STEM/STREAM/STEAM enhances learning at diocesan schools

As part of the effort to continually enhance education in the diocese, several schools in the Diocese of Allentown have “redesigned” their libraries or other classrooms into STEM labs, and a number of teachers have attended workshops, enabling them to teach their students how to code.

“STEM, or STREAM as we like to refer to it, is the focus of study based on science, technology, religion, engineering, art and mathematics,” said Kathleen Bondi, assistant superintendent of government programs and instructional technology in the diocesan Secretariat for Catholic Education.

Schools involved include Holy Guardian Angels Regional School, Reading; Immaculate Conception Academy, Douglassville; Notre Dame of Bethlehem; St. Ambrose, Schuylkill Haven; St. Anne, Bethlehem; St. Jane Frances de Chantal, Easton; St. Michael the Archangel, Bethlehem-Coopersburg; St. Theresa, Hellertown; and St. Thomas More, Allentown.

“St. Theresa even has a 3-D printer. St. Anne’s STEM challenge team took first place over 50-plus public schools last spring and went to state finals,” Bondi said. St. Jane’s eighth grade team – Jennie Duong, Harper Hogan, Rebecca Koury and Mary McFarland – took first place in this year’s contest and will be competing in Harrisburg in the state competition.

“Students must develop 21st century skills that use collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and Catholic values to solve problems in their future world,” said Bondi. She said the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million information technology jobs but only 400,000 computer science graduates to fill the positions.

“Educators have come to the realization that what they teach and how they teach must change if our students are expected to be ready to tackle technological challenges in their futures,” Bondi said.

“STREAM requires an entirely different skill set than traditional teaching can provide. For instance, teachers teach a lesson, provide students the opportunity to practice/learn the information and then check for understanding by quizzing or testing students.

“A STREAM classroom is very different. Students are seated in groups so that they can share knowledge. They are given a task to solve using materials provided by the teacher.

“Oftentimes the efforts of the students result in a product or solution to a question. Many times the solution is not clearly evident and students must approach the ‘problem’ from a new perspective using what they learned from failure to achieve success.”

Bondi said a part of the STREAM puzzle is teaching students to code. Coding is the language of computer science.

“It’s not that teachers want all students to pursue a career in computer science. Educators see the advantages of teaching coding because it is a way to teach students how to problem-solve. Students are taught how to think logically to solve a task or problem. Coding builds creativity, resourcefulness, as well as persistence to reach a goal. More important, they learn how to learn from failure to achieve success.

“Diocesan schools are in the process of transitioning over to STREAM lessons. Several schools have reconfigured their libraries into a Maker Space, Innovation Lab, FabLab, Idea Lab, etc. for students to solve problems and create solutions. Other schools are providing the materials for hands-on STREAM learning opportunities in their existing science labs and classrooms.

“Diocesan schools are helping their students to be prepared to take on the challenges they will face when they enter the work force. Not only will our graduates be resourceful problem-solvers, but they will understand the moral and ethical implications of their actions based on Catholic teachings.”

Holy Guardian Angels Regional School

Beginning with the 2016-17 school year, Holy Guardian Angels Regional School (HGA) replaced the traditional computer class with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) class.

“Students have still been learning their computer skills; however, they have been able to develop these skills in a more integrated setting. They are learning to problem-solve, communicate, collaborate and critically think, in a space designed for activity and supplied with the resources they need to discover, apply and create,” said Rebecca Kinyo, HGA instructional technology coordinator.

She said each unit typically begins with a challenge or question posed by the teacher; however, the learning itself is largely student-driven. “In STEM, students have learned that failure can be part of the process, which leads them to rethink their plan and improve. Success is valued, but it also leads students to think about why it succeeded and what might be done to improve the process or the product in a way that might not have been considered.”

The class is designed to be collaborative and hands-on. Exit tickets are a main form of assessment to allow the students to give insight about their experience and express the understanding they acquired. Topics have ranged from structural design and simple machines to the water cycle and horticulture.

Additionally, STEAM Team was created as an after-school enrichment program for students in grades 5-8. “STEAM Team combines the best of STEM and art, taking the exploration of these areas further than we can in the classroom,” Kinyo said.

