Integrating faith and education through STEM

| Kristi Anderson | January 30, 2013 | 0 Comments

The acronym ‘STEM’ refers to education in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math. It is a hands-on, activity-based learning style that is designed to bolster confidence and interest in these disciplines. Numerous schools across the nation are offering STEM curriculum, including many Catholic schools in the archdiocese.

St. Jude of the Lake School, Mahtomedi

St. Jude of the Lake School, Mahtomedi, is committed to several initiatives of STEM education. They are currently a candidate for the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program, which, if authorized, will make them one of only three Catholic schools in the country with this designation.

“At St. Jude, we are paving the way for Catholic education for the future,” said Jennifer Cassidy, principal. “As the only Catholic elementary school pursuing the IB in the Midwest, we are taking bold steps to respond to the changing landscape in education today. The IB program, which is the ‘how’ we teach, is a framework that ties all of this together.”

The school recently secured funding to upgrade its science lab, which will be unveiled in April.

“St. Jude is focused on developing the whole child – body, mind and soul,” said Cassidy. “In today’s changing educational climate, schools need to respond to these changes, differentiate ourselves, and prepare our students for the 21st century world we live in. We are committed not only to providing the best environment for learning, but the very best ways to learn – the best of both worlds.”

The school is currently seeking funding to add an innovative technology center that will provide students access to the technology and resources needed to study such topics as engineering, robotics, graphic design and more.

“We believe strongly that this whole, well-rounded education is important,” she continued, “and we have invested heavily in the success of our programs with the time, talent, and treasure that it takes to help our students succeed. As a Catholic school, the foundation of this learning is our faith. So while we develop skilled young people, we want them also to have the morals and values to put these skills to good use and make a positive impact on the world.”

St. Croix Catholic School, Stillwater

This year, St. Croix Catholic School is implementing a new middle school STEM program, Project Lead the Way.

Beth Lilja, a fifth-grade teacher the school, focused her graduate research project on STEM in the classroom and was thrilled to learn that St. Croix would be implementing the PLTW program.

“It is exciting knowing the students will be exposed to authentic hands-on applications that will enhance their confidence in pursuing STEM in the future,” she said.

One of the first challenges the fifth-graders faced was utilizing their knowledge of gears and simple machines to construct various mechanisms.

After learning the design and structure of mechanical gears, they began a Hands and Feet of Christ project in which their task was to design a mechanism to help persons with limited mobility.

“The reasons behind implementing STEM are limitless and all backed by research,” said Lilja. “The access to exceptional curriculum is such an amazing opportunity for the kids. Typically students are able to experience STEM with items found around the house, but with PLTW, the hardware is real and the technology is similar to what is used by engineers today.”

Audrey Anderson, middle school science teacher and alum of SCCS, also feels the STEM programs significantly benefit her students.

“Not only is STEM engaging and challenging, but students can bring their own experiences and expertise to a particular engineering problem and at the same time learn from their peers’ experiences and expertise,” Anderson said. “There is no ‘one way’ to solve an engineering problem, and students quickly learn how to design the best solution within a particular set of constraints.”

“STEM education inspires students differently than traditional programs for two reasons,” she continued. “First, there can be many solutions to the same engineering problem. In traditional science programs, you either have the right answer or the wrong answer. But in STEM, each solution and invention has a unique set of advantages, disadvantages and implications for the real world. This empowers students to excel because they each feel like they have something to contribute.”

“The second reason is that STEM challenges students to think about the purpose of their learning,” Anderson added, “which is to become a better citizen and community member. Why do we do science and engineering? What is the purpose of our brains or our skills? Not to make as much money as we can, or to fix our problems in the fastest and easiest way possible, but to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Tags: , , ,

Category: Catholic Schools Week