The halls are buzzing with excitement at Resurrection-St. Paul School in Ellicott City. Cardboard, popsicle sticks, tape, toilet paper rolls, rubber bands and ping pong balls are spread across the tables. Third, fourth, and fifth graders are huddled in small groups, excitedly discussing ways to execute their newest STEM mission.

Their challenge? To create a “Wicket Knockdown Machine” to enter into the 2020 Fluor Engineering Challenge.

Patsy Grue, STEM Coordinator at Resurrection- St. Paul School, believes that students’ creativity blossoms when they are exposed to real-word, critical thinking problems. Using an international engineering challenge from one of the largest engineering companies in the world adds to the perspective that we live in a global society.

“We spend a lot of time introducing our students to STEM fields and having them interact with engineers, graduate students, and companies that show real ways that students can apply the skills they learn in class,” said Patsy. “When students come to me and say that they dislike science, or feel like they’re not strong in math, we introduce real-world problems through project based learning, and watch them unknowingly draw from skills they’ve learned in class, and excitedly build solutions to these problems. Watching their self esteem and critical thinking skills grow, then seeing students take ownership and become leaders in their own learning from these experiences is the highest reward.

Resurrection-St. Paul Students STEM

What happens during challenge sessions? Students are chatting in small groups, brainstorming, collaborating, building, testing, and trying again. When a solution is reached there are smiles, high fives, and excited cheers.

All of these little sights and sounds are music to Patsy’s ears. Her hope is that by having her students compete in the Fluor Challenge this year, that they will see that what they’re learning in each of their classes is all interconnected. That realization will help them solve problems both in and out of school, while inspiring them to be critical thinkers and, ultimately, successful in the real world of problem solving.

Resurrection-St. Paul Students STEM

Resurrection-St. Paul School is a Howard County Archdiocesan STEM school that is dedicated to innovation, problem solving, and cross curricular collaboration infusing Catholic identity to affirm a responsibility of stewardship and integrity to the application of STEM. This may seem like a lot of “buzz words,” but the entire school community embraces incorporating science, technology, engineering and math into daily experiences. Teachers have dedicated their time in learning communities and professional development workshops as presenters and participants.

The school houses innovative STEM labs and outdoor classrooms that encourage and enable teachers to take a “Problem Based Learning” approach to teaching. It allows teachers the freedom to work with students to identify a problem, and design, implement, collect data, assess and communicate solutions to the larger community. Examples of projects that classes have tackled include oyster reef restoration in the Chesapeake Bay. Reforestation, rain gardens, and habitat restoration of open spaces in Howard County where development and other environmental changes have created a rainwater runoff crisis in our community. All of the projects, no matter how big or how small, whether making light switches accessible to young students or the hydroponic garden in our farm to table program — make learning come to life for Resurrection- St. Paul students.

Resurrection-St. Paul Students STEM

Patsy is able to work collaboratively with teachers and students to learn more about the world around them, and what makes it work, and how they can be contributors to making the world a better place by helping to solve problems collaboratively. According to her, the excitement that surrounds that kind of learning is the highlight of her day.

To learn more about Resurrection-St. Paul School and their STEM programming, visit their website


Editor’s Note: This article is part of our School Spotlight Series. Each week, we spotlight our partner schools to give you a glimpse into what learning looks like on their campus.  Images were provided by the school. Want to become a school partner? Email us.