Category Archives: Learn

Education Law Symposium 2021 Round-Up

The 19th annual Education Law Symposium (July 7 – 8), sponsored jointly by Loyola Marymount University School of Education Center for Catholic Education and the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), found 200-plus online participants engaged in learning with some of the nation’s top experts on Catholic school legal issues. Based on a post-symposium survey, the symposium was very well received with nearly 100 percent of attendees saying it was good to excellent.

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Session topics included:

  • Pandemic and post-pandemic realities for educators
  • Medical issues as students and staff return to in-person learning
  • Friend and fundraising in these times
  • Technology and legal realities
  • How to create an inclusive environment
  • Custody issues
  • Handbooks
  • School safety
  • Issues from the field
  • What beginning teachers need to know

Sister Dale McDonald, PBVM, Ph.D., NCEA Director of Public Policy and Educational Research, presented her always popular policy and legislative update, including information on current Supreme Court rulings as related to Catholic schools, COVID-19 funding availability and guidelines, Title funding, and much more.

A live panel of attorneys enabled participants to ask questions directly of practicing attorneys.

Current issues of interest were: returning to normal in a new normal, whether to require vaccinations of employees and students, documentation of vaccinations, sanitation requirements, handbook updates, emerging issues with child custody and how to meet the needs of students with learning differences. Issues of finance and tuition collection emerge even more strongly in the light of so many lost jobs and poverty spurred on by the pandemic. 

I was struck by the desire of Catholic administrators and teachers to remain true to the Gospel mandates, even in light of such trying times. We are certainly striving to “Teach as Jesus Did.”

It is not too late to sign up to experience the 2021 Education Law Symposium virtually for only $69. Full access to the sessions and prayers is available through August 8.

Mark your calendars for next year’s grand Twentieth Annual Education Law Symposium, offered in person at the famous Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Opportunities for learning, dialogue, continuing education credits and the companionship we have so missed will abound.

Dates are July 7 – 10, 2022. Expect all your favorite experts and new ones as well for a grand celebration. Anyone interested in presenting, please contact me at Blessings on your new school year.

About the Author

Sister Angie Shaughnessy, SCN, JD, Ph.D., is a Sister of Charity of Nazareth. She is a nationally recognized expert on the law as it affects Catholic schools and Church ministry. She serves as a consultant to numerous dioceses and is a highly sought-after national speaker and the author of more than 30 texts. You can read her regular From the Field feature, Legal Issues, in Momentum.

Wondering where to go for college? A new directory of Catholic colleges and universities may help

The following blog was contributed by Quentin Wodon, the volunteer team lead for the Global Catholic Education website.

In some countries, those considering enrolling in a Catholic college or university may have a choice between a few universities or none at all. In the United States, they have a choice between up to 250 Catholic colleges and universities (depending on which institutions are included). This provides a rich array of choices, but to make a sound decision on where to apply and enroll, information is needed.

A new directory published by the Global Catholic Education project and co-sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) might help. By providing detailed data on all Catholic colleges and universities as well as links to their websites, the directory makes it easier for prospective students to conduct their search. In addition, the directory provides insights on four questions that most prospective students have: (1) Should I go to college?; (2) How should I select a college?; (3) How can I compare different colleges?; and finally (4) Should I go to a Catholic college? While each individual student must answer those questions for himself or herself, information provided in the directory may be useful.

1. Should I Go to College? Enrolling in college may not be the right choice for everybody, and unfortunately, college remains difficult to afford for too many youth in the United States. Still, about two thirds of young people in the United States decide to enroll in higher education institutions according to the latest available statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of 3.2 million youth ages 16 to 24 who graduated from high school between January and October 2019, 2.1 million (66.2%) were enrolled in college in October of that year. In addition, many older adults also go to college.

Going to college is a privilege, as well as a great opportunity which can bring lifelong rewards. In comparison to workers with only a high school diploma, those with a college degree tend (on average) to have higher earnings, better job opportunities, lower unemployment rates, higher job satisfaction rates, and the list goes on. For example, the latest data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that workers with a bachelor’s degree make approximately $500 more in median weekly earnings than those with only a high school diploma (an increase of two thirds versus the pay level for high school graduates). The disadvantages faced by those without a college degree have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic which has disproportionately affected low income workers.

2. How Should I Select a College? While each student is indeed unique, it may be interesting for students to know about the priorities of other students, and whether there are differences in the priorities of students who chose to enroll in Catholic colleges and universities in comparison to all college freshmen. Data from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) Freshman Survey suggest that the most important factors leading freshmen to enroll in a Catholic college are as follows: (1) This college has a very good academic reputation (71.8%); (2) This college’s graduates get good jobs (67.3%); (3) I was offered financial assistance (65.5%); (4) The academic reputation of my intended major (59.0%); and (5) A visit to this campus (54.7%); (6) This college has a good reputation for its social and extracurricular activities (52.4%); (7) I wanted to go to a school about the size of this college (49.7%); and (8) The cost of attending this college (48.7%). The other reasons are cited by less than 40% of students.

