Catholic schools inspire young scientists through Lending Library and C-STEM Fair

At St. Stephen’s Catholic School in Anoka, middle school students explore a wide range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) topics in the elective course, “Engineering Design Process.”

It’s because of the C-STEM Lending Library that Christina Johnson, St. Stephen’s middle school math and language arts teacher, can provide innovative resources for the course. 

“My students explored lighting design, building walls, designing bridges, testing parachutes, designing knee braces, using simple machines, designing windmills and KEVA blocks,” Johnson said. “The C-STEM Lending Library has been an amazing resource. The cost and time required to gather all the materials myself would not have been possible.”

Connecting faith and reason

The C-STEM Lending Library provides hands-on teaching kits at no cost to the 78 preschool–eighth grade Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Now in its fourth year, the C-STEM Lending Library operates through a partnership between the Catholic Schools Center of Excellence (CSCOE) and the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering.

The initiative helps provide solid, engaging STEM instruction that is built upon the strong foundation of Catholic tradition, faith and service (C-STEM).  By connecting faith and reason, Catholic schools can form young scientists, technicians, engineers and mathematicians.

St. Stephen’s eighth-grade student Joseph Eiden enjoyed the team aspect of the STEM course. “On Monday each week, we would read a pamphlet and start a concept; the next two days we would design and test our prototypes, make improvements on Thursday, and then test the final product on Friday,” he said.

More than 1,000 loans and growing

The C-STEM Lending Library offers 74 different items for preschool through eighth grade students.

To date, there have been 1,282 loans to 151 teachers through the reservation website. Mike Gerard, manager of the C-STEM Lending Library, delivers the items, which come with instructions and videos, to the schools.

Gerard said that talking microscopes and Roy Toy log building sets are the most popular preschool kits. Elementary students especially enjoy the virtual reality goggles, Dash robots for coding and Engineering in Elementary kits.

This Lent, Gerard designed a votive candle lesson kit, which includes two candles, a test tube, a copper wire, a balloon and an eyedropper pipette. “It’s a trio of lessons about fire and boiling water, with one specific to the Catholic practices and traditions of candles,” he said. 

“We are proud to be a Catholic STEM Lending Library, supporting the connection between faith and science,” Gerard said. “Our focus continues to be on growing the program, and this fall, we’ll offer some teacher professional development.” 

Celebrating STEM at the Big Bang Catholic STEM Fair

Gerard has helped with the planning and judging for the upcoming Big Bang Catholic STEM Fair. Sponsored by CSCOE and open to the public, the free family event will take place Saturday, April 9, at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul.

Highlights of the event include a tech sandbox featuring items such as virtual reality goggles and metal detectors, performances by a science magician, and a robotics team demonstration from St. Odilia School in Shoreview. 

Dr. Mike Pitt, a Christian magician and pediatrician, will present a talk, “Science, Faith, and Magic – What’s the Same and What’s Different” before the 1:30 p.m. awards presentation. 

Nearly 200 projects were submitted to the competition from Catholic schools with 120 projects set to be judged at the event on originality, scientific method or engineering process, and communication. In addition to a grand prize winner, students are eligible for saint awards.

Click here to learn more about C-STEM and the 2022 Big Bang Catholic STEM Fair


—By Debbie Musser

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