St. Richard, Edmonton’s first Catholic school to adopt a science and environment curriculum

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Lab demonstrations, potato harvesting, and poems danced to remember the flaps of an airplane are now a typical sight in St. Richard, which is the Catholic school district’s first Green STEM academy.

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A dozen hands go up when teacher Maz Nelson asks a volunteer to help him put on his latest demonstration.

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At St. Richard’s Catholic Elementary School in Mill Woods, students in a grade 2 class learned what happens to carbon dioxide when it is released into the atmosphere.

Students take turns measuring the baking soda and vinegar in a clear plastic bottle, then sit on benches around the demo counter in the school’s STEM room. Scattered around them are an aquaponics installation, a stack of cardboard design projects, a mealworm habitat, and a collection of fossils.

7-year-old Christy Jomon plugs her ears and steps back from the bench, as if preparing for an explosion. Seven-year-old Caiden Hagidiakow also covers his ears, but leans forward, eyes wide.

The result is less dramatic than feared by Jomon: the blue balloon inflates slowly as it fills with gas generated by the chemical reaction.

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Laboratory demonstrations, potato harvesting, and learning a dance to remember how airplane flaps work is now a typical sight in St. Richard, which is the Catholic school district’s first Green STEM academy. .

Spurred on by enthusiastic teachers and delighted students, the school formalized in September its affection for the environment and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“The teachers here are so creative and they just accepted,” said school principal Kathy Sosnowski.

The choice of a science orientation came when a couple of science teachers moved to St. Richard from St. Jerome School, which is one of two science academies in the district. Sosnowski was also concerned about children’s math skills and was looking for ways to improve their number sense.

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Science teacher Maz Nelson prepares a water bottle for a carbon dioxide experiment in the Grade 2 classroom at St. Richard School, November 30, 2017.
Science teacher Maz Nelson prepares a water bottle for a carbon dioxide experiment in the Grade 2 classroom at St. Richard School, November 30, 2017. Photo by Shaughn Butts /Postmedia

This is a gradual step that started when students thought about how to reduce the school’s carbon footprint, Sosnowski said. Parents have built outdoor planters, the main one of which hopes to attract visitors to a new senior center being built across the street. Seventeen solar panels donated on the roof of the school provide all of its electricity.

In a computer lab, students learn to code and play with engineering and design.

The links with science, nature and mathematics now bleed in every subject. Sosnowski shows wall exhibits of leaf prints prepared by students in art class, as well as viewing drawings of sunflowers grown by students.

In religion, students discuss how their conservation efforts align with Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment.

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“It broadens their mind. It allows them to see the big picture, ”she said.

Much of the equipment used by the school has been donated or covered by grants.

First-grade teacher Theresa Rehman asked her students to brainstorm job descriptions for scientists, engineers and mathematicians, which helped expand their vocabulary, she said. Children are more likely to talk to their families about what they did in school, and sometimes bring creations from home that they want to share.

No more moans of “Do we have to do this?” Said Rehman.

“They are delighted to be here in the morning.

Between his thematic ties – it was planets one day at the end of November – and between the aquariums and a wasp nest he has plucked in his garden, Deputy Director Daryl Chichak’s enthusiasm for the subject is irrepressible.

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On his desktop, he displays videos of students doing a waste audit. They picked up 22 bags of school waste and threw them on tarps on the gym floor. Wearing gloves, the students rummaged through the piles and picked up compostable food scraps and recyclable metals and plastics. When they were done, there were only two garbage bags left.

The progression of St. Richard’s 158 preschool to grade 6 students is palpable, he said.

“They run to the classroom and say, ‘What things are we going to learn this time?’ Said Chichak. “They don’t even learn. They have fun.

Students in her grade 6 class say that the increase in hands-on lessons made it easier to stay focused on the task.

Jordan Collier, 11, said she enjoyed a forensic exercise where students copied a ransom note from a thief who claimed to steal their hermit crabs in class. They analyzed samples of their classmates’ writing to determine who wrote which letter.

Her classmate, Bailey Boland, 11, loved to build parachutes out of plastic bags and wire. After some research and trial and error, she tweaked her parachute to capture more air and identified the best plastic bag brand for the job.

“I feel like it made school more fun,” Boland said.

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