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Last week I had an opportunity to see examples of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) instruction and learning from preschool through higher education. My visit to the Cape was enlightening; seeing STEM instruction being used with the districts youngest learners and continued all the way to the advanced technology instruction at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy underscored for me the importance of Governor Patrick’s investments in STEM.

First, let me say I was inspired to see innovative and robust technology enhancing instruction at all grade levels in the Mashpee School District.

My day began at Mashpee High School with a warm welcome from members of the jazz ensemble playing some fantastic tunes. Annika, a culinary arts program student at Mashpee High School, gave us a tour of the fantastic culinary arts program, filled with enthusiastic students baking and cooking; a strong wellness component integrated in the course. Upon departing the culinary program, with a full stomach from some wonderful baked treats and a sample of my favorite, kale soup, it was on to the technology program.   The technology program at the school was very impressive; students have the opportunity to take drafting I, drafting II, 3d animation, game design, and woodshop. Students design on their computers; the machines will perform based off their design. The woodwork seen in woodshop was creative and impressive. It was great to see the strong intersection of “old” and “new”—keeping the traditional “woodshop” practice while integrating technology/21st century skills. Superintendent Brian Hyde and Principal Jane Day have a robust and strong curriculum offering at the high school and the engaging and enthusiastic students seem to agree.

The district’s younger learners, preschool through the 2nd grade, at the Kenneth Coombs School displayed strong use and understanding of technology throughout the school, and centre based instruction that could reflect models of instruction seen at the middle school level. Kinder Boards, transferrable and smaller smart boards, designed for preschool and kindergarten created fully comprehensive teaching and learning for students. Also, notable was the presence of parent volunteers.  Principal Pender noted that the Coombs School has over 200 parent volunteers and they are integral to the continuing success of the school. Mashpee is doing a great job collaborating, which is visible in their approach to instruction and even more apparent among staff and community.

After visiting the Kenneth Coombs School, I was off to Massachusetts Maritime Academy to meet with President Gurnon and tour the Academy. From my visit I can tell you one thing –  Mass Maritime is one of the best demonstrations of how public higher education in the Commonwealth is doing an excellent job preparing and equipping students with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. The campus was calm, as cadets just returned from their “SeaTerm” on board the T.S. Kennedy earlier this week; classes will start up again in March. The academy, one of six of the nation’s maritime schools, has a rigorous curriculum with a strong emphasis on hands-on instruction. For undergraduate students, the classrooms were filled with opportunities for hands-on practical teaching/learning, including spaces like the engine room, filled with new and old engines for repair or servicing.

I was blown away by the impressive technology being used at Mass Maritime. I was able to take part in the use of the use the small simulator they have, which students use to exercise real-life situations that are necessary to Captain a ship and navigate a bay. I am impressed by the fact that these students can enter Mass Maritime without a prior knowledge of the field and be well on their way to a rewarding career in no time. Charting the tug boat with the simulator was a wonderful learning experience for me, including examining location of the boat, proximity to other vessels in the area, and speed. We ended the day with a journey into New York Harbor using the larger simulator, which is capable of modifying sea conditions, weather conditions, time of day, and speed. The blending of technology to teach these students was absolutely remarkable.

I got to see the “real thing” while touring the T.S. Kennedy, recently returned from six-week training cruise, which ported in places like Curacao and Colombia. The vessel was equipped with classrooms, while housing upwards of 600 cadets. This vessel enables the application of classroom instruction for cadets – practical, hands on knowledge and learning. I came away from my visit to Mass Maritime impressed by the dedication of instructors and the commitment of all the cadets.

I returned to my office from my day on the Cape invigorated – and ready to work hard. There are some great things going on in education across Massachusetts – and I can’t wait for my next school visit.

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