Story by Rose O’Connor and EmmaLee Italia | Correspondents
It has been full STEAM ahead this year for many of our Catholic schools in the Diocese of Trenton as STEM education has enhanced classroom lessons in the elementary and high schools.
STEM, an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, also known as STEAM, when Art education is included and STREAM when Religion is incorporated, are lessons where students are challenged to think critically and delve deeper into the problems they are working to solve.
In order to effectively engage students in STEM lessons, schools have created innovative learning areas where teachers are creating and implementing lessons and instructional practices that encourage hands-on learning and discovery.
In St. Rose of Lima School, Freehold, creating a STEAM center was important to PTA President, Elizabeth Hierl.
“This was my pet project,” she joked. “We called it ‘STEAM 100,’ because water turns to steam at 100 degrees and it was 100 days until the beginning of Catholic Schools Week,” Hierl, a chemist herself, explained.
She continued. “The STEAM center aims to enhance students’ curiosity and creativity by challenging them to look at science in a whole new way. Using technology to reinforce concepts taught in class, students come to the STEAM center to explore and collaborate. In addition to traditional experimentation, students are offered opportunities to learn about robotics, design and coding.”
The STEAM center was made possible entirely by the generous support of the St. Rose of Lima family community. Led by the PTA under the direction of principal Franciscan Sister Patricia Doyle and pastor Father James Conover, the new STEAM center project has been created to serve students today, and also grow with them as they become active 21st century learners.
St. Gregory the Great Academy, Hamilton Square, has also made a concentrated effort to include STEM lessons into the curriculum.
Fifth grade teacher, Karen Stives, explained how principal Dr. Jason Briggs came up with the idea of turning one of the classrooms “into a STEM Lab for scheduled classes to introduce and expose our elementary students to the wonders of STEM. From kindergarten through third grade, students have explored designing and building bridges, robots and various structures with Legos, as well as recycled home items. Students are guided through the design process according to their grade level and the complexity of the challenge.”
These learning spaces have proven to be successful for our students as they explore the STEM challenges presented to them, she noted.
St. Benedict School, Holmdel, opened its new state-of-the-art science lab, which was built over the summer months, and is now being used by students for hands-on and virtual laboratory experiences during this school year. The school’s new science series enhances the lab experience through a set of modules, encompassing topics from the biological, physical and environmental sciences.
One innovative learning space is exciting for both students and teachers alike.
In St. Peter School, Point Pleasant Beach, a grant has enabled the school to purchase the WeatherBug weather station which is installed on the roof of the school building where weather data is delivered to the school’s online education program.
“It’s really a cool thing,” Eileen Baglivio, kindergarten teacher, said. “The kids are really excited. Everybody loves the weather station.”
Classes are recording the temperature, documenting the wind chill and weather trends. The students are also graphing the information and predicting the weather based on the information they have received.
Taking the opportunity one step further, Baglivio teamed with the school technology instructor, Carl De Pazza, to install a green screen and worked with the fifth grade class to put on a news broadcast using iMovie and their iPads. The students have written the scripts and the news broadcast, which obviously features a weather broadcast, to be shown in each classroom at the end of January.
STEM endeavors are not limited to grammar schools, however. Catholic high schools, such as Red Bank Catholic High, are also embracing the STEM educational program.
As part of Red Bank Catholic High School’s commitment to 21st century learning, this year the school has added virtual reality (“VR”) goggles and Google Expedition software to the already long list of instructional aides for teachers. This technology will provide teachers the opportunity to take students to other parts of the world, other times in history and through components of life not visible to the naked eye.
The VR system allows the instructor to monitor full-time via an iPad. Instructors can direct students to a particular part of the VR lesson, as well as identify where each student is through an icon that appears on the iPad. This provides the opportunity for real-time
instruction as the student navigates through the experience.
Science teacher and department chair Mary Jane Davis recently introduced her AP Biology students to the internal structure of a cell and its components using the VR system. She noted the benefits almost immediately, saying, “It can be frustrating for students to grasp multidimensional material from a textbook. With VR, they can be exposed to all aspects of the concept and actually navigate their way through it.”
Senior Amanda Dobrowolski agreed, adding, “The virtual reality component as an instructional tool added the emphasis on how the parts of a cell work together. We could experience that in real time.”
Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton, implemented Project Lead the Way, a transformative STEM curriculum into its Middle School during the 2016-2017 school year. This year, PLTW Launch was included in the technology classes in grades K through five and the course instructor and Lego/robotics coach, John Kocsis, was named 2018 STEM Teacher of the Year by the Professional Engineers’ Society of Mercer County.