Interestingly, the largest differences in priorities for selecting a college between students going to Catholic institutions and all students relate to: (1) Financial assistance (more than 9 in 10 students in Catholic colleges benefit from financial assistance); (2) College size (many Catholic colleges have small or medium size enrollment, which is seen as a plus); (3) Employment prospects (many Catholic colleges have strong placement records, which is one of the reasons why student debt default rates are much lower among graduates from Catholic institutions than nationally); (4) Faith affiliation (this is a key criteria for one in five students in Catholic colleges); and (5) Advice from professors (professors in Catholic colleges tend to care about their students – this is part of the institutions’ ethos).

3. How Can I Compare Colleges? All Catholic colleges and universities – and one could argue most colleges in general including those that are not Catholic – aim to provide a comprehensive education for the whole person. Prospective students should carefully look at the websites of the colleges they are considering to understand their programs, the courses being taught, who is teaching those courses, the opportunities for extracurricular activities or internships, distance learning options, and exchange programs, among others. Ideally, students should make visits to campuses they are interested in, although this might not be feasible, especially for international or out-of-state students.

Given that career prospects do matter for students when selecting a college or university, and that going to college is one of the largest financial investments people make in their lifetime, prospective students should also do their homework in terms of the job prospects that might be available to them depending on both the university and the major they choose. The good news is that data on those outcomes are now readily available from the College Scorecard. If you type the name of a specific college or university in the College Scorecard search field, you will be provided by a wide range of information among others on graduation rates, expected salaries, tuition costs, and debt levels as well as default rates. The Scorecard enables users to compare up to 10 universities or 10 fields of study.

Catholic colleges and universities do well (on average) on the various measures provided by the College Scorecard in comparison to other institutions. But to facilitate comparisons, the directory provides in an annex detailed data on selected variables for all Catholic colleges and universities. What the directory does not do is to rank colleges and universities. While some rankings may provide valuable information to prospective students, they often also have perverse effects.

4. Should I Go to a Catholic College? Of the four questions, this is the most difficult one for which to provide insights based on data, because it depends so much on the particular priorities of individual students. But a few pointers can be provided. There are no measures of the quality of the education provided by colleges that are available for most institutions and widely accepted. Yet what seems clear is that many Catholic colleges place an emphasis on the quality of teaching. Many Catholic colleges also try to make their education affordable to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This does not mean that they always succeed, but the preferential option for the poor is a key aspect of Catholic social thought that also permeates Catholic higher education. In addition, beyond universities that enroll many students, many institutions are small liberal arts colleges which again emphasize the quality of the education provided. Of all Catholic colleges and universities, more than one third are liberal arts colleges.

Catholic colleges and universities do place an emphasis on faith and values, but this is not forced upon students. In some Catholic colleges and universities, most students are Catholics. In others, a minority are. Nationally, two-fifths of students in Catholic colleges and universities are Catholic. In practice, if a student is interested in exploring or deepening his or her faith, whether Catholic or otherwise, there is no doubt that resources are available to do so in Catholic colleges and universities. But if this is not the student’s priority, that’s OK as well in most colleges. Finally, one interesting aspect of the Catholic ethos is that it encourages collaboration as opposed to competition. This is often the case in the classroom, but also in research and other activities that professors engage in. Because of this emphasis and the affinities that a common worldview affords, there are many examples of collaborations across Catholic colleges and universities. This can provide an added layer in students’ experiences, as can the fact that service to others is valued on campus, with typically a wide range of opportunities for volunteer work and a willingness of many students to engage.

Now STREAM-ing: A Catholic Interdisciplinary Approach to Learning

The following blog was contributed by Allie Johnston from William H. Sadlier, Inc.

STREAM is an acronym for a uniquely Catholic interdisciplinary approach. In this acronym, each letter stands for a discipline: S—science; T—technology; R—religion; E—engineering; A—art; and M—mathematics. Integrate them and you have STREAM, a vision and a framework that makes faith and Catholic identity central to interdisciplinary learning. For years, Catholic schools have been putting this approach to work, highlighting the interrelation of religion and Catholic school values with the STEM subjects and the arts.

What is STREAM in Catholic Education?

Though common today, the STREAM acronym has evolved over the past two decades. STEM as an acronym (representing science, technology, engineering, and math) was first used in 2001. And then, it became STEAM. The insertion of the “A” represents the arts, which some critics felt was a vital component missing from STEM. The addition of the “R” to STEAM to become STREAM sometimes represents reading. But for Catholic schools, the “R” represents religion, a subject at the heart of a Catholic education.  

For a simple visual illustrating the STREAM approach, take a look at the What is STREAM? Faith Fact.

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A successful STREAM approach seamlessly integrates ideas from the six disciplines into learning experiences. It is a vision that requires planning, development, support, collaboration, and communication. For nearly a decade, STREAM initiatives have taken root and grown in Catholic schools across the country. Though unique, their interpretations and applications share the incorporation of the central and foundational lens of faith to impactful interdisciplinary teaching and learning. You’ll see it described as STREAM curriculum, STREAM education, or even an entire STREAM school.

A successful STREAM approach seamlessly integrates ideas from the six disciplines into learning experiences. It is a vision that requires planning, development, support, collaboration, and communication. For nearly a decade, STREAM initiatives have taken root and grown in Catholic schools across the country. Though unique, their interpretations and applications share the incorporation of the central and foundational lens of faith to impactful interdisciplinary teaching and learning. You’ll see it described as STREAM curriculum, STREAM education, or even an entire STREAM school.

