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Awesome Science & Math Learning at PPS

Portland Public Schools educators at the high school, middle school and elementary level recently shared some examples of awesome science and math learning happening at their schools this year. Read on to learn more details:

* East End Community School kindergarteners were introduced to some basic physics concepts as they began to build a pinball machine, learning how pushes and pulls control the direction of a pinball. Students also read a book about a construction site and how different forces are used in construction.

* Eighth-grade students in teacher Christel Driscoll’s sustainability class at Lincoln Middle School learned about sustainable and unsustainable seafood practices for both wild caught seafood and aquaculture during a presentation by Colles Stowell from the One Fish Foundation. Students also heard from another presenter, Chris Fream, who works for BluGlacier, a salmon farm off the coast of Chile, to gain his perspective of fin fish aquaculture. 

 (Photo: Chris Fream, who works for a salmon farm, presents to Lincoln students about fin fish aquaculture.)

* Portland High School hosted a math meet on Jan. 25 that was a great success! This was the fourth meet of the regular season and as has been the case all year, PHS had the most participants of any school in their league. PHS teams scored the highest of the schools that participated in the meet, which included private schools Cheverus and Waynflete, and the STEM charter school, Baxter Academy. Ileen DaPonte, PHS math teacher and Math Team coach, shared her reflections on the students’ accomplishments: “We are so incredibly proud of our mathletes! If you are thinking that these are the "math nerds" of the school, you would be wrong. These students are athletes, artists, musicians, writers - just all around great young people. They take time out of their very busy schedules to come to math team practices two mornings a week. They support one another and have managed to have fun doing some pretty complex math problem sets.” We congratulate these students on their hard work and success.

* Lyman Moore Middle School science teacher Hazel Cashman shared that seventh-grade science classrooms raised monarch butterflies this fall, learning about the insects' life cycle and migration, and then released them. As part of the unit, they also partnered with the Wild Seed Project, based in North Yarmouth, to plant monarch meadows in two of Moore’s school garden beds. Nell Houde, Wild Seed Project educator, visited the school to teach about the relationship between monarchs and native plants, and then students planted asters, goldenrod, and two varieties of milkweed. The goal is for these seeds to transform the school’s courtyard into a natural monarch meadow, to attract populations of monarchs when they return from Mexico. 

* The PPS Mobile Makerspace, a mobile lab launched this past fall that provides STEM learning opportunities for elementary school students, had a successful fall season visiting four mainland schools and both island elementary schools. This winter Makerspace teacher Karen Shibles is going into elementary libraries to help support the rollout of robotics. Supporting learning with different types of robots: BeeBot robots purchased with a donation to the Foundation for PPS from Generac, and indi and Sphero robots from the State Department of Education. Ms. Shibles also helped run Hour of Code activities through the elementary libraries in December. The Makerspace will be visiting the other four elementary schools in the Spring.

(Photo: Makerspace BeeBot parade at Cliff Island School)

*In Dan LeGage’s Ocean Science class at Portland High School, students learned about kelp farming from 1994 PHS graduate Nathan Johnson, who shared his knowledge about the continued evolution of the fishing industry off the coast of Maine. Mr. Johnson works for Ocean Renewable Power Company and is a member of the board of the Island Institute. He  is also the owner of Shearwater Ventures and harvests kelp. Kelp grows readily on the coast of Maine, but only recently has it become recognized as a valuable addition to the state’s marine economy.  Aquaculture has been identified as one of the state’s top three industries that have the potential to grow and add value to Maine’s economy. Mr. Johnson shared his knowledge about the process of kelp farming. Mr. Johnson also offered food samples created from his harvest, which the students really enjoyed. Learn more details.

*Seventh-grade science classes at Lincoln Middle School are learning about muscle, skin and bones and dissected raw chicken wings as a visual, hands-on lesson part of that biology unit.

* After several years' hiatus, the Robotics club is back at Portland High School! Launched in October by junior Adrian Darlington, the club has seven members and meets twice per week. So far this year, students have explored Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and Sphero programmable robots. Rather than engaging in competitions, students have brainstormed and designed their own group project, involving VEX building equipment and sensors and Raspberry Pi

*Students in teacher Kristina Catomeris’ engineering classes at Portland High School started working with  Sphero BOLT coding robots from the Maine Department of Education. Students report they absolutely love them!

*At King Middle School,  seventh-grade Sebago team students are participating in the Boothbay Sea and Science Center’s Exploring the Science of Seaweed Farming program, an in-school program about Maine seaweed farming that integrates sea, science and observation skills, and real time data collection and analysis done by students. At the beginning of November,  two baby seaweed species –  sugar kelp and alaria – were delivered to our classroom tank.  For seven weeks, students fertilized and observed their seaweed, monitored tank and classroom temperature, and recorded salinity and pH.  In December, the two seaweed species were picked up from the classroom tank and planted in Casco Bay, where they will remain until they are harvested this spring.  Click here to see the growth of the King Middle School seaweed from November to December.

*Physics students in teacher Rosalee Lamm’s class at Portland High School develop their research skills through student-led investigations. The introductory activity for the sub-unit on friction is a student designed lab. Students make observations of a demonstration, then brainstorm cause-effect questions, and together choose one of the questions as the lab objective. In small groups, students then design a procedure to collect and analyze data. "It's interesting to work with the force meter and the digital data collection software, and the visual representation of the relationship," said seniors Aoife Mahoney and Gabi Membreno. After experimentally determining the friction equation, f = µN, the class proceeds to apply it to various circumstances in later activities.

(Photo: Classroom discussion in PHS teacher Rosalee Lamm's class)

Science teacher Molly Brantner said sixth-graders at Lincoln Middle School have been engaged in a wide variety of science learning experiences that include:

○      Studying density, learning the relationship of mass and volume with density and then made predictions about what would happen when liquids with different densities were mixed together. Students were surprised when they didn't mix! This density lab set the stage for students’ studies about atmosphere layers and their different masses, volumes, and densities. (Photo: Students learning about density)

○      Going on a field trip to the University of Southern Maine planetarium, where students went on a journey in space to explore the planets in the solar system and other objects in space from the comfort of their own theater seats at the planetarium.

○      Studying the water cycle through creating a model of the water cycle by making a cloud in a jar with hot water, ice, and hair spray

* Several science classes from Portland High School are participating in the University of Maine and Maine EPSCoR's water sampling pilot program this spring. Students in classes taught by Tom Talarico, Caroline Patrie, Eliza Huber-Weiss, Kristina Catomeris, Dan LeGage, and Christine Braceras will have the opportunity to connect by Zoom with University of Maine researchers who are using environmental DNA (eDNA) as a powerful tool for various environmental applications. Students will collect water locally and EPSDoR's labs will process the samples and return fish biodiversity data back to schools. Classes will use data for analysis, projects and discussion. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) in Portland is part of the larger Maine-eDNA project.