In TCA’s Upper School, students are coding in the PLTW computer science modules. The instructor of the course and FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics instructor, Michael Radaszkiewicz, recently spent 10 days in STEM and PLTW coursework and training at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
St. Catharine School, Spring Lake, has also offered the STEM curriculum to students. This past summer, Michael Perez, St. Catharine School’s lead STEM instructor, flew to Eastern Michigan University for special instructor training in app creation and design. This spring, Perez will facilitate an App Creators course with students in grades six through eight.
“We look forward to observing all of the innovation and exciting new apps our students create,” Robert Dougherty, principal, said.
St. Rose Grammar School, Belmar, is committed to cutting edge learning programs and have partnered with New Jersey Institute of Technology to implement a comprehensive STEM program. To maximize student learning in the Middle School, Chromebooks have been purchased and the school has a 1:1 student to Chromebook ratio in those classes.
Students throughout the Diocese also took part in the Hour of Code during Computer Science Education Week, held this past December 4-10.
On Dec. 7, St. Benedict School participated in this movement for the first time, during which students were given brief instructions and coding assignments, creating their own computer games and animations in a single hour. This global movement is based on the theory “Anyone can code,” which means every student in every school can learn how to code. Students are given an opportunity to learn something new, something that they otherwise would
have no knowledge or understanding of, and by giving them the tools to learn it, they may actually find it something they enjoy or would like to pursue,” Lori Ulrich, director of marketing, explained.
In Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Maple Shade, students in grades five through eight have the ability on Tuesdays to participate in an activity period that features STEM lessons.
“The classes are mixed and the students are on various levels,” principal Carl Jankowski offered. “There are great leadership opportunities for the students, especially in the younger grades.”
Classes are a unique mix of engineering activities, biology, culinary arts, photography and creative writing.
“It’s great to see the way the science comes in with the culinary arts in the kitchen,” Jankowski said.
Lego/Robotics, app development and coding are something teachers are not only including into classroom instruction, but in after school activities for students in a variety of grades as well.
Our Lady of Sorrows School, Mercerville, is extending its STEM instruction past the final bell.
“We now offer an after school STEM club for grades five through eight. About 21 children participate, and each week is a different group activity. The program will continue through March, and then the club will be open to grades K through four,” school principal, Maureen Tuohy, stated.
Sacred Heart, Mount Holly, will also begin an afterschool Robotics club for students in the Middle School that is being taught by a graduate.
In St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford, students will have the opportunity to participate in “Gross Out Chemistry,” a science enrichment class for six weeks for first through fourth graders. “Gross Out Chemistry” blends chemical reactions, optical illusions, viscosity, fluorescence, and phosphorescence. Students will also get their hands dirty making quicksand, slime and flubber.
In November, 2017, St. Veronica School, Howell, was awarded a $1,000 grant from the Manasquan Bank Charitable Foundation to use for the advancement of the school’s STEAM program. The funds will be used to bring Mobile Ed’s STEAM Museum, a portable field trip, to the school on Feb. 2 during Catholic Schools Week. St. Veronica’s gym will be turned into a hands-on children’s museum focused on STEAM education from building arches, to programming a robot, to 3D printing.
In Mater Dei Prep, Middletown, the Donald Froude and Edwin “Skip” McLaughlin Science Center is scheduled to open in the 2018-2019 school year, thanks to a $250,000 gift from two alumni. The extensive renovations will transform the existing labs into cutting-edge learning environments for chemistry and biology.
“Mater Dei Prep is very grateful that these 1974 classmates have committed to supporting the creation of our new science center,” said Don Galante, Mater Dei Prep president. “The disciplines of science and technology are valued by colleges as they are the key drivers of 21st century intellectual and economic innovation. Having state-of-the-art facilities significantly enhances the college prep curriculum for Mater Dei Prep students,” Galante said. The new center will include islands and workstations with ample worktop space, offering easy access to services like electricity, water and gas, as well as technologies like USB and data ports. The design of the labs will allow teachers to interact seamlessly with students for more effective instruction.
Skip McLaughlin is excited to see the impact his gift will have on the Mater Dei Prep students. “Mater Dei made such a difference in my life,” McLaughlin said. “I’m happy to give back to this wonderful institution. I know my gift will help enhance the college prep experience at Mater Dei.”
“Philanthropy and community service have always been a major part of the Mater Dei experience,” added Don Froude. “As an alumnus, I’m proud to be able to support the school as it continues to provide its students with an exemplary education.”
According to Galante, Mater Dei Prep is also developing an advanced curriculum and co-curricular program to best utilize the new facilities. The curriculum will incorporate science and math across all disciplines to teach students to effectively solve problems in everyday life, with a focus on hands-on activities, creative thinking and collaboration.