Why is STREAM beneficial?

A STREAM approach reflects the rich connections among disciplines that exist in real life. STREAM is an opportunity for today’s learners to learn via multiple lenses, including the lens of faith. This approach develops broad, creative, critical thinking skills that can be applied across disciplines and as disciples both in and outside school throughout learner’s lives—both now and in 21st century careers.

Ideas that Support a STREAM Approach

Implementing a STREAM approach requires an investment of time and effort to integrate the disciplines of science, technology, religion, engineering, art, and mathematics. Efforts to design STREAM learning experiences or projects support meaningful and engaging connections and applications. To inspire and encourage these efforts, here are some ideas to support STREAM thinking and learning.

STREAM Learning Idea: Sadlier Math Sample Lessons

See how Sadlier Math’s STREAM Lesson Plans help you integrate science, technology, religion, engineering, and the arts into your math instruction with short, quick activities that are manageable in just a few class periods.

Just for Catholic Schools, every grade level of Sadlier Math features:

  • 14–18 chapter-based STEAM Lesson Plans that connect math lessons to real-world applications where students use their math skills to problem solve
  • STEAM activities aligned to standards such as Common Core and Next Generation Science and addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
  • 10 STREAM Lesson Plans that integrate religion into selected STEAM Lesson Plans with an activity focused on one of the seven themes of Catholic Social Teachings

Try a sample STREAM Lesson Plan for Grades 3 and 6 now!

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STREAM Learning Idea: Saints as Scientists, Engineers, Artists, and Mathematicians

Utilize technology to explore the lives of the saints and demonstrate the interrelation of faith and career. For example, invite children to use tools to research Saint Luke, a physician, Saint Hubert, a Franciscan mathematician, or Blessed Carlo Acutis, an amateur computer programmer. The stories of the lives of saints and holy people wonderfully illustrate connections of a lens of faith applied to the STEM and arts professions. A religious education class may offer an opportunity to discuss or artistically present ways that these saints influenced and impacted their work, the Church, and the world in faith-filled and interdisciplinary ways.

STREAM Learning Idea: Responsible Technology Use and Design

Help students understand that the Catholic principles that guide our communication and interaction with others and information in the physical world apply to the digital world, too. As rapid advances in technology and infrastructure impact the digital landscape and the ways in which we use digital tools, responsible and safe use and consumption of digital materials have important links with religion. Designing digital materials expands these links. Ask students to develop a multimedia presentation to teach their peers and classmates about this or one of the themes explored in your religious education program.

STREAM Learning Idea: Building the Church

Engineers build places for us to worship or meet and feel God’s presence. Throughout history, cathedrals and churches were extensions of the natural world and safe places to gather, pray, and celebrate the faith. Take students on a tour of your local parish church. Research the engineers and architects who built it and learn more about their vision and the choices (both functional and artistic or stylistic) that went into building your parish. Bonus points if you can set up a time to interview or meet with the engineers themselves! Contemplate the building’s connections to the natural world. As a class, embark on a project to design or build a model parish church or Catholic school that supports your community’s many functions and aesthetics. Intergrade technological tools to plan and mathematical concepts to bring models to life.

STREAM Learning Idea: Faith Illuminated in Art

Throughout history, artists have relied on the fine arts to express faith. Stained glass windows were an innovation originally used to teach parishioners who could not read about the faith as they attended Mass. A STREAM investigation might explore the science behind stained glass, and how and why stained-glass windows are designed, made, and installed. A project might invite students to design and engineer their own windows using mathematical concepts and art materials (like clear contact paper and colorful tissue papers) or digital tools to express faith.   

STREAM Learning Idea: Engineering Social Justice

Engineering is at the heart of one of our central focuses as Catholics: social justice. Brainstorm the ways that engineers are necessary for meeting the needs of communities at the center of various social justice issues facing the Church today (for example, the planning and building of wells in countries without water or the creation of sustainable agriculture in a world impacted by climate change). Determine an issue to investigate as a class or group. Rely on data to determine the scope of the issue’s impact and consider technologies or innovations that would support a solution. Consider art as a medium to share findings about, increase awareness of, or propose solutions to the issue.

STREAM Learning Idea: Making and Sharing Music

One of the beautiful contributions Catholics have made to the arts is in the area of liturgical and sacred music, which strongly ties to mathematics and the science of sound. Listen to examples and discuss ways music helps us to worship, pray, and celebrate as Catholics. Using machinery or audio technology, invite students to work in groups to compose, record, or remix and then share a song in this category.

In Summary

The benefits of STREAM and its creative implementation in Catholic schools have made it a powerful and successful approach for Catholic education. Download and share the What is STREAM? Faith Fact among administrators, teachers, or families to explain or promote STREAM in your community.





Phonics and the Science of Reading

The following blog was contributed by Wiley Blevins, an author and phonics specialist living in New York City. Mr. Blevins holds an M.Ed. from Harvard University.

Recently, a national conversation in schools and the media has emerged around how we best teach our young learners to read. This conversation has been couched under the umbrella of the Science of Reading. We certainly have a large body of ever-evolving information about how to teach children to read. This information comes from educational researchers, cognitive scientists who do brain research, linguists, school practitioners like yourself, and so on. Unfortunately, some of this knowledge—especially that from outside of education (e.g., brain researchers)—is largely unknown by classroom teachers and not applied to many of our most commonly used reading programs. As a result, districts around the country have begun reexamining the materials they use to teach children to read to ensure these materials are aligned to this body of knowledge.

