Build It And They Will Come

Students at St. Joseph School in Downingtown, Pa., brought history and geography to life with the use of the STEM Lending Library Google Expeditions Kit. Photo courtesy of Karen McDonald.

Developing a diocesan STEM lending library

By Alissa DeVito

Go to any professional-development conference, and you will likely hear buzz about STEM education. This integrated approach to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math throughout the curriculum has gained traction over the past 10 years. In our Catholic schools, we are blessed to be able to take this a step further to a STREAM approach, fostering integrated Religion and the Arts, as well.

While there are many resources and strategies for implementing STREAM practices into the classroom, teachers often hit roadblocks when technology or devices are not available to them as students’ skills grow deeper.

Providing a solution to a lack of accessibility is at the heart of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Schools’ STEM Lending Library. The STEM Lending Library is a program developed by the diocesan technology coaching department to help promote STREAM education, improve student digital access, and empower school communities. The STEM Lending Library was made possible by a grant from the Wayne, Pennsylvania-based Archdiocesan Educational Fund, an independent foundation created and funded by Matthew H. McCloskey, Jr. (1893–1973) in 1967 to advance Catholic education and ministry throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The STEM Lending Library has been a valuable support to the archdiocesan schools.

How does the program work? Teachers can preview the library of devices and materials offered to reflect upon the tools their community wants to integrate into the curriculum. The diocesan technology website ( offers a device list, availability calendar, and other supplementary materials for schools to consider during the planning process. The technology coaching team helps teachers select the right materials to match desired student outcomes. Teachers then fill out a reservation request form and work to schedule a pickup with a technology coach. Schools are able to borrow materials for one- or two-week periods. Currently, a school may only borrow one device from the STEM Lending Library at a time due to the volume of schools the library serves. More than 100 schools share items from the library!

The coordinating teacher meets with a technology integration coach for an hour when picking up materials, receiving personalized professional development. The coach walks teachers through using the tool, offers resources, and discusses a STREAM planning approach. It is part of the mission of the STEM Lending Library to partner diocesan STEM tools with the school’s contribution of religion and arts resources to make a full, dynamic, integrated STREAM approach. Then the fun begins as students play to learn! Upon returning materials, teachers and administrators are asked to evaluate the impact of the tools to engage, extend, and enhance student learning.

The benefits of the STEM Lending Library are numerous. First and foremost, the lending library supports teachers and schools in improving access to digital tools. This program was a specific response to a common problem the technology coaching team saw across all five counties within the archdiocese: “How do schools deepen their STREAM education when many advanced tools are so expensive?”

We removed the cost to the schools by working with the Archdiocesan Educational Fund grant at the diocesan level. It is free for schools to participate in the STEM Lending Library program. Without the pressure for purchasing, schools are able to try many different tools to help explore what best fits their needs and student outcomes. If a school falls in love with a tool, they are able to make an empowered choice of where to invest — and the vendor contacts are established too!

Second, students can develop their STREAM skills in ways that were not possible before. This holistic approach helps students to understand how our faith, technology, and content areas are all interconnected. It promotes imperative 21st-century skills and the four Cs.

Third, teacher professional development is embedded into each and every reservation. This one-on-one coaching model allows teachers to build their own knowledge and confidence while having the support to try something new. Teachers know they can reach out to the technology coaching team at any time, not just at that meeting, with questions. It fosters positive rapport and collaboration at all levels of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Schools (AOPS). Everyone works together for the benefit of our students!

The STEM Lending Library debuted in January 2019 with wonderful results. Thirty-five reservations allowed many schools to take advantage of the lending library during a limited time. Some schools borrowed several different items over the course of the first five months. Google Expeditions kits, Parrot Mambo drones, Spheros, Dash and Dot Classroom kits, and Ozobots were the most frequently reserved items; it was difficult to keep them on the STEM Lending Library shelves for long. Teachers and administrators alike noted that student enthusiasm, enhanced curricular connections, and the ability to collaborate with a wide variety of grades kept schools coming back for more.

During the 2019–2020 school year, the STEM Lending Library will extend to two locations that will be open September through May for utilization at both the elementary and secondary levels. Each location will offer the same devices and the same personalized coaching support to infuse STREAM into the curriculum. The long-term goal of the STEM Lending Library program is to develop a location in each of the five AOPS counties to increase STREAM skills and digital access.

The feedback received exceeded expectations for the first year of the program. Overall, teachers and administrators were thrilled to have access to these materials with professional support to back it up. Karen McDonald, eighth-grade teacher at St. Joseph School in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, was the very first teacher to place a reservation in January 2019. Mrs. McDonald shared, “We were so excited to begin using the AOPS Tech STEM lending library! We want to start a STEM program at St. Joseph School, and this was the perfect opportunity to try out some devices. The borrowing process was easy and efficient. Our first-grade students loved using Dash and Dot with their seventh-grade buddies, and the older children couldn’t get enough of the VR goggles. It was a wonderful experience!”

Students at St. Joseph School in Downingtown, Pa., utilize the Dash and Dot classroom kit from Wonder Workshop to learn about coding and robotics. Photo courtesy of Karen McDonald.

Mother of Providence Regional School in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, borrowed three different tools from the STEM Lending Library in the opening months of the program. Aileen Sabatini, the school’s technology teacher, describes the impact the STEM Lending Library has had on her students: “The STEM library provides students with an opportunity to work with materials and equipment we as a school may not be able to afford. It assists me as a teacher in planning and carrying out lessons that not only incorporate science, technology, engineering, and math but also problem-solving, critical thinking, and cooperation.”

The AOPS was fortunate to receive a grant for this program through the Archdiocesan Educational Fund. Even if there are no grants available in your diocese, there are steps you can take in your diocese or school to foster STREAM education and collaboration:

Partner with local Catholic schools. Think about collaborating with another school community to share resources and ideas. Do you have Ozobots, while a neighboring school has Spheros? Trade for a few weeks to test out new tools. Students will love the experience of utilizing a cool new tool, and you’ll be modeling real-world collaboration. Or see if there are cost-saving opportunities for purchasing with volume discounts or shared se

Start with multipurpose tools. Have a small budget? Consider starting youts. Many tools are offered in education packs that can be split between two locations to reduce the overall purchase price. r library with tools that offer multiple purposes. K’nex, LEGO, and Makey-Makeys are all tools with a wide variety of applications across the curriculum. This will help teachers integrate without being overwhelmed and saves money.

Utilize partnering apps. Many of the devices in the STEM Lending Library require an accompanying web tool or app. You can use these apps long before purchasing a device. Use SketchUp or Tinkercad to create 3-D models even if you don’t have a 3-D printer. Use block-based coding tools before investing in mBots. Students will learn essential skills such as design thinking, problem-solving, and critical thinking through these experiences whether or not you have the accompanying device.

At the end of the day, the STEM Lending Library also highlights the important role collaboration plays in STREAM education. Whether it’s a collaboration between students, teachers, or cohorts of local schools, viewing STREAM as a collaborative effort reaps benefits for all. The STEM Lending Library helps our diocesan technology coach team collaborate with schools and encourage in-building collaboration for the benefit of our future-ready students. Here’s to the next generation of STREAM thinkers!

Alissa DeVito is associate director for Educational Technology for Archdiocese of Philadelphia Schools.

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