For 60 years, St. Isaac Jogues Catholic School has been providing students with a high quality education, something that was expanded this year with the addition of the STEM Program and lab space. This pre-engineering program is anchored in problem-solving and coding, resulting in the students graduating to high school with 21st century skills.
“Our main focus is on thinking critically, being creative, collaborating, and communicating,” says Carol Burlinski, principal of St. Isaac Jogues. “Our mission is to maximize learning for our children with forward-thinking skills, so when they leave us they have every opportunity to pursue their education and explore all possibilities at whatever school they choose.”
An existing curriculum, Project Lead the Way, exposes high school students to careers in engineering and prepares them for their studies at the university level. Project Lead the Way also offers a K-8 pre-engineering curriculum; Launch for kindergarten through 5th grade, and Gateway for 6th-8th grades. All of the modules aim to engage students through problem-based learning, from simple design through robotics.
“The cornerstone of our PLTW curriculum is the Activity-, Project-,Problem-Basedinstructionalmodel,”Burlinski says.“Using this approach, we scaffold knowledge, provide opportunities for students to transfer knowledge, and engage our students as they apply their new learnings to a relevant problem.”
Teachers must be certified to instruct in this program which is aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards. Kathleen Reagin, a science teacher at St. Isaac Jogues, completed training this summer through the University of Illinois.
“It was intense training but well worth it,” she says. “Very hands on and collaborative, and now, the kids love what we’re doing.”
Another element of the program was purchasing software and other technology as well as some physical changes in the building to house the program. The program requires iPads, PCs to load modules, software programs and manipulatives. “Thanks to our wonderful and supportive parents, we were able to fundraise and purchase the materials to offer our STEM curriculum,” says Burlinski.
So far, the program is a success. Children have been learning the basics of engineering in fun ways, without even realizing how much they’re utilizing science and math. They keep an individual engineering log which will progress with them as they navigate the curriculum.
“Our kindergarteners were trying to figure out how to make a pipe cleaner structure strong enough to hold an egg, and they don’t even realize the incredible skills they’re learning through trial and error,” says Burlinski. “At a higher level, our 6th graders went through a challenge to create a prosthetic. This real life application, and seeing how this is transferred to things that people actually do for a living, is really effective and meaningful for students.”
St. Isaac Jogues Catholic School is one of 32 elementary schools in Illinois offering the program, and the only school in the village of Hinsdale.
“Our main focus is always the faith-based curriculum, but we’re really looking at the learning potential of our students. We want them to design their own solutions to things, build on literacy and numeracy through direct application, and always be environmentally aware. We want to design our classes with learning that is meaningful, and if you observe our students, they’re engaged and having fun, while also strengthening their skills in math, science and technology.”
St. Isaac Jogues Catholic School is located at 306 W. 4th Street in Hinsdale, 630-323-1248, sijschool.org.