Two older established models of reading have emerged during this national examination of our early reading curriculum: the Simple View of Reading and Scarborough’s Reading Rope. The Simple View of Reading (Gough and Tunmer, 1986) states that reading comprehension is a product of decoding (e.g., phonics) and language comprehension (e.g., vocabulary and content knowledge).

Scarborough’s Reading Rope (2001) fine-tuned this model to specify aspects of each area of reading instruction and how they intersect. As a student’s decoding skills become more automatic and they become more strategic in using their growing language comprehension skills, these skills intertwine. The result: students develop into skilled, fluent readers.

In these models, the decoding piece includes foundational skills like phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, concepts of print, and phonics. So how do we align our phonics instruction to the Science of Reading? There are four important guideposts to consider.

Guidepost 1: Scope and Sequence

In order to effectively teach phonics, we need a clearly defined scope and sequence. This is a scope and sequence that goes from easier to more complex skills. Confusing letters and sounds are separated, and so on. This scope and sequence provide the spine on which all of the instruction rests. It is a roadmap for teachers. What to teach. When to teach. And how much focus to give each of these skills.

But having a scope and sequence isn’t enough. A scope and sequence must be more than a list of skills that you march through in an exposure-focused way. In order for a scope and sequence to be impactful, it must also have a built-in review and repetition cycle. Once we introduce a new skill, for most of our students, it takes a significant amount of time to get to mastery. Students have to get to mastery so that they can transfer those skills to all reading and writing situations. So after a skill is introduced, it should be reviewed, applied, and assessed for at least the next four to six weeks. 

Guidepost 2: Systematic and Explicit Instruction

Phonics instruction needs to be systematic and explicit. Systematic is related to having a scope and sequence and teaching those skills as a system. But teaching phonics as a system means that we go beyond skill-and-drill practice. We must also have robust conversations with our students about how that system works. So great phonics instruction is active, engaging, and thought-provoking, whereby children are observing and talking about how words work. Activities such as word building and word sorts (with follow-up question prompts like “what did you learn about these spelling patterns?”) aid in these conversations.

Explicit refers to the initial introduction of a phonics skill. Teachers need to explicitly state the sound-spelling connection (e.g., the /s/ sound is represented by the letter s). In an explicit introduction to the skill, the teacher models how to sound out words with the new skill and then gives children guided practice opportunities to apply the skill in isolated words and in connected text. This avoids the pitfalls of discovery learning, which require students to possess prerequisite skills that some may not have. 

Guidepost 3: Daily Application to Reading and Writing

Daily application to reading and writing during the phonics lesson is critical. It is in the application where the learning sticks. This requires students to read, reread, talk about, and write about decodable (accountable) texts in which they can apply their newly acquired phonics skills to get to mastery faster. These texts have a high percentage of words that can be sounded out based on the phonics skills children have learned, as well as some irregular high-frequency words and the occasional story word to make more engaging reads.

The most impactful instruction has students not only read and discuss these stories but write about them as a follow-up. If it’s a fiction story, students can write a retelling. If it’s an informational piece, students can create a list of facts learned. This requires students to apply their growing reading skills to writing immediately. The book can serve as a useful and supportive scaffold. 

Guidepost 4: Assessment

Assessment needs to inform instruction. When it comes to phonics, assessments must be viewed through two lenses: accuracy and automaticity. This tells us if students have knowledge about what has been taught (accuracy) and if they have acquired fluency with those skills (automaticity).

Phonics instruction requires two critical types of assessments: comprehensive and cumulative. A comprehensive phonics assessment is a survey of all the skills a student would learn in a phonics continuum (from identifying letter-sounds to reading words with short vowels, long vowels, complex vowels, and finally multisyllabic words). This assessment is essential at the beginning of a school year to identify which students have not mastered previous grade-level skills, which are meeting grade-level expectations, and which are beyond the scope of skills covered in a grade.

A cumulative assessment is what’s missing from most instruction and is critical for phonics success. A cumulative assessment assesses the new target skill and previously taught skills (generally looking back 4–6 weeks). This assessment monitors skill growth over time—a more accurate assessment since it takes weeks for most students to get to mastery on a taught skill. It can also alert a teacher to decayed learning (skills in which not enough review and application has been provided and the skill has “slipped away”) so that course corrections can be made to avoid potential and serious learning issues as students move from grade to grade. In addition to these assessments, teachers need to regularly listen to students read aloud and evaluate their writing for evidence of transfer.

These four guideposts alert us to key aspects of phonics instruction that need to be in place, how to teach them (see the 7 Characteristics of Strong Phonics Instruction link), and how to assess them. Evaluating our phonics curriculum against these guideposts can strengthen our instruction and maximize student learning.


7 Characteristics of Strong Phonics Instruction eBook

Meeting the Challenges of Early Literacy Phonics Instruction Leadership Literacy Brief

Selected References

Blevins, W. (2021). Choosing and using decodable texts. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Blevins, W. (2020). Meaningful phonics and word study: Lesson fix-ups for impactful teaching. New Rochelle, NY: Benchmark Education.

