Oxford Elementary School student Jax Brown uses a handheld magnifying device to study snow crystals during a STEM class at Roberts Farm in Norway. Courtesy Melissa Guerrette

NORWAY — A $5,000 grant from Consolidated Communications is giving Oxford Hills students a new level of experiential education at Roberts Farm. The funds have enabled Experiential STEM educator Sarah Kearsley to order field and research equipment that puts technology tools in the hands of students as if they were in an actual lab.

The Consolidated Connects Educational grant helps educators inspire students toward creative thinking and connect them to projects outside of the classroom. The equipment students will use includes field dissecting microscopes, waterproof digital and game cameras, binoculars and high-level magnifying glasses and water science tools like pH meters, turbidity tools, nitrogen meters and a dissolved oxygen meter.

“I thought it was a great fit for Roberts Farm in terms of us being a unique outdoor program with a lot of community ties and connections,”  Kearsley said. “We’re getting a variety of technology to use here that teachers can borrow for their own school sites.

“When you think of outdoor experiences you don’t usually think of them having a whole lot of technology, especially in terms of education. Technology and computers are thought of in terms of indoor education and with outdoors you’re leaving that stuff behind. The equipment we’re getting will help student deepen their experiences, to study things more closely and be exposed to things that aren’t visible, like testing water quality.”

Last week the microscopes were used for a study unit about states of matter.

Snow crystals, captured by new imaging equipment at SAD 17’s Roberts Farm during a class on matter. Supplied photo

“One station focused on snow science,” Kearsley said. “We used them to study snow crystals.


“We’re getting two types of scopes. One is really small. You can hold in your hand or place on a surface to look at material and the other type is dissecting, technically. That one does not require things to be sliced and put on a slide to view. They don’t run on electricity so we can take them out instead of bringing things into the classroom. The scopes, you can look at things three-dimensionally. You’re not limited to something that’s really thin or flat on a slide. They are more user-friendly, especially for younger kids.”

The water quality study units will start up in spring after everything thaws.

“There are different electronic sensors and different ways you can measure water quality,” Kearsley explained. “Sometimes it’s a chemical test, or looking at little organisms. The cool thing is that it’s very simple to use but also gives very meaningful information. We’ll be able to measure if the water is healthy, or what the soil type around it is. A turbidity tube, which takes samples and measures how much soil and other stuff in in the water. The clearer the better.

“This is equipment that different environmental or scientific labs use for projects like the Sebago Lake watershed, which provides water to Portland. We’re engaging our students with real chemistry and integrating (real uses) into classroom curriculum.”

Primarily it is fourth and fifth graders who attend Kearsley’s class rooms at Roberts Farm. Recently, in a collaboration with the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy Roberts created a lending library of mostly books and educational resources. This new technology equipment will be added to it. Now other teachers can schedule using it for their units.

Kearsley came to SAD 17 and Roberts Farm last fall, joining educator Emily Eastman who handles programming there through Healthy Oxford Hills. Before that she taught science in the Lakes Region school district.


“We work closely together, co-hosting classes here,” Kearsley said of teaming up with Eastman. “What my position has been able to add is to support the classes with academic lessons that are generally tied to science standards. I have conversations with the teachers about their standards and timing of their units and aligning lessons at Roberts Farm with them. Before, to be part of the class experience here, the teacher was designing that. Now we’re able to expand the academic component of it and really dive into the science.”

“We’ve got two wonderful educators up at the Farm, Sarah Kearsley, who is a STEM teacher hired by the district, and Emily Eastman, who is an employee of Healthy Oxford Hills,” said SAD 17’s Interim Assistant Superintendent Heather Manchester.  “Sarah’s goal is to work with students to support their learning of science standards through outdoor learning.  Emily’s goal is to support healthy and active kids through things like the 10 mile club and the Fit Kit curriculum.”

OES student Gage Davis uses new technology to study snow crystals at Roberts Farm. Courtesy Melissa Guerrette

There are 12 different sets of fourth and fifth-grade classes from district elementary schools that rotate experiential science units on a monthly basis.

Kearsley said logistically it is hard to schedule students from the middle and high school for regular programming but they come out for single visits, like a team-building day for 55 students and their team of teachers from Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School last fall.

A similar session is scheduled for Oxford Hills Middle School’s south campus this spring.

“Roberts Farm learning is moving more towards a science inquiry and curiosity direction this year,” Kearsley said. “The programming has always been connected to nature and getting outdoors and being active, which is a big component of Emily’s work and funded by New Balance.


“Now we’re trending in a (harder) science direction. With the support of this Consolidated grant, we’ll be able to do that with some pretty cool equipment.”

Kearsley pointed to a class she had led earlier in the day where fourth-graders did dissection of owl pellets and studied bones of prey animals, which commands a whole different level of engagement than reading about it in a textbook.

“I am so grateful that the district takes this kind of (experiential) work seriously and has this cool collaboration at Roberts Farm between the Western Maine Foothills Land Trust, Healthy Oxford Hills and the schools,” Kearsley said. “I’m really happy to be a part of this.”

Added Manchester, “We are finding that the students are incredibly engaged when they are at the farm.  The learning is directly applicable to real life and by experiencing phenomena in the natural world, the learning is very interesting.”

Students at Roberts Farm in Norway celebrate a $5,000 grant from Consolidated Communications that is bringing imaging and water testing equipment to their STEM curriculum. Courtesy Andy Gagne

Comments are not available on this story.