August 2016 eNews: Teachers, How Did You Spend Your Summer?

Ms. Diane La Costa ’08 and Dr. Johnathan Chittuluru: 

Dr. Johnathan Chittuluru and I are thrilled to announce that we have been chosen to present a breakout session at the 2016 California STEM Symposium in October. Our presentation, “Get STEAMy with Art and Engineering to Promote Environmental Sustainability,” will highlight the co-teaching and collaboration that we promote in our art, engineering and now architecture classes. We believe our collaboration provides a model for other teachers, who may find our work informative for planning individual class sessions, collaborative units and/or integrated courses. Our latest collaboration happened this summer, and was between high school art students and aspiring middle school engineering students. Our high schoolers provided materials and expert consultation for the middle school girls as they built a chess board and foosball table, both made with PVC pipe and cardboard.


Middle schoolers from Sustainable Engineering Camp built a foosball table and chess board in just one week!

Ms. Suzie Knapp ’79:

I attended the “Institute to Support Secondary School Religious Educators” at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California, on June 23 and 24. Specifically designed as continuing education for religion teachers in Catholic high schools, the workshops included guest speakers, panel discussions and resource sharing. Participants represented a number of Catholic high schools throughout California, including the dioceses of San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco.

Session topics included “Teaching the Abrahamic Traditions: Resources and Strategies for Helping Students Learn about Judaism, Christianity and Islam” and “Technology and the Teaching of Religion: A Critical Inquiry.” As a religious educator, I have become interested over the years in interfaith dialogue – especially involving Judaism and Christianity. The opportunity to include Islam attracted me to this workshop and I was not disappointed. I was also impressed that the target audience for the conference was high school religion teachers – a unique group of teachers not often addressed at educational workshops.

Various scholars from the University of San Francisco, Notre Dame de Namur University, and the Islamic Networks Group gave insightful presentations on the complex makeup of people who identify themselves as Jewish, Christian or Muslim. Small and large group discussions helped us process the new information and brainstorm ways we could use it in the classroom. Overall it was an affirming experience of the “vocation” I feel each day in the classroom as a religious educator as well as a confirmation of the direction the OLP Religious Studies Department has been pursuing with regard to courses and technology integration.

I feel blessed to have experienced this conference and look forward to attending in future years.

Mrs. Emily Devereaux ’00 and Shawn Hanley:

Weaving together the workshops of the Inquiry Design Model Summer Institute were the words of education reformer John Dewey: “Only by wrestling with the conditions of the problem at first hand, seeking and finding [her] own way out, does [she] think.” We attended this three-day social studies teachers’ conference in Lexington, Kentucky this past June. Inquiry Design Model (IDM) is an approach to curriculum that promotes students’ investigation of history by utilizing primary and secondary historical sources to address compelling questions, and by assigning tasks that require students to apply what they’ve learned to take informed action.

In our courses this school year, we’re planning to incorporate this approach to enhance students’ engagement with historical peoples and events. This reimagining of the social science curriculum, which transforms students from objects into subjects, has myriad benefits for budding social scientists. Perhaps most importantly, it offers students opportunities to learn how to think rather than what to think.

Instead of situating students as passive retainers of “right” answers, this methodology encourages students to actively uncover knowledge on their own, as well as construct historical arguments and support them with disciplinary evidence. Additionally, this instructional framework supports a major tenet of the School’s philosophy, as it, too, endeavors to “foster intellectual curiosity and a passion for learning…in order to form collaborative learners, visionaries and innovators.” Like others who attended the IDM Institute, we have come to believe that by providing students with educational agency, we are helping them cultivate the curiosity and critical thinking skills required to successfully negotiate post-secondary studies and lead in their chosen fields.

Ms. Nicole Rayner:

I attended the French Language and Culture seminar of AP by the Sea at USD during the week of June 20. The instructor, Christophe Barquissau, who is a veteran high school French teacher and AP test insider, was informative and inspiring. He shared a plethora of tools and information regarding AP French, including techniques for teaching the earlier levels. An AP course is the culmination of a process started from freshman year. Christophe has a high retention rate in his own high school classes. I plan to “sell” French in a similar manner with my students!

Ms. Diane La Costa ’08:

This summer, I began liturgical classes through the University of Notre Dame Theology School.  I have studied the history of the Catholic faith, sacraments, the liturgical year, music and prayer.  The series of classes are designed especially for Catholic school educators to strengthen their knowledge of the Catholic faith alongside other dedicated Catholic school educators. These classes will help me plan beautiful, reverent and meaningful masses for our OLP community. As the new liturgical coordinator, I am excited to apply what I have learned about youth and their faith formation both in class and campus-wide.

Ms. Katie Turner and Dr. Johnathan Chittuluru: 

What is Project-Based Learning?

At OLP we have always striven for a purposeful, authentic, and more substantive version of learning because education has a purpose that stems from our charisms and the foundations of Catholic Social Teaching. This vision at the core of OLP’s mission aligns perfectly with the educational philosophy called Project-Based Learning (PBL).

According to the Buck Institute for Education, PBL absorbs students in “the curriculum by a meaningful question to explore, an engaging real-world problem to solve, or a design-challenge to meet.” To reach conclusions, students “need to work with other students to inquire into the issues raised, learn content and skills, develop an answer or solution, create high-quality products, and then present their work to other people” (4).

Learning through PBL takes a different approach from traditional education by requiring that students (and teachers) acclimate to the “5 Cs” of 21st Century Education: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, cooperation, and communication. Use of the 5 Cs can open up multiple possibilities for learning a specific topic, as each lesson begins with a question. By starting with a question, students embody the roles of investigator or research specialist, and this immediately shifts the focus away from the all-knowing textbook to the curious and motivated critical thinker.

As John Dewey says in Democracy and Education: “Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results” (302). “Doing” is about learning with purpose, and this just so happens to resonate with OLP’s mission. PBL can be adapted to specifically give our OLP students a purposeful and authentic learning experience, dedicated to a deeper level of care and concern for themselves, their neighbors, and their world.

What is PBL World?

In the spirit of doing, we traveled to the annual PBL World Conference in June to learn more about how PBL is used across the curriculum in high schools today. PBL World is hosted by the Buck Institute for Education and is designed to be a workshop for educators who are either Level I PBL designers, or, in the case of Dr. Chittuluru and myself, Level II.

Level II teachers were asked to bring a PBL unit which they had implemented the previous school year. We broke down the unit essentials in much greater detail, giving each of us an opportunity to make revisions, better align our goals to California standards, and develop stronger connections between IQ and EQ (emotional learning). Our experience was beneficial, but more importantly, we discovered that PBL World is an essential step in professional development for teachers who are interested in learning about the process of design, implementation, and assessment.

Overall, the conference exposed us to innovators in experiential and authentic PBL, as well as to students and community members who are directly served by this form of learning. Innovative approaches to learning and thinking are taking root all over the country (37 states were represented at the conference) and it was affirming to meet committed teachers who are changing the nature of the high school experience. Student representatives at the conference, who have received the benefits of PBL were active, creative, and thoughtful.