Blevins, W. (2019). Meeting the challenges of early literacy phonics instruction. Literacy Leadership Brief No. 9452. International Literacy Association.

Blevins, W. (2016). A fresh look at phonics: Common causes of failure and 7 ingredients for success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Blevins, W. (2017). Phonics from A to Z: A practical guide. 3rd Edition. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Encountering the Humanity of the Unborn through Pro-Life Teaching Resources

The following blog was contributed by Colleen Halpin, theology and mathematics teacher at St. Joseph Catholic High School in Ogden, Utah.

If education is to be transformative, it must engage the mind, capture the imagination, and spark a desire for real engagement with the world. Julián Carrón writes, “Education is not explaining reality or forming some argument about it; it is helping another person… enter into reality.”1 This kind of education is not a passive memorization of facts, but rather an “encounter.” Such encounters captivate the attention, propose “a hypothesis of meaning”, and inspire students to search for what is good, true, and beautiful.

How might this culture of encounter inform the way we address life issues in the classroom? Often, discussions surrounding life issues become sterile and even hostile. We become entangled in the complexity of divergent opinions and lost in the disparaging rhetoric of this highly politicized issue. When I started brainstorming how to discuss the issue of abortion with my Moral Theology class, I was intimidated. How can I showcase the humanity of the unborn in a compelling way? Is it even worth it to try to teach on a topic that’s become so controversial?

Soon after, I stumbled upon the Teaching Human Dignity series from the McGrath Institute for Church Life. These are a series of free resources that empower teachers to incorporate life and human dignity issues into existing curriculum. I realized the lessons on Disability Selective Abortion (DSA) that were part of a social studies unit: Making Sense of Historical Atrocities could be easily adapted for my class. DSA refers to the widespread practice of aborting unborn children who are positively diagnosed with Down Syndrome through prenatal testing. By inviting my students to encounter the reality of DSA, I hoped to open their eyes to the injustice of abortion of any kind.

My students viewed news segments that covered the prevalence of DSA. Along with the video links and accompanying worksheets, the lesson included a discussion guide and answers that went beyond just the basic facts of the video, helping the students to probe what was said, shown, and left out of the videos and how all of this conveyed a particular message. It was amazing to see my students recognize how society’s idolization of productivity and fear of suffering lead to a devaluing of those who suffer and “fail” to meet standards of productivity.

Through videos produced by the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation, my students and I encountered a new narrative. We saw that those who live with Down syndrome live full lives in which they struggle heroically, achieve greatly, work creatively, and love fiercely. As a class, we acknowledged that people with Down Syndrome suffer, but who in life is free from suffering? Who are we to say that their particular suffering is unacceptable, while mine is acceptable?

These videos were profoundly moving for one student in particular. As the last video finished, I noticed tears in her eyes. She explained that her brother has a developmental disability and that she has spent time working with other people who have disabilities. She spoke of their love and their joy. Her witness uncovered the humanity of those who are regularly discarded—those whom others deem “unproductive” or doomed to a life of suffering. Her authenticity and genuine love spoke louder than any set of statistics ever could. In Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI wrote, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (§41). I am grateful that these resources allowed me to step aside and make room for my student to witness to the dignity of all life, and so become a teacher to us all.

1Julián Carrón, “A Communication of Yourself,” in Disarming Beauty (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2017).

About the Author

Colleen Halpin received her M.A. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame in 2020. She currently teaches at St. Joseph Catholic High School in Ogden, Utah. She also serves as a formation assistant for the Echo program, a ministry of the McGrath Institute for Church Life.

Writing Lessons Anchored in Human Dignity

The following blog was contributed by John Brahier, a high school theology teacher at Divine Child High School in Dearborn, Michigan.

During my second year of teaching, I had a very unique schedule. After my second-hour precalculus class, my sophomore theology students walked into the room for Church history. Given the sharp difference between the two classes and my personal interest in mathematician-theologians like René Descartes and Blaise Pascal, I began asking how I could make my math classroom a place for students to encounter the faith. Certainly, this is the ideal. A math, or any class in a Catholic school, ought to have a distinctive character, a formative dimension that transcends the intellectual component of education.

Simple steps came to mind as I pondered my question. Live as a faith witness.1 Start class with prayer. Display a faith-related poster.

But what about my class content? Could I bring students to a genuine encounter of the Catholic faith through math instruction?

Like many teachers, my lessons typically revolved around an anchor problem or question. This,  to me, was the opportunity to authentically integrate the faith into my class such that it did not appear to students as an awkward tack-on. For example, my lessons on exponential and logarithmic functions provided the right mathematical lens for students to dive deeper into China’s one-child policy. After studying the one-child policy and its origins, I developed an anchor problem for this unit that required students to apply their understanding of exponential and logarithmic functions while also considering the ethical dimension informed by Church teaching. This allowed me to develop students’ abilities to view a situation (like the one-child policy) from multiple perspectives, the mathematical and the ethical.

Anchoring a lesson in a human dignity issue is a natural way to authentically present students with a situation that requires multiple levels of analysis. Developing anchor problems like this requires considering the range of human dignity issues from abortion to immigration to poverty,  careful study and research, conversation with colleagues and consultation of existing resources.2 With an anchor problem in mind, attention must also be paid to the integration of relevant Church teaching. Being intentional about properly framing questions and clearly presenting Church teaching requires significant attention and, in some cases, scriptwriting to ensure that the material is accessible for teachers and students alike.

