As the academic year enters its final weeks, teachers are re-imagining spring traditions and even incorporating challenges from the coronavirus pandemic into their lesson plans.
In-person classroom instruction is halted for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, an announcement made by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf on April 9. As school faculty, staff and administration continue to facilitate student learning at home, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Office of Catholic Education created a coronavirus task force to aid educators.
As part of their outreach, the task force is releasing newsletters highlighting school achievements and creativity. The most current newsletter included “gold star lessons” — examples of lesson plans from various archdiocesan high schools that excel in creativity and student engagement.
“Each week our secondary school teachers continue to amaze us as they perfect the art and science of teaching in a virtual world,” the newsletter said. “With a sense of adventure, these teachers develop lessons which help to drive the curriculum while engaging their students in responding to their new reality of learning from home during a national pandemic.”
One such teacher is Maria Rossi from SS. Neumann Goretti High School in Philadelphia. Her virtual “Shark Tank” assignment incorporated Italian, business and art for students in Italian Level III and IV.
Rossi challenged students to invent a product that would solve an immediate problem in the school community. Students then pitched their inventions via writing or video, mimicking the television show “Shark Tank,” where entrepreneurs present original products to a group of investors.
Examples of student products included a personal bubble suit that would allow students to safely attend prom, and an Italian fluency app that would allow students to continue gaining proficiency even when teachers are not actively moderating learning.
Students also created self-portraits that accompanied their autobiographies for the project, which were presented in their Italian class via Zoom meeting.
Students studying honors business/medical Spanish at Roman Catholic High School, Philadelphia, also incorporated the challenges of the current pandemic into their classroom learning.
An assignment asked students to create a video imagining they were a doctor or nurse working at a local hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the video, students described the health care professionals’ experiences using medical vocabulary terms learned in class.
While the sampling of lesson plans in the newsletter highlighted teacher and student creativity, “they by no means capture the full depth and breadth of our teachers’ talents,” the newsletter stated.
The newsletter also highlighted a virtual field trip for second graders at Mother Teresa Regional Catholic School, King of Prussia. Many schools would normally embark on outdoor field trips during the warming spring months, but given the current circumstances, classes are unable to do this in a traditional manner.
The second grade class virtually traveled almost 2,000 miles to the Wyoming State Museum, where they saw various artifacts and learned about wild animals.
Aside from spring weather ideal for field trips, the month of May is also dedicated to the Blessed Mother. Typically, Catholic communities celebrate with traditions like May processions or crowning Marian statues. With in-person school gatherings on hold, several schools found new ways to honor Mary.
The kindergarten class at Notre Dame de Lourdes, Swarthmore, held a virtual celebration via Zoom. Students prayed and drew pictures of the Blessed Mother, and their teacher crowned a statue of Mary with flowers.
Their first grade peers decorated windows in their homes to honor Mary, and engaged in a lesson plan that included a virtual May procession, while junior high students drew portraits of the Blessed Mother.
Students from St. Michael the Archangel Catholic School, Levittown, also used their artistic abilities to honor Mary. Pre-kindergarten students colored a worksheet with information about Marian devotion during May.
Fourth grade students broke out art supplies and drew pictures of the Blessed Mother.
Junior high students wrote acrostic poems for Mary, using her various titles such as “Blessed Mother” and “Mother of Christ.”
The Father Judge High School community participated in a livestreamed Mass on May 10, celebrated by Oblate Father Jack Kolodziej. The Mass was celebrated for all mothers of Judge students, and especially for the mothers of the Class of 2020. To date, the Mass video has 3,500 views.
Marian devotions at Little Flower High School, Philadelphia, will continue throughout the month. The school community will pray a rosary each Friday in May, during the first of which they crowned a statue of the Blessed Mother.
As their Marian prayers carry on throughout the month, so will the ingenuity of schools throughout the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
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