NEWPORT — On a Monday afternoon at 2 p.m., a small group of students crowd around a laptop in the broadcast center at Nokomis Regional High School.

They’re about to go live in an attempt to answer an age-old tongue twister: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Finding the answer requires more than just typing the question into Google, the students explain.

“Knowing where to search is a big part of it,” explains 17-year-old Jake McEwen, as he types the question into various search engines, ultimately arriving at a newspaper article that scientifically explores the question.

The senior from Newport is one of about 30 technology “Sherpas” in Newport-based Regional School Unit 19. Named after the ethnic Sherpas from Nepal who guide mountain climbers on peaks such as Mount Everest, the tech Sherpas pride themselves on guiding students and teachers in their own schools, as well as other schools and around the world, through modern technology and how to use it.

During weekly hangouts on Google, they answer questions via videoconference and make visits to area schools to assist with technology questions. Their mission is to provide free tech support to anyone in the world.

The tongue twister question was thrown at the students by a group called the Infinite Thinking Machine, an Internet TV show that Nokomis teacher Kern Kelley works with in his role as a Google educator, a teacher trained by Google on how to use the company’s tools in education. It’s just one example of the weekly questions that the students answer online for free.

So far, they’ve helped people in South Korea, Europe and in states across the U.S., they say. As many as 600 people have tuned in to watch their show, the Tech Sherpa Show, either live or after the videos of the show have been posted on their blog.

People can email questions for the students to answer on the show, or they can tune in live for a conversation. The questions involve topics such as how to use Google and YouTube, blogging and email.

“If we can’t answer it, we find a way to answer it,” McEwen said.

The tech Sherpas started in 2011, when Kelley traveled to New York City with a group of students to attend the Google Teacher Academy, a weekendlong conference for teachers striving to incorporate technology in new and innovative ways into their classrooms.

As a Google educator, part of Kelley’s job is to present at conferences such as the Google Teacher Academy and he tries to take students with him as much as possible, even if they are the only high-schoolers there.

At the New York conference, all attending teachers were given the mission of developing an action plan for incorporating technology in their classrooms. The students with Kelley decided to come up with their own action plan, and on the train ride home, the Tech Sherpas were born.

They’ve traveled to Ottawa, Boston, New York City, and other places where they deliver presentations to thousands of educators. They’re often the only students there. “Sometimes people do doubt us because we’re so young; but once they realize we know what we’re talking about, it’s not a big deal,” said sherpa Austin Taylor, 15.

For their teacher, bringing the students along contributes to the knowledge that can be brought back to the district. “I realized pretty quickly that if I don’t listen to my students, I pay for it later on,” Kelley said. “If something excites them, it will succeed in the classroom. It’s like a built-in motivation.”

The only guidelines for becoming a Tech Sherpa are that student be considered responsible and that they’re not falling behind on classwork.

“It’s not like there are techie students and nontechie students anymore. Everyone is kind of techie,” Kelley said. “It’s just a matter of who’s interested.”

In addition to the weekly Tech Sherpa Show, the Sherpas travel to other schools in Maine to help students and teachers with their technology questions. Now they are helping at Athens Elementary School, in Athens, where a recent investment in new classroom technology has brought dozens of new Google Chromebooks and Nexus tablets to students and teachers.

The Sherpas will meet with teachers to talk about their needs and how they’d like to incorporate the new devices into the classroom, then come up with sample lessons that can be integrated into the new technology, Kelley said.

“When you teach something, you start to learn it better yourself,” McEwen said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.