Balancing technology and traditional learning methods in Catholic Elementary Schools.

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Students at St’ Rose of Lima School in Massapequa working in the computer lab on a coding project. (Photos provided by the Diocese of Rockville Centre).

Engaging Our ‘Digital Natives’

By Emily Guarnieri, Director of Educational Technology

Diocese of Rockville Centre

Ever since writer Marc Prensky popularized the term ‘Digital Native’ in 2001, there has been a debate about ‘how much technology is too much technology’ in schools. A digital native is an individual who was born after the widespread adoption of digital technology.

All current elementary school students are, by that definition, digital natives. Catholic schools on Long Island are among the leaders in technology implementation even though they are centered on traditional values and timeless teachings.

Throughout the schools of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, students have the opportunity to participate in a healthy balance of technology-enabled learning and personalized traditional learning.

Each school has mobile devices (i.e. Chromebooks and iPads), interactive whiteboards, and the ability to communicate virtually with others, both in the United States and throughout the world, to enhance student learning outside of the computer lab. Yet many of these same schools have created some very human spaces like Discovery Rooms where hands-on experimentation furthers student creativity.

One area that schools are focusing on, both at the elementary and secondary level, is coding. Through coding, students are able to develop important critical thinking skills, which will benefit them in the future. These skills include analyzing, problem-solving, thinking logically, computational skills, and more.

Students who code learn the importance of giving clear instructions and have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and self-correct. During coding sessions, students are taught to help each other problem solve. Students are able to work on their coding skills not only in technology classes but on their Chromebooks and iPads.

A main coding activity that Catholic elementary students across Long Island participate in is the Hour of Code.

During the Hour of Code, held each December, coding skills are fostered in the classroom. By promoting code, students are not only developing the skills previously mentioned but also are exposed to different career opportunities available. Tens of millions of students in 180 countries participate in the Hour of Code.

Long Island Catholic school students often develop initial coding skills through assignments to direct the movement of robots, such as Dot and Dash, Lego Robotics, and Little Bits.

By using robotics, students are able to see whether the code they developed worked in real life. One example of how students do this is through developing obstacle courses for the robots to complete.

Through courses and clubs at the school, students are able to take their interest in coding as far as they want. In fact, for the second year in a row, a student from Holy Trinity Diocesan High School won the Congressional App Challenge for the 4th Congressional District. In 2018, Holy Trinity Junior Jeannine Simeti, a graduate of St. Raymond School in East Rockaway, designed a Book Finder app and will be honored at a ceremony in May in Washington, D.C.

The irony in the development of a book finder app hasn’t been lost on us. Catholic schools are still institutions that place a high-value traditional skills like reading and writing, and of course,

Pre-K students at Holy Angels Regional School in Patchogue using robotic blocks to learn the concepts of coding and reusable instruction sets.

Catholic schools are all still centered on one particular book, the Bible.

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