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St. Raymond School: First-in-nation tech initiative

06 4.27.17_straymond.image7 NEW PAGESt. Raymond School eighth graders work on a Linux/Raspberry Pi project. (Courtesy photo)

April 27, 2017
Valerie Schmalz

St. Raymond School will be highlighted in a national video by Autodesk for its use of a professional level computer-aided design software – because it is the first elementary school in the nation to tackle the high-level software.

Kellie Mullin, principal of the Menlo Park Catholic elementary school, is delighted, and says it is all part of the school’s mechatronics program developed and taught by Ken Hawthorn, a mechanical engineer who made a midlife career change to teaching and is in his third year at the school.

“He is exposing our children to a different way of thinking during the school day,” said Mullin.

Hawthorn brings tools into each classroom geared to the lesson of the day and creates lessons tailored to what the children are learning in the general curriculum, often a concept the classroom teacher suggests could use a different approach but also in line with his goals for the overall technology curriculum.

“I am a believer in constructive failure,” Mullin said, noting the hands-on mechatronics program also teaches “persistence and perseverance.”

Autodesk brought a video production crew to St. Raymond in early April to “document how our parish Catholic school, an elementary school, is the first school in the country, private or public, to move students from an educational version of digital design software called Tinkercad to a professional engineering platform called Fusion360,” Hawthorn said. Autodesk is the largest producer of educational and professional digital design tools.

“Here is a Catholic school with strong faith formation, academically rigorous and it is also leading the way nationally in technological innovation,” Hawthorn said.

Hawthorn’s approach includes teaching the students how to use the tools, but he also guides them in asking questions grounded in faith and morality – can the invention be made but also should it be made and what will it be used for, he said.

“The reason I am so proud of this school – I think parish schools are really known for faith formation and they are really known for character development, really known for English and history and stuff,” Hawthorn said. “I don’t think parish schools are the first school people turn to when it comes to leading edge technology. We are the first elementary school in the country to push eighth graders into professional cad (computer-aided design) development.”

The eighth grade’s mechatronics experience includes building their own laptop with computer components including the design of the plastic shell of the computer which is then produced on a 3D printer.

Last year the school won a national prize and was awarded the second of two 3D printers so when students design models using the software, they can produce the components. This year the mechatronics program tripled in size from just middle school to grades one-eight.

St. Raymond is embracing an educational vision that is a “21st-century collaboration based and rooted in technology and innovation,” but also rooted in faith and morality, Mullin said. “That’s what kids need today.

“You can see by the joy you see in your students’ faces, and the joy is real,” Mullin said.

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