At Saint John Paul II Catholic Academy, Lower Mills Campus (SJP2CA) in Boston, despite the coronavirus, hands-on engineering lessons have been a hit this summer.
With the disruption of school in the spring, 5th grade teacher Rhonda Eaton and Principal Lisa Warshafsky had to come up with new, engaging activities for their Summer STEAM Camp. Supported by EiE, and through funding from The Lynch Foundation, the Summer STEAM Camp bridged the gap to help provide engaging hands-on lessons in a virtual setting.
“Everything I teach is collaborative. Every time they sit in groups, they talk in groups, they socialize in groups,” Mrs. Eaton said, as she explained the challenges of converting hands-on learning to distance lessons. “I'm having to rethink everything I do.”
While their students have traditionally used EiE’s Engineering Everywhere program at the end of the school year, this year, the veteran teacher created a modified version for a virtual, socially distanced experience.
SJP2CA 6th grade engineers on the ready!
Each curated Engineering Adventure and Engineering Everywhere unit comes with supplies for hands-on engineering activities, from creating an hourglass to modeling water runoff in big cities. Mrs. Eaton demonstrated lessons through video chats with her students. Then, the middle schoolers completed the activity independently and either live streamed or recorded their experiments.
“They were eager to show their projects,” Theresa O’Neill, a liaison and thought partner for SJP2CA and the Catholic Schools Office said after observing students’ videos of their experiments. “And, they were eager to learn.”
One student, Erika, created an amazing cityscape out of plastic cups and tin foil to model how stormwater runs through an urban landscape. Another, Niyah, used gravel and sand to act as fake pollutants in order to show the impact of trash on water flow.
SJPCA Lower Mills- 7th grader with her individually packed, EiE On-the-Go material kits
And parents loved engaging with the experiments, too, the educators said.
“Some of our families do not have the financial resources to purchase all of the materials, particularly during these challenges times,” Warshafsky said, explaining the feedback she’d gotten from parents. “We want all students to have access to high quality programming and that was able to happen. Our students were engaged and excited to be a part of the learning process.”
Throughout the summer program, the school arranged socially-distant pickup points for parents and students to drive by and get their kits. According to Mrs. Eaton, the families always met her in the school parking lot on-time, excited to receive their materials and wondering what the next lessons would be.
@sjp2ca_lowermills and families posting on social media
about their excitement for their #eieinspired STEM adventures
“These are students that have no incentive other than pure learning,” O’Neill said. “There are no grades to this – it's summer time. They had the materials in front of them, they could have very easily not shown up and not done the projects, but they were excited to.”
Overall, the school considered this year’s summer program a massive success. Parents started asking for similar activities for students in other grades and expanded engineering lessons that had been given during the regular school year. With plans to include more Engineering Everywhere lessons in the future, Mrs. Eaton and SJP2CA are looking forward to seeing where the curricula take them.
“I would definitely like to say thank you to the Museum of Science, The Lynch Foundation and The Catholic Schools Office,” Principal Warshafsky said. “Because I know this would not have been possible without the support of all involved.”
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