This might sound like a time-consuming and challenging process. It is! However, it is rewarding both for the designer (especially when done in collaboration with colleagues) and the students. Most importantly, this type of encounter is why Catholic schools exist.

While not all teachers have the time or necessary support and resources to create such lessons, the McGrath Institute of Church Life at the University of Notre Dame is taking the lead in creating resources and making them freely available for any teacher to use. They are also reaching out to the community of teachers already deeply invested in this approach. Through the Teaching Human Dignity Resource Contest, winning teachers can work with the McGrath Institute to have their materials incorporated into the Teaching Human Dignity series and made available to teachers worldwide. The unit Exploring China’s One-Child Policy with Exponential and Logarithmic Functions will be made available this semester for any interested teacher.

The task of a Catholic school “is fundamentally a synthesis of culture and faith, and a synthesis of faith and life: the first is reached by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge  through the subjects taught, in the light of the Gospel; the second in the growth of the virtues  characteristic of the Christian.”3 Our job is not simply to produce mathematicians, doctors, and lawyers. No, it’s to form students as saints (who are mathematicians, doctors, lawyers, etc). This goal cannot be accomplished with only one department interested in students’ spiritual development. Rather, it takes a community of teacher-ministers united in a commitment to developing students’ minds and hearts through teaching anchored in faith encounters.

2The Teaching Human Dignity series from the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame offers an ever-expanding set of rich resources with this aim in mind.

About the Author

John has taught high school math and theology and enjoys exploring opportunities for the faith to be infused throughout the high school experience. He is married to Annie and has a one-year-old son named Stephen.

Cross-disciplinary Teaching Resources Promote an Integral Vision of Life and Human Dignity

The following blog was contributed by Jessica Keating, the Director of the Notre Dame Office of Life and Human Dignity within the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

For over 2000 years, the Catholic Church has proclaimed that every human person has inherent dignity and inestimable worth. Though one of the greatest gifts handed down to cultures and societies across history, this proclamation is perhaps the most audacious the Church announces in the modern world. Amidst the violence and chaos of the world, the Church consistently calls on each one of us to recognize and act in accordance with the dignity of each and every human being, from conception to natural death. Catholic school educators, regardless of the subject they teach, have a responsibility to inculcate this fundamental belief in their students.

There are two important dimensions required for a student to respond to this call: knowledge and will. A student must know that the dignity of a human person is due to his or her having both an origin and end in God. It also requires the formation of a person’s will (in Latin, voluntas) or a desire to act in accord with this understanding. Although the family is the first place where children learn about the sanctity of life, this education and formation necessarily, extends to the school. In Evangelium Vitae, St. John Paul II urges educators to fearlessly take up the work of promoting human dignity (cf. §88). This educational mandate is not simply the provenance of theology alone, but must be taken up by the entire school faculty and integrated across the academic disciplines.

In order to support Catholic educators in this vital work, Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame has collaborated with teachers, educational design experts, and content area experts to support this important work. Its Teaching Human Dignity series is a free, online collection of resources (e.g., units, lesson plans, videos, etc.) that promote the culture of life through education. It addresses life and human dignity issues as they organically occur within the secondary education curriculum. The philosophy guiding this initiative is simple: authentic, meaningful learning occurs when students have the opportunity to discover truth themselves. In other words, it is not enough to directly teach students that every human being possesses incomparable worth. Rather, the students must make sense of this themselves by engaging the complex concept of human dignity as it surfaces while studying social studies, science, language arts, and the other content areas. Doing so equips students with a deep appreciation and love for what the Church teaches as well as its implications for their own lives and the human family. In this way, students fully grasp the truth of human dignity at the level of understanding and will.

The task of teaching human dignity in the classroom may feel daunting–even more so if one’s disciplinary expertise is not in theology; and yet, as St. John Paul II reminds us it is the responsibility of educators to create the conditions for students to grow in knowledge, desire, and love of the good. The resources in the Teaching Human Dignity series, freely available online, are designed to support the essential work of Catholic school teachers. They provide the creative, professionally designed materials that will allow them to present a life-affirming message in the classroom.

About the Author

Jessica Keating directs the Notre Dame Office of Life and Human Dignity in the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame. In her role, she leads the Institute’s research, education, and outreach efforts on the nature and dignity of the human person and contemporary threats to the sanctity of life.

How to Help Families Support Math Learning at Home

The following blog was contributed by NWEA of Portland, Oregon. NWEA is a research-based, not-for-profit organization that supports students and educators worldwide by creating assessment solutions that precisely measure growth and proficiency—and provide insights to help tailor instruction.

As this uncertain school year continues—and as research shows math is proving especially challenging for many students—there are many ways to support families with at-home learning. For starters, they can encourage their kids to see how math is all around us. Children can count similar items as they help put away groceries, measure ingredients for a recipe or calculate the number of days remaining until a special event or holiday.

Building strong skills now can help kids meet grade-level standards in the short term and tackle advanced math in the future. Here are just a few tips to pass along to your families and support their efforts.


