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Forming the Future: Integrating technology into everyday learning at Our Lady's Academy, Waltham

Students work on a STEM project at Our Lady's Academy in Waltham. Pilot photo/courtesy Our Lady's Academy

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WALTHAM -- At Our Lady's Academy in Waltham, students program robots, read textbooks on iPads, and print objects with 3D printers. To someone unfamiliar with the school, it might sound like a university focused on technology. Instead, it's a Catholic elementary and middle school, and the students taking advantage of all of its technology aren't even old enough to drive a car.

It sounds advanced, but, according to educators at the school, the students both enjoy the technology and benefit from it.

"From what I've seen, they are drawn to anything technological," said STEM teacher Jenna Erickson, speaking to The Pilot in December.

Erickson teaches pre-K, and grades 1 through 8 at the school. She has students participate in many hands-on activities in her classroom; often pairing the activity with something they learned in their science classes to deepen their understanding of a particular concept.

Her 7th graders, for example, learned in science class about the pros and cons of using windmills to generate energy. In her own classroom, they continued to research windmills, figuring out how they work and eventually designing their own working models of windmills using a 3D printer. The students then tested the models, watching firsthand their models come to life.

That type of technology isn't just available for science and STEM classes, however.

Matt Giles is a religion teacher for grades 6 through 8. He uses Google-based apps, like Google Classroom, a learning management system, in his classrooms. On iPads, students create videos for projects, perform research, read books, and even collaborate together.

One class, his 6th-grade class, created a collaborative video project that saw students recreate Old Testament stories "in their own modern language."

Giles has noticed that students have fun using the available technology in the classroom, but noted that "it's also a really great tool and a really great resource."

The school has what Principal Chandra Minor refers to as an "Innovation Lab." The lab houses the school's 3D printers, as well as state-of-the-art computers.

In the lab, Minor explained, "the things that we stress are creativity, ideas, technology."

Large banners hang down from the ceiling in the lab, depicting words like "creativity, technology, and innovation." The banners show how "technology permeates a lot of what we do here," said Minor.

Yet, in the center of those banners, hangs another banner with the word "God."

Even with a school so steeped in technology, "we always have God in the center of what we do," said Minor.

Technology, innovation, creativity; "all of those skills, all of those things come from Him," she said.

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