Making an Impact



Today’s students must develop skills that will match tomorrow’s occupations in an ever evolving digital world. Professions like computer systems analysts, medical scientists and biomedical engineers are expected to grow at a significantly higher rate than other occupations, according to the United States Department of Education. Many schools around the country have adopted specialized science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs to fulfill this future need.

To better understand how to integrate STEM into a Catholic education (commonly named C-STEM), teachers representing 30 schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis participated in a week-long task force sponsored by the Catholic Schools Center of Excellence (CSCOE) in June.

Amy Gallus, C-STEM curriculum specialist at host school St. Joseph Catholic School in Waconia, one of four C-STEM schools in the Archdiocese, helped facilitate the event.

“[C-STEM] has become the vehicle that is working to not only have our kids prepared for high school and beyond, but it’s also the way in which we come to learn our faith and have that personal development,” Gallus said.  The Catholic Church has a long and rich history related to the Sciences, including a Catholic priest to created The Big Bang theory and the actual development of The Scientific Method.

Throughout the task force meeting, key themes emerged, including the on-going desire for professional development and 21st century-learning spaces to facilitate hands-on learning. The group brainstormed a STEM lending library and a C-STEM fair. The lending library will be a partnership with the University of St. Thomas’ School of Engineering and allow teachers to share innovative STEM materials. The C-STEM fair will be the first of its kind and is open to all Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese. It is slated for April 21, 2018, at Holy Family Catholic High School in Victoria.

The task force also discussed ways to improve curriculum to fit STEM, and specifically, C-STEM. With Gallus’ kindergarten through second grade students, she recently repurposed a picture book with the story of Noah’s ark to a story about Noah as an engineer, focusing on the ceiling, support system and structure of the boat.

“It started with a Catholic story, but then we went into our engineering and design process from there,” said Gallus, who has a STEM certification through St. Catherine University in St. Paul. “As educators, we have to make that connection.”

Becky Zwirner, a STEM-certified math, science and religion teacher at St. Wenceslaus Catholic School in New Prague, credits the task force for helping her incorporate Catholic themes into all subjects — not just religion class.

“Now with everything I’m doing, I’m thinking about what kind of Catholic piece can I put into this,” she explained. “Even if we’re doing a math problem, it can be a word problem that contains something about our faith.”

Zwirner is grateful to CSCOE for investing in the C-STEM fair and the task force, and she looks forward to seeing additional ideas shared through the group’s on line community where teachers can share great ideas using technology.

“It leaves me really excited about where Catholic schools are going,” she said.

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