  • Count orally by twos, fives or tens.
  • Complete connect-the-dot pictures.
  • Count and pair objects around your home and determine whether there’s an odd or even number of items.
  • Ask your child to solve verbal math problems. “Take the number five. Add six. Multiply by three. Subtract three. Divide by five. What’s your answer?” Speak slowly at first until your child gets better at solving these mental problems.
  • Help your child identify percentages in signs, on websites and in books and magazines.
  • Encourage your child to read nutrition labels. Have them calculate the percent of a specific nutrient in each item.


  • Fold a sheet of paper in half and have your child draw a shape along the fold. Cut out the shape and unfold the paper to create a symmetrical shape.
  • Search your home or neighborhood for different geometric shapes, such as triangles, squares, circles and rectangles.
  • Use common household items, such as toothpicks, empty toilet paper rolls, twist ties, sticks and paper, to construct shapes.
  • Help your child recognize and identify real-world examples of right angles (e.g., the corner of a book) and parallel lines (e.g., railroad tracks).


  • Teach your child how to set the kitchen timer when you’re cooking.
  • Arrange various objects (e.g., books, boxes, and cans) by various size and measurement (e.g., length, weight and volume) attributes. Talk with your child about how they are arranged using comparison words like “taller,” “shorter,” “narrower,” “wider,” “heaviest,” “lightest,” “more,” “less,” “about” and “same.”
  • Use a standard measuring tool to measure objects in your home.
  • Gather a tape measure, yardstick, ruler, cup, gallon container and scale. Discuss the various things you can measure with each.
  • Encourage your child to incorporate terms such as “whole,” “halves,” “thirds” and “fourths” into everyday life. Mealtimes are a great time to practice this. Encourage them to eat half their broccoli if they want dessert!

Statistics, probability, and graphing

  • Open a pack of Skittles or M&M’s and make a bar graph showing the number of each color found inside the pack.
  • Look through a science textbook or website and find three examples of different types of graphs.
  • Find the coordinates of places on a map, like your home or town.
  • Watch the weather report for a week, write down the temperatures for each day and then graph the temperatures.
  • Have your child make a list of things that could never happen, things that might happen and things that are sure to happen.


  • Encourage your child to figure out answers to real-life situations: “We have one can of tuna and we need five. How many more do we need to buy?”
  • Ask questions that involve equal sharing. For example, “Seven children share 49 baseball cards. How many cards does each child get?”
  • Help your child look up the population and land area of the state and city in which you live and compare these facts with those of other states and cities.
  • Visit the website for the U.S. Census Bureau and have your child write down three interesting pieces of information they learned.

Algebraic concepts

  • Encourage your child to count and recognize patterns and color in the environment by discussing what they see, like the color of their math textbook, the number on the house across the street and the number of swings on the playground.
  • Have your child look for patterns on buildings, rugs, floors and clothing

For more ideas on how to support families during COVID-19, visit the NWEA blog, Teach. Learn. Grow.

Top 4 Reasons Not to Sign Up for the New Certificate in Catholic School Management

The following blog was contributed by Matthew F. Manion, Professor of Practice in Management and Operations and Faculty Director of the Center for Church Management in the Villanova School of Business.

The NCEA is partnering with the Center for Church Management in the Villanova School of Business to offer a new Certificate in Catholic School Management. The program is designed to provide school leaders with the critical business skills and knowledge necessary to successfully manage their schools.

Before registering for this tremendous opportunity, you should consider the top four reasons not to sign up:

  1. I don’t have the time

Catholic school administrators are some of the busiest people on the planet. You have responsibility for students, faculty, staff and their families. Many of you care so deeply about your school that you feel “on” 24/7 and 365 days a year. The thought of adding another commitment to an already overflowing plate can be overwhelming in a normal school year. In a pandemic, it could be impossible.

But imagine if you could handle the financial and human resource issues you face in half the time you do today? Imagine if you could manage your staff and key volunteers so they multiplied what your school could accomplish instead of adding to your workload? Imagine if you could spend more time developing your teachers and students and less time recruiting and fundraising?

This program is designed to fit into your busy schedule. Much of the content is delivered asynchronously and it is 100% online, so you can learn in the time and place that is most convenient for you. It will make the business and management aspects of your role easier, better, and more enjoyable.

  1. It’s too expensive

Similar certificate programs at other institutions cost thousands of dollars. Thanks to a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment and the generosity of the benefactors of the Center for Church Management, eligible educators can receive a $600 scholarship reducing the tuition from $899 to just $299. That is a great deal for a Certificate from the Villanova School of Business. Based on our experience with other programs, you will find much more than $299 in increased revenues and decreased expenses within the first year as you apply what you learn.

You are worth it. Your school is worth it. Your mission is worth it.

  1. I already have advanced degrees in education

Most school leaders like you are highly educated. However, typical educational degree programs, while excellent in leadership, pedagogy and curriculum, do not cover the practical realities of managing a school. This non-credit program will cover topics unique to Catholic school leaders such as budgeting and financing for mission; data-driven decision-making; advancement, stewardship and donor relations; enrollment, recruitment and tuition management; contract negotiations and vendor relations; and spirituality of administration.

This certificate is designed to complement, not replace, the excellent education you have already received.

