When Faith meets Technology

Guest blog post – by Rolland Chidiac

Over the past year and a half I have been fortunate enough to pilot the use of two Apple iPod touch (which will be referred to as the “Touch” from this point further) devices in my classroom. The Touch has been used to primarily engage and improve student understanding in language literacy and create / develop awareness around the concepts of equity and inclusion. Having established that the use of the Touch can engage students in meaningful learning in language literacy, I decided to take things “deeper” and push the limits of this new and exciting technology. I decided to put the Touch to the test and use its allure to develop the faith of my students.

One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching grade 2 is preparing my students to receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and Communion for the first time.  It is a special time in their lives and I do all I can to make it memorable. The next time the students will have the opportunity to receive a Sacrament will be in grade 7 or 8 so I want to do what I can to make the experience as positive and fun as possible. It has been noted that memorable experiences arise from being engaged and the ability to make connections to what is being learned (Bauleke & Herrman, 2010). According to Bauleke & Herrman (2010), the Touch is reported to be in the top three “must-have” gadgets for teens.

Although my students are far from their teenage years, I witness their knowledge, skill, excitement, and engagement daily when using the Touch. Moreover, I listen to them make connections as they speak to myself and their classmates. Their motivation in learning how to use the Touch is so obvious that I am constantly working on incorporating it as much as I can with whatever we are working on. My hope is that this technology will assist in creating many memorable experiences that will benefit the students’ learning and their demonstration of learning; specifically, around the preparation of the above mentioned sacraments. As the grade 2 students prepared to receive these two sacraments, my priority was to present them with developmentally appropriate lessons, information, and activities about Catholic faith and ways that they could use the Touch to further explore their own faith and reflect on what they had already learned.

Coincidentally, this year (2011) marks the 175th Anniversary of Catholic Education in Waterloo Region. I can’t imagine a better time to proclaim the positive impact that technology can have on the faith development of children. My students and I have experienced how today’s technology can excite us about our faith and its development. For these reasons, I have decided to share my reflections on our lived experience in order to provide an awareness of what we were able to do and the benefits of what we did. As I take you through our experience I briefly explain what the Touch is, the resources I use to guide my instruction, and some of the important applications (which will be referred to as “apps” from this point further) that were used to support the faith development of my students.

The iPod Touch 

For those who are not familiar with the touch, it is a compact hand held device that combines MP3 player and Internet access capabilities while relying on a unique touch screen user interface controlled entirely by finger taps and swipes (Dyrli, 2008). The iTunes Store (a software-based online digital media store operated by Apple Inc) has within it different digital media stores (e.g. music, audio books, movies), one of which is the App Store. Apps are software programs developed for the iPhone, IPod Touch, and more recently the iPad. While the cost for apps varies, there are many apps available for free. As of late 2010, there were at least 300,000 third-party apps officially available on the App Store (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/App_Store).

Faith Development

The following is a brief summary of the process/path that I generally follow in instructing my students as I facilitate their faith development in preparation for the sacraments of reconciliation and Holy Communion.

 Reconciliation

 The main preparation for first reconciliation comes from the ideas and information from a document entitled “A Catechesis on Reconciliation” (Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1995). This catechesis is divided into three themes. The chart below lists the themes and Bible stories that are related to the themes.

Theme Bible Story
Jesus tells us of God’s love The Lost Sheep (Luke 15: 3-7)
Jesus helps us to be reconciled The Story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19: 1-10)
Jesus gives us a sign of God’s forgiveness The Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32)
Anointing by a Woman (Luke 7: 36-5


Holy Communion

 The main preparation for first communion comes from the ideas and information from a document entitled “We Remember” (CARFLEO, 2004). The process is one that follows the movements of the Eucharistic Liturgy. The chart below lays out the Eucharistic Liturgy and how it has been simplified and divided into four parts, as well as the Gospel stories that relate to each movement.

