Caribou eighth-graders Bailey Wright (left) and AJ Mierzwa show teacher Heather Anderson how to use a virtual reality escape room during the annual MLTI Day. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

CARIBOU, Maine — Thanks to a growing program at Caribou Community School, more Aroostook students are learning about innovative technologies that can be used in their communities and future careers.

Nearly 160 eighth-graders from Caribou, Woodland and Fort Fairfield gathered in Caribou Monday to meet the Maine Learning Technology Initiative ambassadors. After meeting with each ambassador, students practiced with technologies that many had never encountered before, including virtual reality, 3D printing, podcasting, green screen videos and computer coding.

As part of the Maine Department of Education, Maine Learning Technology ambassadors offer professional development for teachers who want to use more technology in their classrooms. Ambassadors visit schools across Maine and help students enhance skills that they can then use in classroom projects.

Caribou eighth-grade teacher Heather Anderson first invited the ambassadors to the Community School last year. After her own students responded with enthusiasm, she knew that others would benefit from a full day of technology activities.

Anderson and her colleagues now want to make the Maine Learning Technology Initiative Day an annual event for students from Caribou and beyond.

Caribou eighth grader MacKenzie Cole navigates a virtual reality escape room while teacher Kim Barnes looks on. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

“Students in The County often don’t have as many technology resources, so we’re hoping to make this program a district initiative, not just a school initiative,” Anderson said.

Early Wednesday morning, eighth-grade students from Fort Fairfield gathered in the hallway to practice green screen animation.

While holding up her small laptop, Chloe White filmed her classmate Kaydence Doughty, who stood in front of a green screen. White said that after filming, she and Doughty would decide what background to add.

The Maine Learning Technology Initiative Day marked the first time that the classmates had ever experimented with green screens and other advanced technologies.

“I like that [with the green screen] you could put yourself anywhere,” Doughty said.

Anderson hopes that her own students will see how they can use technology to educate and empower their communities.

Students also learned the basics of creating podcasts with ambassador Kate Meyer.

With their new skills, Anderson’s students will create podcasts dedicated to four exhibits at the Caribou Historical Society’s museum: The Mi’kmaq Nation, Early Caribou Settlers, Caribou High School Sports and Early Medicine. Students will record interviews and share historical research in videos that museum visitors will access by scanning QR codes on their phones.

Fort Fairfield eighth-graders Chloe White (left) and Kaydence Doughty film themselves in front of a green screen during Caribou Community School’s MLTI Day. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / T

Anderson and her colleagues hope to give students more engaging ways to learn that go beyond the traditional classroom tests.

“Technology is one way for students to have more voice and choice in how they learn,” Anderson said. “They get to work more collaboratively and learn from each other.”

Just before their podcast lesson, Caribou classmates Bailey Wright and AJ Mierzwa cheered as Mierzwa’s animated character found her way out of a virtual escape room.

The students were using CoSpaces, a virtual reality software that they’ve utilized for many nontraditional school projects.

Mierzwa recently used CoSpaces to create a virtual world based on a book she had read for class. She said that navigating modern technology in school will help her in a future career.

“I want to be an interior designer, so I’ll have to show my designs on a computer,” Mierzwa said.