Maxine Thurman’s Capstone Project 2018

Good Meals Are Best When Shared
by Maxine Thurman
St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, Smyrna, Georgia

Engaging RCIA youth participants in any activity can be challenging, particularly when you are limited to one hour each week, at 7pm. To compound the problem, the weekly flows are often interrupted by holidays, vacations, weather, or parish activities that result in class cancellation. Time is a crucial element because many of my students have had no previous religious education and require basic introduction to the faith. Additionally, most of my students are from Spanish speaking families, and language barrier limits parental involvement. For these reasons, successfully capturing the student’s attention and having them understand any material is daunting, to say the least. Combine the lack of time with a catechist’s obligation of teaching the lesson on the Mass and you will have a recipe that needs to be tweaked before served.

Mass! Why do we have to go? We don’t go. I play on my phone during Mass. I don’t know what they are doing. I don’t know what they are talking about. It’s stupid! It’s boring. This is no way to respond to an invitation to learn about Jesus’ ongoing banquet; but it is the reaction a catechist usually receives when offering the Mass to children in RCIA. I decided to add some spice to stimulate these appetites so they will want to “Taste and See” the Mass.

Initially, I considered using PowerPoint to deliver the presentation on the Mass to students in class, and using Remind  to involve parents by sharing videos and quizzes assigned to the students. However, my audience changed several times, and this did not seem to have the right flavor; it was rather bland. Ultimately, my final approach was to serve up the presentation by website. This method of delivery allowed me to incorporate the same technology for interactive participation as initially planned, and make the material available for leisure consumption. Being able to choose when they visited the site gave students a certain sense of freedom, and removed the “assignment” edge. Let’s say, it gave them the privilege of consuming the lessons when they had an appetite.

I aimed at connecting the Mass with Tradition through Bible stories the students were familiar with. The webpage opened with a directive for the children to invite their parents to join them specifically to encourage parental participation. As a good meal is better when shared with those we love, so would this website be! Knowing that many Spanish parents depend on their children as translators, I knew that the parental participation would be a good learning experience for both. The appearance of the web pages was kept simple to avoid distracting from the message, and the text was kept simple so as to be easily understood.

The foundation of my project was built on a Wix website platform. Comic Sans font was used to make the text more inviting to a younger audience. Royalty free religious art emphasized the beauty of Catholicism and gave a pictorial reference to specific Bible passages in a serious manner. Short videos imported biblical background were to make the webpages come alive for the audience and presented the Bible stories in a quick, captivating, light-hearted way. Together, the art, videos and stories blended together to create a balanced focus on the topic.

The material was first introduced orally in the traditional classroom setting. I told them what was on the menu.  The web address was sent to parents and students through Remind. Using the “Flipped Classroom” concept, the students were invited to visit the website over a two-week period. The site included seven segmented sessions.  To pace the users, “Knowledge Deposits” buttons were strategically placed as hard stops to prevent them over-indulging. Clicking the Knowledge Deposit buttons linked to a Google Form housed on Google Drive where the users were assigned a simple activity. This feature was incorporated mainly to give them a sense of accomplishment, and signal an end each session. The Knowledge Deposits served a second purpose of higher importance; it tracked participation, date, and time. (I didn’t have to guess who was coming to dinner.) This allowed monitoring individual user’s progress and frequency of use.

The true test of knowledge came after the students completed the web lessons in the form of a Jeopardy game created on playfactile. The Jeopardy game also served as a review of the entire lesson and stimulated discussions on the material. The game prompted dialog between the students and their discussions allowed me to determine what areas needed more explanation or attention. This also gave me valuable feedback from the users’ perceptions of the website.

Before implementation of the project, several catechists were invited to review and offer feedback on the site. A button on the Home Page linked to a Google Form on Google Drive where their feedback was collected. This button was removed after the data was collected. This served not only to collect constructive feedback, but as a way of sharing my recipe with others. Let me share a little with you! Here is a link to my finished website.

Begin with deciding how you are going to dish out your project, or select your web platform. I choose Wix, but I have also experimented with Weebly.  Both are easy to use. Try them both, they are free!

YouTube is your friend, catechist! You can even search by Bible verses, so shop around and sample a few. Some that I have taste-tested and can recommend are: Crossroad Kids, Saddleback Kids, Sophia Institute,  Outside da Box, and Ascension Press. Once you have found the video that suits your taste, imbedding it in your presentation is as simples as a mouse click. I suggest you view a video in its entirety before serving it.

The web is saturated in royalty-free religious art that can be used to inspire appreciation for the beauty of our faith. Example of such sights are Cathollic Resources, St. Mary’s Press, and Mary’s Rosaries. Religious art can illustrate our faith as easily as cartoon characters, and they tell the story much more precisely.

The end-game is the icing on the cake! Sites such as playfactile  or jeopardy  provide the game, you simply add the questions and answers. This game is a real treat for anytime. It can be served as a review to any lesson. You may choose to ask the questions in the traditional manner, rather than in the Jeopardy style of the answer being a question. The later may be confusing for younger children.

This project demonstrates that catechists can use the format of this website to construct a flipped classroom to accompany varying audiences. This concept could even be used for RCIA adults. Of course, just as menus would differ for an adult dinner, so would the context of a website for adults. And, as has been suggested by my class, the concept can be used to teach other lessons.

By using the flipped classroom concept, the element of time was no longer an interruption to the learning process. Holidays and weather were no longer factors. And, the website gave parents the opportunity to experience a learning event with their children, sort of like sharing a good meal.