“This curriculum will be more than teaching subject matter,” said Galante. “It will be active learning that empowers and inspires students to think creatively to find solutions to problems.”
Students in St. Paul School, Prince-ton, participated in their first STEM Day, Nov. 2, which featured an all-day rotation of various presentations related to digital technology, physics and engineering.
Interacting with Ciena, its partner Kaon Interactive, and Princeton Physics Plasma Labs, the school’s first through eighth grades were able to witness demonstrations that included how information travels across the Internet, what virtual and augmented reality look like, and how plasma could be responsible for a new form of renewable green energy.
Ciena, a Maryland-based global network communications company, brought its two-story lab on wheels: a semi-trailer that expands both outward and up to create presentation space both downstairs and upstairs. SPS classes each took a tour of the lab, which travels the country as a marketing tool for the company’s various Internet technology systems.
“Here’s what the fiber optic cable looks like,” said lab truck driver Audi Lay, as he passed around an insulated wire for students to examine. He showed them network hubs built into the truck wall. “Basically every time you use a cell phone or iPad, it goes through this.”
“We mostly give people a network from point A to point B,” Lay explained. For the school presentation however, he said Ciena is trying to get the kids’ curiosity piqued about the technology, and how they might one day invent networking solutions themselves.
“Most [of our employees] have electrical engineering degrees,” Lay continued. “No one comes to this job knowing how to do it – you basically learn on the job.”
The virtual and augmented reality presentation by Kaon Interactive gave SPS students a chance to immerse themselves in digital technology – literally.
“How many of you have heard of ‘Pokemon Go’?” asked Kaon Interactive president Gavin Finn. Every hand in the room immediately shot into the air. “If you like science and math,” he continued, “then you can learn to create virtual reality games like that.”
Finn showed the students an augmented reality program on an iPad, in which they were allowed to place an object into the environment on the screen, making it look as if it were really in the room, like in the Pokemon Go app. “You’re going to get to see something that really isn’t there,” he said, placing a refrigerator in the middle of the screen.
At another station the students got to try out a virtual reality headset, using software developed by Kaon, which helps businesses create virtual reality presentation tools for conventions. In what looked like a virtual data center, the students took turns “walking around” the environment as their classmates saw their perspective on a projected screen.
“I got a view all the way around, everywhere I looked,” said seventh-grader Miranda Beasley. “And there was this cloud that exploded at you when you looked at it!”
Shannon Greco, a researcher in the U.S. Department of Energy funded Princeton Physics Plasma Lab (PPPL), gave seventh and eighth grade classes a hands-on presentation that included a Tesla coil and other hair-raising electrical devices.
“At PPPL, we’re trying to work on something to replace fossil fuels and nuclear fission,” Greco explained. Highlighting the differences between fission and fusion, she asked for the students to give examples of plasma – where it occurs on earth and in space, and its unique properties. Plasma is used in the fusion process, super heating gas to a plasma state and forcing the atoms to fuse together.
“The byproduct of fusion is helium, which has no pollution risk,” she explained, noting that the hope is that the energy harnessed from plasma during fusion could someday be a replacement for burning coal or nuclear power plants.
Greco gave student volunteers a chance to experience static electricity by holding onto a charged silver ball, to hold lightning created by the Tesla coil and a special balloon device, and test the temperature of metal coils exposed to an electromagnetic charge.
“My hands are tingling!” said seventh grader Gianna Timberlake, who held the balloon device as Greco used the Tesla coil to apply electricity.
When asked how a person could work in that field and what should be studied, Greco said all the STEM subjects apply.
“Engineers make it happen, they build the technology,” she said. “Scientists come up with the ideas ... Math – no one is good or bad at math, it’s just a language you haven’t learned. And computer science – any chance you get to code and to learn a computer language like Python or Java.”
Glenn Calafati, Ciena’s global integrated director for content and media,
tailored his presentation to the age group in the room each session, allowing plenty of time for student curiosity to drive the information. Older classes were curious about satellite communications, while the younger set wanted to learn how electricity works.
“I’m trying to get the students to relate to the [media] they use – the technology behind ‘how does it get to you?’” Calafati said. “We also want them to think about the science involved, and why STEM is important.”
One fourth grader wanted to know whether it takes longer for information to get from New Jersey to California, or from California to China. The discussion veered toward bandwidth, speed and distance, and even repeaters, which leapfrog signals across a distance, adding latency.
Calafati explained how each aspect of STEM is necessary when it comes to using media that is broadcast or streamed.
“Technology never stays the same,” Calafati told the students. “Things always change, people are always making them better.” He reminded them that their suggestions and ideas helped drive the nature of the changes made in media performance. “Never look at an iPad and say, ‘I wish it could do that.’ Instead, think, ‘How COULD it do that?’”