During the second trimester, STEAM Team members have involved themselves in the process of animation: analyzing features like lighting and textures, editing the digital animation of a bouncing ball, understanding frame rates and rotation, and creating stop-motion animation videos.

Immaculate Conception Academy

“Immaculate Conception Academy students have the benefits of STEM education as part of the 21st century education we offer. Our students from pre-K to grade eight have STEM classes one to two times per week. Under the direction of Patrick Mangan, STEM instructor, the students engage in many exciting, enriching, interesting and educational activities on a weekly basis,” said Principal Patricia Tarquinio.

Tarquinio said Mangan is a Google-certified code administrator and teaches code writing for students in grades K-8. Mangan also uses “CS (Computer Science) First” code writing themes, which incorporate “Scratch block programing,” created at MIT. The students learn to write computer code using these and other programs.

Students in grades 6-8 are working on a three-year project to design and build a robotic arm. The project begins in grade six, where students research, design and then build a catapult, working in groups, using ordinary materials such as paint sticks, rubber bands, brass fasteners and tape. Winning designs will be moved to development, and students will attach motors and write the code to program them.

Students have also built bottle rockets; created robot bugs; designed and created homopolar motors; designed, created, packaged and made TV commercials to market their own products; made claymation short movies; and created a virtual interaction with characters during their seventh grade play.

“Immaculate Conception Academy’s STEM lab has been a part of the school since 2015, and the students have already done and learned so much,” said Tarquinio.

Tarquinio said thanks to the leadership of Mangan and Manuela Werley, library/media teacher, along with the support of Board Chairman Gregg Shemanski and Pastor Msgr. John McCann, “we look forward to continued growth and development of the STEM program.”

Notre Dame of Bethlehem

“Notre Dame integrates coding instruction into its technology curriculum in several grades,” said Joanne Romero, technology teacher, grades K-5.

“Third grade was introduced to coding last December when they participated in the “Hour of Code” during Computer Science Education Week. All third-graders have been enrolled in ‘Kodable,’ a programming curriculum for elementary students.

“Our fourth and fifth grade students will participate in coding activities next trimester,” Romero said. “Our sixth grade students are completing course three of the curriculum, and seventh grade is completing course four. Our eighth grade did an ‘Hour of Code’ in December and uses extra time to participate in ‘Hour of Code’ activities.”

St. Ambrose

“Our students in grades kindergarten through grade eight are all actively participating in STEM/STEAM activities in the classroom,” said Carol Boyer, principal of St. Ambrose.

“In many of our classes, iPads are being used for sharing lessons, assignments, assigned reading and interactive classrooms. The students also use laptops for various lessons. Most of our teachers are using Smartboards for classroom instruction. The several remaining classrooms are waiting for their Smartboards to be installed, which will be in the near future.”

Boyer said the school participated in the “Hour of Code” on Dec. 8, 2016. Two St. Ambrose teachers attended the workshop last summer and brought back lesson ideas and materials to share.

Louise Kadingo, kindergarten teacher, attended “Keyboarding Without Tears” workshop and has instituted that program into the school’s curriculum.

Students are also working with robotics in and out of the classroom. The students are learning how to code with various coding robots, including a set of “Ozobot” toys being used by multiple classes. The goal is to introduce kids to simple coding and, at the same time, teach skills such as deductive reasoning while expanding their imaginations.

St. Ambrose also has a Lego robotics team that meets after school and competes in area competitions. The teams are given a “task” and a theme. The team learns more about the challenge and then strategizes how to use Legos to build functioning robots to perform the task to solve the challenge. This year's team won the best presentation award at the Penn State Berks Regional First Lego League Championship Tournament.

Grades 1-4 celebrated Engineering Week with an egg drop challenge. Students had to construct an apparatus to hold and protect an egg from a 3- to 4-foot drop.

Students were very excited to find that very few of their eggs were broken after being dropped,” Boyer said. “Additionally, we have many games and activities that teachers can allow the students to use for enrichment that are appropriate for the many different levels of students in our school.”

St. Anne

“St. Anne School is offering an innovative computer science program in partnership with that unlocks an entirely new future for all students by increasing logic, problem-solving, collaboration and creativity,” said Kathryn Wiley, technology instructor at St. Anne.