  1. Catholic education is a calling, not a business

We agree. Yet Catholic schools are organizations and as a leader, you have a responsibility to steward the people, financial and other resources of that organization in a way that is worthy of the Gospel.

In fact, from the beginning, Jesus entrusted much of the mission to entrepreneurial small business owners. Many of the apostles were fishermen, along with a tax collector. St. Paul was a very successful tentmaker before his conversion. Jesus learned how to run a business at the foot of St. Joseph before starting his public ministry.

Jesus was fully reliant on the Father and yet still made time to deal with the management responsibilities of his mission. He is a great role model for how to share a life-changing vision, for coaching and developing people, for giving effective feedback and for attending to the material as well as the spiritual needs of his followers.

We know that when the organizational, strategic, financial and people issues in a school or ministry are done poorly, it reflects negatively on the school and can block or inhibit the transmission of the Gospel. When these same elements are done well and in a way that is worthy of the Good News of Jesus Christ, they are not disconnected from the mission, but actually amplify the Gospel message. Which would you prefer for your school?

If you have considered these four reasons not to sign up and would still like to enroll, we would love to have you join us for this learning experience!

Simply visit to learn more and enroll.

On Being a Math Teacher

The following blog was contributed by Julieta Raymundo-Almayda, middle school math teacher at St. Anthony Catholic School in San Antonio, Texas.

Hi all! My students, parents and colleagues call me Mrs. Almayda or Mrs. A. I am from San Antonio, TX. I’ve been teaching middle school and high school math for over 20 years. My school recently recognized me for my acceptance as a 2020 Khan Academy Ambassador. It is not every day that I get to share my life and teaching experiences with a big audience.

My joining Khan Academy is my driving force, my “challenge” to myself to be better and become an expert in NWEA using Khan Academy as I make my learners better. At Khan Academy, the “challenge” has become an inspiration to aspire to go beyond what is expected. With the support and encouragement from Khan Academy, the trust and confidence of my administrators and parents and the cooperation of the learners who have limitless potential, I can push the limits.

I have met many students as well as professionals who have a strong aversion to numbers. As a budding mathematics teacher back in the Philippines, I had that thought at the back of my mind. I heard many say that mathematics is such a difficult subject to learn. As a teacher, I want my students to find math easy, fun and interesting and I resolved to make it so. I observed my students to better understand why they find math difficult and boring. This way, I know what technique or strategy to use for every lesson and for certain groups of learners. It is said “first impressions last”; so, I make it a point to start with very easy lessons to impress upon my students that math is easy to hurdle. It is more of giving the students that “feeling of success.” This may seem insignificant, but in my experience, it makes a difference.

Our learners come from different orientations, different learning experiences and different family backgrounds. We do not simply breeze through lessons and at the end of the day say we have accomplished our lesson plan. That is not what it means to teach, because for me to teach is also to touch lives – the lives of the learners. To do this, I simplify a complicated number lesson. I do my best to make it meaningful and enjoyable for them. I exert every effort to make the lessons relevant to them, especially in this challenging 21st century milieu. I see no harm in combining strategies and techniques, from traditional to non-traditional teaching platforms to approaching with modern technology. I modify and innovate. I believe that we teachers are endowed with the gift of being creative, and we need to hone our craft. I do not stop “educating” myself with the latest trends in education. I see favorable opportunities and I grab them, and in the end I contribute to the betterment of our learners. They are the beneficiaries of my efforts to do better each time in my vocation as a teacher, just as our Lord Jesus Christ was.

I am from a poor family in the Philippines. The challenge was not just to survive, but to finish my studies. It was not easy to focus on this. I did not simply rely on what my parents could do, because they could only do so much. I helped send myself to school. I held on to my dreams, my goals and I never allowed desperation, frustration and failure discourage me. I held on tight to my faith in God. Even after I was a teacher, I faced obstacles. My immediate supervisors did not seem convinced that I could be a good teacher. Do you know how it feels when your administrator is not supportive? I felt like changing my career track, but I never gave up. And that also accounts for my thirst for more knowledge, for opportunities to do better, never to be complacent just because I already achieved something. For me, there is no stopping. I believe, educating oneself and learning is a lifetime process.

This year of 2020, uncertainties and difficulties stare at us. This pandemic poses challenges difficult to surmount, but as teachers in Catholic schools, let us remain unruffled. Let us hang on. We owe it to our students and parents, too, who are looking up to us. Let us be the role models. It is easier said than done, but with prayers and steadfast faith in our Lord, we shall overcome. At this time of pandemic, let us use whatever technology we have to reach out to our learners. Let us keep the faith while staying safe.

St. Anthony Catholic School, I am truly indebted to you. I am heartily grateful to Mrs. Patricia Ramirez, our school principal, Mrs. Rita Rodriguez, our vice-principal, our school board president, Mr. Derrich Rodriguez, my colleagues and the St. Anthony parents for their trust and confidence in me, for giving me the chance to contribute to the growth of the learners, and for giving me room to grow and make myself a better Catholic school teacher.

I also would like to thank my supporters and my fan base, my husband Tony for his untiring support, sacrifices and love and my children Kaela and Bethanie who give me joy and inspiration always.

Most importantly, thank you God for all these opportunities. I will be forever grateful for your grace and mercy. Please continue to protect and help us. We know that we cannot do anything without YOU. We surrender and lift everything to you.