By Victoria R. LaFave
The 2020 winner in the Technology Integration Category of the Innovations in Catholic Education Awards is Saint Augustine of Canterbury Roman Catholic School, a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence in Kendall Park, New Jersey.
Congratulations to Saint Augustine of Canterbury Roman Catholic School!
“We were honored to be chosen as the winner in our category,” St. Augustine’s third grade teacher Nicole Duarte said. “We strive to prepare our students for an ever-changing technological world and we are humbled and grateful that we were able to provide the students with this opportunity to integrate STREAM in a new and engaging way.
Saint Augustine School, which currently serves 379 students in grades pre-K to eight, is raising the bar for STREAM integration in the classroom by incorporating coding and robotics into curriculum areas where they normally wouldn’t be expected to appear, such as reading, language arts, and social studies.
This initiative builds upon the success of the school’s participation in Code.org’s annual Hour of Code campaign and seeks to accomplish two primary goals: First, the addition of programmable “micro-bots” such as Ozobots and Sphero to the classroom environment gives the digital native and tech-hungry students new ways to engage with the material being taught, especially in non-STEM related subject areas.
Second, by exposing students to these concepts and technologies across the learning spectrum before they reach middle school age, they will get a head start on developing the critical thinking and problem-solving skills they will need in order to succeed as they progress through high school and college into a workforce where these skills are in ever-increasing demand.
The program is being piloted in grades three through five by a group of forward-thinking teachers who will leverage the coding being taught to students in technology class and develop innovative lessons that utilize the ‘bots to illustrate or emphasize key concepts in their own classrooms.
For example, one teacher planned a social studies lesson on immigration that includes an activity utilizing Ozobots. In the activity, the ‘bot plays the part of an immigrant crossing the ocean on his way to the United States through Ellis Island.
Along the way, the ‘bot stops at the main parts of the immigration process. At each stop is a QR code that links to an on-line resource summarizing that particular stage in the process. Students scanned the QR code with their iPads to access and read the summary, then answered questions about what they read on a webquest packet.
The students enjoyed watching the Ozobot “immigrant” travel from place to place and were able to relate the information presented in the lesson to a real-world event. With the help of their robotic avatar, they were able to walk in the shoes of the immigrants, see the trials and hardships they went through when they left their homes to come to this country, and better appreciate the need to treat all people, no matter where they come from, with mercy, dignity and respect.
Thanks in large part to a fundraising effort initiated by a school parent with contacts in the technology sector, the school was able to secure donations to acquire the Ozobots classroom kits that will be used by the third through fifth grade teachers participating in the pilot.
“Going forward, our plan is to expand this initiative,” Technology Coordinator Tony De Bari said. “We are in the process of seeking additional donations and grant funding to purchase microbot kits for our sixth through eighth graders, and KIBO Robot Kits for our youngest learners in Pre-K through second grades. This expansion will give each of our teachers the opportunity to embed coding and robotics into their lesson plans in a grade-appropriate way.
“Our students will reap the rewards of this innovative use of technology in the classroom as they gain invaluable twenty-first century skills that will better prepare them for their continuing education,” said Principal of Saint Augustine School Sister Mary Louise Shulas, MPF, “and eventually, prepare them to be successful members of the local and global community.”
Learn more about Saint Augustine of Canterbury Roman Catholic School: StAugustineNJ.org
Two Finalist Schools
Two finalists were also awarded for their Innovative Projects in Technology. The finalists are All Saints Catholic School (ASCS) in Canton, Michigan, for its Robotics Club and other technology endeavors; and Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for its 150th Anniversary Video History Project.
All Saints Catholic School serves 525 preschool through eighth grade students in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
“We are honored to have been chosen as a finalist,” ASCS Principal Kristen Strausbaugh said. “By using these educational applications of technology, our students will become comfortable with them and learn skills that will serve them throughout their years in school and beyond.”
All Saints has Smart Boards in all classrooms, iPads and Chromebooks for use in all grades, and computer classes beginning in kindergarten.
The school also offers a Lego robotics elective class for seventh and eighth graders. Students are assigned programming challenges and a final project that encourages students to think creatively to make their robot perform a unique task. For example, a recent project resulted in a robot that could draw a pumpkin on a sheet of paper.
Strausbaugh noted that providing a robotics course for junior-high students is important because it helps them become comfortable with technology at a critical age, when STEM classes become increasingly difficult. “The robotics class provides a fun way to integrate science into our curriculum and to encourage our students to explore STEM as a potential career choice,” she said.
ASCS’s robotics club (for K-8 students) follows the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics organization structure.
Strausbaugh explained that they have embraced the FIRST Robotics program because of its focus on cooperation, teamwork, and gracious professionalism. “These are values that All Saints embodies. Our robotics teams embrace our school’s Catholic identity and proudly wear shirts with crosses at all of our competitions. We enjoy participating in FIRST Robotics because our students learn to be good problem-solvers, but most importantly, they learn to be good people.
“Our students bring energy to the robotics meetings that make the challenges worthwhile,” Strausbaugh said. “To see the joy on their faces when they successfully program their robot or build a piece of a mechanism is priceless. Integrating the morals and values of our Catholicism with this technology is the icing on the cake.”
Learn more about All Saints Catholic School: AllSaintSCS.com
Finalist Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in Philadelphia produced a series of videos in celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in 2020.
“It was wonderful to be recognized as a finalist in this category,” Advancement Director Michael McDonough said. “Our students put much work and effort into this project. Being recognized by a national publication is quite an achievement and gives us a sense of accomplishment and pride.”
The 150th Anniversary Video History Project was done to honor the Catholic presence in the Bustleton area of Northeast Philadelphia. The idea was to create a series of student-led, research-based videos that incorporated learning in technology, social studies and language arts.
The project began in 2019 when each class, from kindergarten through seventh grade, was assigned a decade to research from 1870 to the present. Students were then assigned their specific area of research by their teacher including our world, the U.S., Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia history.
Students also researched the parish’s rich history and its influence on the Bustleton area of Northeast Philadelphia. Research was completed—utilizing the school’s Chromebooks, iPads and computer lab—before school ended in June 2019.
A script was developed from students’ work over the summer months. Filming began when the students returned in September. Each decade is filmed in broadcast news style in which students wear costumes, prepare and re-write their lines, produce cue cards, and assist with the filming in front of a green screen in the school’s Media Center. Completed videos are posted on Facebook, YouTube and the school’s website (www.maternitybvm.net).
All videos were released during Catholic Schools Week, when students brought the 150th Video Project to life in a Living History Museum for the parish at a Potluck Dinner.
“The 150th Video Project is a vehicle not only to celebrate the Parish’s anniversary, but to teach the students in a unique manner. They are hands-on from start to finish,” McDonough explained. “This project provided them with the unique opportunity to not only bring history to life, but to experience a sense of accomplishment at completing a job and doing it well. These videos can also educate future generations with insightful information in an engaging manner. Although this project was challenging on many levels, it was also highly successful, and a complete labor of love dedicated to the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish.”
Learn more about Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School: MaternityBVM.net
Victoria R. LaFave writes for Today’s Catholic Teacher, and for Holy Name Catholic School and The Bishop Noa Home, both in Escanaba, Michigan. She has had several of her stories published in Chicken Soup for the Soul books.
All photos courtesy of the participating schools.
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