Technology/Faith Connection

Having provided a flavor for what the students are taught as they prepare for the sacraments, let me now explain how the Touch assisted in engaging and supporting the students and their learning. As the students learned about Jesus and the stories of his life, they were intrigued. This group of grade 2 students had a lot of questions about Jesus related to who he was and the things he did. It is important to note that, aside from the Touch, this group really immersed themselves in their learning as demonstrated every step of the way; they were open to, and sought, a variety of modes (e.g. texts, oral stories, technology (Touch and computer), audio/visual) to acquire knowledge about what they were learning. With respect to the Touch, specifically, the students used it to support their reflections and to acquire information about interests that came from their original learning. The support they received and the information they acquired came mostly from third party apps. For time’s sake, I have chosen four of the apps that they found most useful to illustrate of how today’s technology can excite students about their faith and its development.

The Catholic Game

As the students prepared for the sacraments they realized that they had questions about the Church and the ‘rules’ around our religion. ‘The Catholic Game’ app has 500 questions that quiz students on a number of subjects:  dogma & theology; history & tradition; people & places; bible trivia and rituals, objects, & the mass. This game, although a little quirky, was not made with grade 2 students in mind as it is more geared to adults. Nevertheless, recognizing that I provided them with the opportunity to further their learning about Catholicism, they saw this game as a challenge! They learned a lot about our religion – quite frankly, I did too.

I Love Jesus

The ‘I Love Jesus’ app is quite simple yet very effective at getting the students to think and reflect. This app is made up of a series of hidden pictures related to Jesus. The images are revealed as you use your fingers to scrape the screen. The students said that this was a powerful app because there was never any text to guide them as they thought about the images. Also, it is important to note that the students had different thoughts and ideas about the same images when they were learning different things.

Children’s Easter

This app is a simple tool to deepen the mystery of Easter with the students. Following the pattern of Advent calendars, this is a Lenten calendar. It goes from April 1 to 25 and for each day there is a box that hides a passage from the Passion of Jesus explained in three comic strips. This app is a great way to explain the Passion of Jesus to the children. The text is written for their level and the comic strips are a great way to engage the students. As the students were familiar with some of the stories, the app allowed them to make connections and reflect on what they had already learned. The stories that were new to them provided them with an opportunity to retell the stories (which are often done with primary students) and discuss among themselves.

Rosary

Although it is called the ‘Rosary’ app, it is amazing at engaging the students in prayer and quiet reflection. This particular group of students are prayerful and take the time to reflect quietly when they feel the need. This app provides a definition of the Rosary and Mysteries; offers an explanation of how to pray using the Rosary, and lists the prayers of the Rosary. This app is very good and we used it daily – simple and easy to understand. It has stood the test of time since I started using the Touch in my classroom.

By all accounts, I would say that the initial goals of presenting my students with developmentally appropriate instruction in preparation for the Sacraments and finding ways that they could use the Touch to further explore their faith and reflect on what they had already learned were met. The apps that were used were powerful tools in assisting the students to learn more about Catholicism and engaged them in discussion and reflection.

I hope that I was also able to provide a clear picture of what we were able to do with the Touch and the benefits of what we did. It is truly remarkable that such a popular technological device, paired with the right software, can impact students in such a positive way. Too often we hear about the misuse of such technology. My experience has been that when such technology is embraced and understood a specific culture of its use is built around it and then the sky becomes the limit for how it can be used to benefit teachers (teaching) and students (learning).

Aside from not having a Touch device for each of my grade 2 students, a note-able but common frustration, that I had already become used to prior to this project, continued to appear. Many, if not most, of the apps I found for the students required internet access for up to date updates and features that would have led to a more dynamic learning experience if they were available and there were instances where students could have accessed important information or specific application capabilities had there been access to the internet. The ability to access the internet would have added to the richness of the touches capabilities. Even though we managed to make the best of our situation and move past the lack of wireless internet capabilities in the school, I would be remiss to not address the issue.

References

Bauleke, D., & Herrman, K. (2010, January). Reaching the “iBored”. Middle School Journal, 33 – 38.

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. (1995). A Catechesis on Reconciliation.

Catholic Association of Religious and Family Life Educators. (2004) We Remember: A Sacramental Preparation Program for Students with Developmental Disabilities Eucharistic Document.

Dyrli, Kurt. (2008). Getting in Touch. District Administration, 44 (12), 35 – 38.

