 20 percent of their profits to a fund they have started to help support STEM education in the schools, particularly the elementary schools.

“The high school has a lot of STEM programs already going on, but some of the elementary and middle grades may not always have the resources to devote to it,” Pete Carroll said. “So, if there’s a way some money could be put to good use for these schools, then we’re all for it.

“We feel strongly that it’s a great foundation for kids to have, even if they don’t go into engineering or science.”

Computer coding

Meltzer said one facet of the school system’s STEM focus is the importance of computer coding, which she said is at the heart of so much of the technology people use and depend on every day.

Two years ago, school officials convened a coding-STEM task force that included experts from The Jackson Laboratory, the MDI Biological Laboratory and College of the Atlantic to look at how computer science and computational thinking could be further integrated into school curricula and programs.

“We now offer four computer science classes at the high school,” Meltzer said. “All of our middle school students are experiencing coding projects. And in the elementary grades, we’ve got the technology integrators taking the lead on doing coding with first and second graders and some projects with third and fourth graders.

“We want to have an increasing number of kids coming to the high school who can jump right in to more advanced classes,” she said. “And we want other kids coming to the high school who have gotten a taste of it and think maybe they would like to explore it more.”

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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