Stephanie Connors poses for a portrait Thursday at Mt. Vernon Elementary School. Connors, a fourth grade teacher, worked on the “Maple’s Story” module for the Maine Department of Education’s MOOSE platform. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Instead of kick-starting starting their summers, 250 Maine educators went right back to work after the school year ended in June. 

Together, with the Maine Department of Education, they created MOOSE — short for the Maine Online Opportunity for Sustained Education, an online module platform made to aid educators across the state with remote learning.

According to the education department, the MOOSE platform is the first free remote learning tool in the country that has been created by a state government. The state education department initially conceived the idea after the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of Maine schools in March, leaving many teachers without a plan to teach students remotely.

“In an emergency, we didn’t have support for educators in a situation like we saw,” said Beth Lambert, the education department’s director of innovative teaching and learning. “If we had to stop class instruction in an emergency, there needed to be something for students and educators.” 

The MOOSE platform launches Tuesday for Mainers to use for free to help with remote instruction. Image courtesy of Beth Lambert

MOOSE is set to launch Tuesday, the same day as many first days of school across the state. 

The Maine DOE has categorized the state into red, yellow and green zones as indicators on readiness and safety against the coronavirus.

Aside from York County, which was given a “yellow” designation Friday, the rest of the state has been put in the “green” zone.

The goal was to have a quarters’ worth of original material on MOOSE, Lambert said, created by Maine educators volunteering their time. As the year progresses, it is expected a full year’s worth of learning modules will be available on the platform.

“It’s a high-quality resource,” Lambert said. “In the spring, we couldn’t have predicted in the fall, these schools would be using hybrid models. We are finding that it isn’t just being used in emergency shutdown settings, but as a hybrid source for educators.”

Stephanie Connors, a fourth grade teacher with Maranacook area Regional School Unit 38, was one of those educators who gave up part of her summer vacation to help develop a module. She was one of two RSU 38 teachers who took part in the MOOSE platform development.

Connors and a partner created “Maple’s Story,” which focuses on how students can be an involved citizen to make Maine a better place to live. She said that all of the modules created had to include Maine and incorporate two subject matters. 

We had to think differently,” Connors said. “When you are in school, the traditional model of a student teaching isn’t going to work virtuallyIf you don’t have a teacher there in front of you, it’s hard to keep kids involved in learning. Those are all things that we had to think about.”

RSU 38 is conducting in-person classes for four days of the school week for kindergarten through 12th grade, with Wednesday as an independent work day from home. For schools with an entirely in-person plan, most districts have given an option of remote learning to parents that may not feel comfortable with sending their kids back to school.

MOOSE offers learning modules for grades prekindergarten through 12. Here is a screen capture of a high school module. Image courtesy of Beth Lambert

MOOSE can be used anytime, anywhere, Lambert said.

Teachers are able to save the modules as printable PDF documents, which they can hand out to students in their classes to complete. Activities on the modules do not always include a screen, either. For example, students may be encouraged to go outside or create an experiment using kitchen or household items.

Another feature of the platform is that students can choose the appropriate grade level for the subject matter they are learning. That means if a student is learning at a grade level below or above their current grade, they can find the appropriate academic fit with MOOSE.

Connors believes that the final product will have an option to play text out loud so reading isn’t necessary.

“There is a really ingrained set way of thinking about education,” she said. “Teachers and administrators are so used to delivering an education a certain way, that it’s hard to make a swift change.

“Switching to remote learning had to change that,” she added. “We are now forced to think in a different way.” 

Because of the rural nature of the district, Connors said MOOSE is especially important for students who do not have access to online learning.

“There could be a day where the power goes out because a tree falls on the power line,” she said, recalling a time in Mount Vernon from this winter. “Some people are down dirt roads and can’t get internet service.”

While MOOSE hasn’t been adopted for use in RSU 38’s classrooms yet, Fayette Central School has adopted it.

Fayette Superintendent Tara Morin said her district’s teachers are “planning on using it for in-person and remote learning.”

Connors said she was proud of Maine for conceiving the platform and getting it up and running.

“When there are too many things that change, or learning targets change because of COVID-19, this is what gets me out of bed in the morning,” she said, “the ability to be creative and be collaborative with people.” 

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