Photo: Pope2You


DeLC Forum 2011: It’s a changing world

“Program or be programmed.” That was the advice offered by this year’s dynamic keynote speaker Jesse Hirsh who kicked off DeLC Forum 2011.

Hirsh was channeling the thesis of Douglas Rushkoff’s latest book, Program or be Programmed: Ten Commandments for a Digital Age and suggested that teachers already ‘write their own code’ every day when preparing lesson plans.

Hirsh’s keynote set the intellectual bar for DeLC Forum 2011; he urged us to slow down, look and ask some critical questions before leaping headlong onto the social networking bandwagon. To illustrate the point that we should resist the mindset of falling into a complacency when everyone is like us on sites like Twitter and Facebook – he invited the participants to heckle him during his presentation on the forum’s twitter back channel #delcforum2011.


It also was inspiring networking with other DeLCs at the various workshop sessions to share ideas and resources around eLearning. Regardless of whatever LMS the ministry has chosen going forward and whenever it decides to make the announcement, the most important piece in the eLearning puzzle will be how quickly we can support one another as we adapt to whatever changes come our way.

Hats off to ReLC David Miller and all the workshop facilitators for another successful DeLC Forum! The Humber College campus / student residence is a beautiful and engaging venue. A colleague and I actually saw five deer while walking the trail along the Humber river.

I had an interesting conversation with Jesse Hirsh following his keynote and have included a podcast of our conversation below.

DeLC Forum 2011- Podcast – Jesse Hirsh Interview

Photo credit: Jump on the social media bandwagonMatt Hamm’s Photostream

Related links:

Jesse Hirsh
Douglas Ruskoff


‘Real Men Read’

“The more you read, the more things you will know.
The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Dr. Seuss – I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

For me, the undisputed highlight of Catholic Education Week 2011 was reading to grade 4, 5 and 6 students at Our Lady of Fatima school in Cambridge, Ontario.

I was invited to participate in the Real Men Read initiative by my friend and colleague Rolland Chidiac, who teaches at OLOF school. Rolland and I are also involved in an iPod touch pilot in an effort to engage his students in learning, especially those students who struggle with reading and writing. His blog post, Apples Aren’t Just For Teachers, appeared in March of 2010 on this blog.

Rolland and a growing number of teachers in Ontario and around the world are leveraging new technologies (e.g. mobile devices, internet resources like Bitstripsforschools) and initiatives such as ‘Real Men Read’ to promote language literacy. They are inspiring their students to read everything from Aesop’s Fables to Zorro and inviting people from their local communities to share their love of reading with the next generation.

“At West Hill Collegiate Institute, a visiting author discussing modern African history struck a chord with one young man, who was inspired to read Shake Hands with the Devil by General Roméo Dallaire. It was the first book he had ever read just because he wanted to. His teachers observed that this young man’s sense of personal achievement was immense.”

Me Read? And How!
Ontario teachers report on how to improve boys’ literacy

Here are just a couple of favorite take-away moments from my visit to OLOF school – the intense looks etched on the faces (as I read) of some students who, it appeared, really were being swept along in the current of imagination conjured by chapter one of George Orwell’s classic novel Animal Farm (one of my favorite books).

I was also amazed by the sincere and enthusiastic appreciation displayed by some students immediately following my recitation. A number of the students in one class I visited thought I had brought the animals (characters) on the pages to life. One delightful girl actually asked for my autograph! Soon others were also asking, but, mercifully, the classroom teacher came to my rescue by encouraging the student involved to share the autograph with her classmates. Whew!

Seriously though, what an honor and privilege to help model for students what will, hopefully for them, become a life-long love of reading and therefore, learning. So that one day . . . they too can experience the magic, wonder and delight on the faces and in the eyes and hearts of their own children and grandchildren.

If you can read this, thank a teacher!

Photo Credit: Teddy Bear’s Reading Group 05 – Jonno259’s photostream

Related Links:

Apples Aren’t Just For Teachers

Me Read? And How! Ontario teachers report on how to improve boys’ literacy

8 Benefits of Reading (or Ways Reading Makes You Better at Life)