Boston, Mass.—Inside the Fenway Room at Emmanuel College last Thursday, celebratory shouts and high fives created quite the scene. But it wasn’t a group of college students enjoying the first days of the school year. Instead, a group of 30 teachers from the Archdiocese of Boston engaged in a day of professional development focused on integrating STEM and active learning into their respective curriculums.
It was not the typical professional development day for these educators. Members of the Catholic Memorial leadership team, including Principal Mr. Andrew O’Brien, Head of the Middle School Mr. Brian Palm, and Theology Department Chair Dr. Michael Corso, served as the facilitators,marking the first time that educators from a school in the Archdiocese of Boston led a workshop for fellow archdiocesan educators.
“It’s exciting to provide the opportunity for teachers and leaders from schools around the Archdiocese to learn from experienced colleagues. Today’s workshop validates the good work that is being done in Catholic schools,” said Ms. Mary Goslin, Director of Government Programs inthe CatholicSchools Office.
Throughout the morning sessions, Mr. O’Brien, Mr. Palm, and Dr. Corso created a hands-on, active learning environment that they hoped their fellow educators would bring to their own classrooms. They started the day by having teachers work in small groups to complete an activity titled, “Lewis and Clark,” an activity designed by Mr. Patrick Murray, the Director of Innovation at CM. Teachers received a prompt that asked them to design a slide mechanism capable of taking an injured climber from the top of the Rocky Mountains to the bottom quickly and safely. Teachers worked in small groups to bring their marble (which represented the injured climber) to the bottom of theslide, which included as many twists, turns, and jumps as the group decided was necessary.
Throughout the exercise, the facilitators encouraged the participants to pay close attention to observations being made, the questions being asked, and the collaboration they witnessed. The facilitators reflected on the processes that were happening in their minds and discussed the power that this type of learning holds for their students.
“A wonderful starting point is simply encouraging a classroom environment where students are active when they learn. At CM, we believe that movement prompts exploration and ownership. Teachers don’t need to design epic projects with multiple phases. Instead, we see success when classes are broken up into moments that encourage different types of learning and a range of movement in the classroom space,” said Mr. Palm.
The day started by introducing a philosophical approach to pedagogy. It ended with participants creating actionable plans for designing lessons based on this philosophy. During the morning sessions, the teachers took on the role of students and experienced a collaborative, active learning environment. In the afternoon, the sessions focused on creating lessons that would incorporate STEM activities into their own courses.
“A traditional mainstay of professional learning in schools has been the outside expert. While still valuing such outside contributions and partnerships, dialoguing with colleagues about shared concerns, learning from one another’s practicalexpertise, and developing solutions from among a school’s internal best practices provides a faculty with learning that is almost immediately actionable,” said Dr. Corso.
Over the last five years, CM’s faculty has discussed the future of education and identified a range of skills and habits which students should develop during high school to be ready for college and the professional world. The faculty collaborated over the course of a year to develop the Portrait of a CM Graduate which outlines the habits that a graduate will need to navigate a world full of unknown challenges, ambiguity, and complex problems.
To help students fulfill the characteristics of the Portrait of a CM Graduate, CM has created a master plan encompassing pedagogy, curriculum, and facilities. CM is focusing on how boys learn, what they learn, and where they learn. To start, CM revamped its ProfessionalDevelopment Program. Groups of teachers across disciplines and grade levels meet regularly to discuss topics that range from pedagogy and assessment to real-world application and relevance. In addition, CM’s faculty professional development days incorporate the same hands-on, active learning that CM’s leadership shared with the Archdiocese.
“As a faculty and staff, we believe that the greatest mechanism for change in a school is the knowledge and expertise of its faculty. Our Professional Development Program attempts to leverage the gifts and talents of our faculty by providing a platform for faculty to interact with each other and collaborate on best practices to engage students,” said Mr. O’Brien.
In addition to a new approach to professional development, CM has enhanced its curriculum by adding courses such as Critical Making,Design Engineering, Robotics, as well as several interdisciplinary courses.
The last piece of CM’s plan concerns the classrooms themselves. In June, CM broke ground on the $9.7 million Center for Integrated and Applied Learning. The Center will include five cutting-edge studios. These spaces will be flexible and open which will be conducive to CM’s courses and teaching style.
“As we develop curriculum and courses, we are always trying to provide our students with the skill sets necessary to be successful beyond the walls of CM. The professional world our students will enter into as they leave Baker Street is constantly changing. But what we do know is that they will be challenged to think differently, work collaboratively, and tackle problems that will require a diverse skill set and knowledge,” said Mr. O’Brien.