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Educators explore the benefit of experiential learning in MACTE conference

The 3-day conference focuses on the concept that all students in Maine could have more experiential learning opportunities in their education.

BANGOR, Maine — Learning doesn't happen only in the classroom, and that's why 'experiential learning' is the focus of a three-day conference underway in Bangor.

Teachers, lawmakers, and business leaders are all part of the career and technical education-related conference to promote experiential learning for students at an early age. The idea is not only to learn by hearing about a topic but to learn by doing.

Maine Community College System President David Daigler said the idea is simple.

"Learning to do with your hands, learning to create, learning from mistakes, and the ability to continue to learn and grow and prosper in the economy," explained Daigler.

Students getting real-world experiences can start as early as fourth grade, and by the time they get to high school, many already have a better understanding of what their passion is, thanks to hands-on experiences in classrooms.

"I did this for two years, and I liked it more than I liked middle school and high school, ever" Zyntauro Woodward, a United Technologies Center student, said.

While in high school, Woodward also took classes at UTC. He said learning in a typical classroom setting resulted in grades typically in the '70s. "And then I came here and my grades were 98 and above, I was almost a perfect student here," Woodward said.

He attributed the spike in grades in the form of learning. At UTC he realized hands-on learning was his way to better understand subjects.

"It's really important for our kids, just as if you have a successful sports team, you don't start their last year, their senior year, you have feeder programs, you work with them when they are younger," Kern Kelley, technologies professor at RSU 19, said. 

Nakomis Regional High School technology professor Kern Kelley pushes learning by doing. His student Nicolas Pease said the hands-on classes he has been taking throughout the years in school have helped him shape his future career path.

"It gives you an edge over those who unfortunately didn't have the same instruction," Pease said.

This year's annual MACTE (Maine Administrators of Career and Technical Education) conference in Bangor at the United Technologies Center, focuses on gathering many teachers, lawmakers, business leaders, to either learn or teach the experiential learning concept.

"We need to develop the passion and the inspiration for continuous learning with our students, and we need to start that in our middle schools, in our grade schools, and continue it through high school," Diagler said.

Emma White was able to develop a passion for ships and metals in her teens thanks to the hands-on programs available at the Foster CTE Center in Farmington.

"It's an easy way to explore your different options that you potentially have in your future and you just get to learn so much about it, so quickly," said White.

"It's really so crucial that we have that face to face, that hands-on and development part of that, we've seen a lot of kids this lat year kind of drift off and that motivation wasn't there because they were trying to do everything through a screen, we want to get them back, we want to get them to be excited to be at school," said Kelley.

UTC director Greg Miller said the conference focus this year is a demonstration about how potentially all students in Maine could have more experiential learning opportunities in their education.

"The purpose is to build a consensus among business leaders, educators, legislative leaders, and others that this is a worthy initiative," added Miller.