Students benefit from STREAM activities at St. John Catholic School

From left, Autumn McCloskey, Evelyn St. Amant and Madison Bohn work on apple boat projects at St. John Catholic School.
From left, Autumn McCloskey, Evelyn St. Amant and Madison Bohn work on apple boat projects at St. John Catholic School. Photo provided

You’re probably familiar with STEM and STEAM programs. At Catholic schools, like St. John the Evangelist Catholic School in Bellefonte, we have a STREAM program: Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math.

This year, our students are having fun and learning through hands-on STREAM projects at all grade levels. In addition to completing activities that teach elements of science, engineering and math, students practice their writing and drawing skills by keeping detailed journals about the work they’ve completed.

At St. John, we’re also preparing students to use technology they’ll need as they advance into middle and high school.

Our third-grade students recently completed an online bridge-building challenge using their iPads. This was followed up with a hands-on bridge-building activity using a variety of simple materials. The challenge presented a variety of situations in which bridges were needed. In small groups, students evaluated each situation to determine the bridge design and building materials, then tested the strength of the design and materials they selected. Using the digital program, students were able to compare and contrast different types of designs and materials. Each group prepared a digital presentation and shared their findings.

St. John School Principal Kristina Tice said that teachers work to create a balance between traditional approaches and new technology in the classroom.

“Becoming proficient in the latest technology is critical for our students as they prepare for middle school and high school,” Tice said. “At the same time, we continue to use proven, traditional methods that help students excel in areas like writing and public speaking.”

Even the youngest students at St. John have these opportunities. Our pre-K students learned about apples this fall. After reading about apples on the smartboard, they sorted capital and lower case As, and cut open apples to taste them and count the seeds. Students also learned about Adam and Eve and the role of the apple in this Bible story.

Apples have been big part of fall at St. John.

“Every year, our second-graders look forward to apple day when they make their own applesauce,” Tice said. “This year, we added some new activities to this fun day.”

Second-graders tasted three different varieties of apples and compared and contrasted them by using vivid words to write descriptions. Later, their fifth grade guardian angels joined them to make boats using apples and toothpicks. Teams of two tested their boat designs to see which ones would float.

In kindergarten, students have welcomed new visitors to their classroom for a science project: snails! Students are learning about the different parts of a snail and how these creatures eat, move and live. They were surprised to learn that for their small size, snails have many parts.

“At St. John, younger students love working with their older guardian angels,” Tice said. “STREAM projects are great opportunities for classes to work together.”

Our first- and fourth-graders recently joined forces to put their engineering skills to work building spiderwebs using yarn, Popsicle sticks and cotton balls. They tested the strength and stickiness of their webs with (pretend!) spiders, then investigated why some webs worked and other didn’t.

In technology lab, students are learning to code, using algorithms to create program. To make a connection between paper/pencil and technology, students used block coding to create a program that moved an Angry Bird toward its target. This exercise was a great way to practice sequencing and debugging skills.

These are just a few of the STREAM projects St. John students have completed.

“It’s hard to believe we’re not even half way through the year,” Tice said. “It’s been a busy year, learning and growing together at St. John.”

Jodie Dello Stritto is a school council member at St. John Evangelist Catholic School.