“The St. Anne technology program is fun and engaging for all students, and introduces them to a brand-new vocabulary and skill set, with terms such as algorithm, sequencing, looping and debugging.

“Students learn how to create applications and computer games, as well as understand the coding language that makes it work. In this changing world, technology affects every field and students need a strong computer science foundation.”

Mark Wladyslawski is moderator of St. Anne’s STEM Design Challenge. He is a St. Anne School parent and a faculty member in the science department of Bethlehem Catholic High School.

“For the past two years, St. Anne School has participated in the Thermo Fisher Scientific STEM Design Challenge, a regional and statewide competition aimed at developing critical 21st century problem-solving skills in science, technology, engineering and math. Each year a four-student team of sixth- to eighth-graders tackled the building competition, tasked with solving a specific engineering problem using the K’Nex construction toy system,” Wladyslawski said.

He said in 2016, the competition challenged teams to design and construct a 1-meter-tall Knox building capable of holding weight and being environmentally friendly. Teams had two months to design and implement their solution, and at competition had two hours to assemble it from their own blueprints.

Upon presenting their project, budget and research journal, teams were judged on creativity, teamwork, challenge success, design and presentation.

“St. Anne’s K-Team won first place in the 40-team regional Colonial Intermediate Unit 20 event. They qualified for the statewide competition and placed third in the state,” Wladyslawski said.

“The new 2017 challenge tasked the teams with designing a ‘green’ amusement park ride focused on making the world healthier, cleaner and safer by inspiring others to be environmentally friendly.”

The team competed in the regional competition March 3, but did not place this year.

St. Jane Frances de Chantal

Providing an overview of the STEM/STEAM/STREAM activities at St. Jane, Principal Marybeth Okula said the school community uses the STEM curriculum in all areas.

“For example, in our kindergarten, they are using STEM during centers and play time building bridges, buildings and moving cars. The children love creating and using various materials,” Okula said.

“After studying atoms and the periodic table, and exploring with our Chromebooks, the sixth-graders will use a variety of materials to create a 3-D model of an element that is light enough to be hung from the ceilings in the classroom.

“In first grade, they integrated STEM into the 100th day of school. The children used manipulatives and objects such as paper cups, links, cubes and blocks, and they used their imaginations to construct buildings. We counted and grouped objects, and used problem-solving strategies,”

Okula said fifth grade used their engineering knowledge to build a structure of newspapers that could hold a basketball for 20 seconds without collapsing.

The eighth grade teacher organized a team of four “engineers” to compete in the IU’s Regional STEM competition at Monroe Campus of Northampton Community College March 3. The team built a roller coaster structure with a moving “car” and elevator.

They placed first and are on to the state competition in Harrisburg Friday, May 19.

This year’s challenge was: “Your team has been hired to create a new amusement park. However, this new amusement park is making ‘green’ a priority. The owners are working to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer, and are creating a fun family park that will inspire others to be environmentally friendly. You will need to create a ride for this new park. Your ride must represent the environmentally friendly approach that the owners are requiring.”

St. Michael the Archangel School

St. Michael the Archangel is offering STEM opportunities in both the elementary and middle school buildings. In a letter to school families, Dr. Joanne LoFaso, principal, and Erin Doherty Faust, assistant principal, explained how STEM works at the school.

STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – in an interdisciplinary and applied approach.

Tara Tobin is the technology teacher of K-8, and teaches technology and STEM classes.

LoFaso and Faust said computer science skills, such as coding, provide critical thinking, logic, persistence and creativity. These are skills that help students excel at problem-solving in all subject areas.

“We are pleased to offer coding opportunities to all of our students in grades K-8 this year,” they wrote.

Students in the elementary and middle schools receive coding instruction during their technology classes.

Tobin will use coding activities designed especially for younger students by

In the middle school Tobin uses the Google “CS First” program that ties in Scratch.

Students in the upper grades at the elementary school receive an opportunity to explore engineering during technology class using “LittleBits,” a platform of electronic building blocks that allow students to invent anything from a remote-controlled car to a door alarm.

Students use their imagination and problem-solving skills to design fun and exciting inventions. Tobin will have the students capture their building process on video and create an iMovie to showcase their inventions.

Students in the middle school receive robotics building, programming and coding instruction during their technology class. Tobin uses the Lego Mindstorms EV3 curriculum, which encourages students to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills through inquiry-based and active learning.

On Fridays at the middle school campus, the school offers STEM labs to grades 5-8. These classes are taught by a parent volunteer, Dr. Keith Kardos. They enhance the grade level science curriculum and allow hands-on, active learning and investigation.

In addition, Tobin provides STEM activities on Fridays in the computer lab. Students are given computer-based STEM challenges to explore, in addition to time dedicated to the robotics and coding activities that students are completing in technology class.

Kardos and Tobin split each class into two sections weekly. The students alternate between Kardos and Tobin. This allows for small group interaction and differentiated instruction.

St. Theresa

“St. Theresa School attempts to integrate STEM/STREAM and coding content at all grade levels,” said St. Theresa Principal Colleen Weiss.

“For the 2016-17 school year we continue to work with all grade levels to add a variety of interactive distance learning experiences to support their STEM/STREAM units. Grades 1 and 2 have been working on collaborative STEM activities this year and will continue to use STEM units throughout the remainder of the school year.

“While many of these activities are completed directly in the classroom, the school now has a STREAM lab to facilitate additional hands-on activities that might not be able to be completed in the classroom.

“Grades 1 and 2 recently completed a penguins unit, which not only included hands-on projects, but also included a live stream from Antarctica with a researcher studying Adélie penguins. So far this year we have done over 20 distance learning science programs in pre-K4 through grade 8.

“Our new STREAM lab provides students with an introduction to robotics, electronics, optics, clean energy, structural engineering, basic hand and machine tool operations, virtual and augmented reality, drone operations, computer programming, hydroponics, biofuels, and 3D printing.

“In addition to our current 3D printer we will be adding 3D pen printing and exploring new developments in 3D printing technology since purchasing our first 3D printer three years ago.”

Weiss said coding has been introduced at all grade levels but has been incorporated on a regular curricular basis with grades pre-K4 through grade 2. Students also use a variety of iPad and Android apps, and the Tynker website as well.

“Our art teacher has received a grant to help us enhance our new STREAM lab with student-designed and -executed artwork. Our eighth-graders have begun work on a mural in our STREAM lab area depicting the STREAM acronym. We will again be doing a variety of online distance learning experiences in the art area with the Smithsonian Institution,” Weiss said.

St. Theresa School participated in the STEM K’Nex design challenge sponsored by Colonial IU20 for the fourth year. It was the first school in the diocese to participate in this event. This year three middle school teams represented the school in the March 3 competition, but none placed.

St. Thomas More

“This summer, St. Thomas More School received a grant that enabled us to redesign our computer lab to create a unique learning space,” said Tracy Sell, director of educational technology.

“We embarked on a new journey that allowed us to create what we call the ‘iLab.’ This innovative learning environment will provide us with access to state-of-the-art resources enabling students and teachers to work together to take learning to a deeper level. Using challenge or problem-based learning, students make connections and understand how to apply what they know while working collaboratively.

“Using the diocesan curriculum as our guide, we work collaboratively, as educators, across grade levels and disciplines to develop authentic learning activities for our students. With STREAM as our focus, we endeavor to connect science, technology, religion, engineering, art and math together to bring the real world into our classrooms.

“We aim to make learning authentic by engaging students in real-world challenges in all academic areas. The iLab will act as a springboard to inquiry, investigation, innovation, imagination and ideas.”

Sell said since the beginning of the year, students have used this space and technology as a resource to engage in authentic learning activities and demonstrate understanding through the creation of collaborative projects.

Some examples include students designing and testing virtual wind turbines as they learned about renewable energy, visiting biomes around the world using Google Expeditions, working with the Challenger Center for Space Science Education to track hurricanes as a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration extreme weather response unit, learning programming languages, and the engineering design process.

“We are very grateful to be able to promote a 21st century, cooperative teaching and learning environment at St. Thomas More,” Sell said.