The history of Catholic education in the United States is copious and quite fascinating. Our roots can be traced back to the 1640s when, it is believed, the Jesuits founded St. Mary’s School in Maryland. Religious priests, brothers, and sisters, as well as lay teachers, relayed their knowledge of “Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic,” along with sacred scripture and sacramental instruction to the children in their charge. Curriculum was centered on memorization, recitation, and reiteration of facts. Before the advent of technology, this method of instruction and learning was practical, and it was utilized for much of the past five centuries.

Memorization is still an important foundation for learners. Students need to know the alphabet and its sounds in order to begin to decode words, and a reliable knowledge of math facts provides the basis for problem solving, but the necessity to retain factual information that can easily be retrieved from a Google search is no longer of primary importance. In today’s educational environment, our focus has shifted to the application of knowledge – how can students use and apply the knowledge they have obtained? Relevance is also a key factor in the learning process; relating learning to real-life activities provides students with a roadmap to success.

Over the past two weeks, students at St. Michael’s School have been demonstrating their understanding of concepts in authentic ways. Last week, fourth graders participated in Walk Through California (fifth graders experienced Walk Through the American Revolution back in March). The Walk-Through programs, ask students to become “experts” on certain aspects of the Social Studies curriculum, and they demonstrate their knowledge through oral responses as well as skits. Similarly, third graders demonstrated their expertise at the Historical Wax Museum last week. Each student selected a historical figure, prepared a tri-fold board, dressed in character, and presented a short speech when their “start” button was pressed by one of the museum visitors.

his week, our Kinder through fourth grade students are preparing for our annual Cardboard Arcade on Friday. Each student is tasked to design a playable arcade game out of an empty cardboard box using the engineering design process of questioning, brainstorming ideas, drawing out the designs, building and testing the games, and finally sharing their creations with fellow students. Another Science project-based learning demonstration is the eighth-grade bridge-building (and eventually breaking) activity. Also using the engineering design process, students research and build small-scale bridges out of toothpicks in hopes of creating a design that will withstand the most force.

Finally, our eighth-grade students are concluding the homiletics component of the Religion curriculum. This project was first introduced in 2007 by Monsignor Dolan. Every week at our school liturgy, eighth graders have been listening intently to the homily presented by the celebrant. In particular, they are noting the theme of the homily, the reference to scripture, and the call to action. They were provided instruction on the components of a good homily, and were then assigned the readings for an upcoming Sunday and asked to prepare their own homily, which they will present to their classmates, teachers, and a priest or deacon. After this exercise, I think our students will certainly have a better appreciation for the work and preparation that our priests put in each week to prepare an inspiring and motivating homily.

The mission of Catholic education over the past five centuries has not changed, but the methods have evolved as has been necessitated by progress. We cannot and should not teach our students in the same manner in which we were educated because it is a different world, and it is changing every day. We recognize that we are preparing our students for jobs that do not yet even exist. But by giving them the skills to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, and excellent communicators, we have no doubt they will shine.

Deo Gratias,

Kathleen Mock

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *