NOTICE: Due to limited staffing you may experience slightly longer than normal shipping times.

Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

August 11, 2014

Getting to Know New Students & New Names

Learning New Student's Names

It feels great when someone calls you buy name. When someone addresses you by name, it adds a level of connection that you just don't feel otherwise. When someone who you have just met or barely know uses your name in conversation, it can be surprising and it makes you feel very good about who you are.

Remembering and using someone's name is a simple gesture that goes a long way. How, then, can we learn students names quickly and correctly?

A few years ago, I shared some tactics for learning new names at The Religion Teacher website. I suggested using a few simple tools:

  • Note Cards
  • Desk Name Tags/Tents
  • Seating Chart

I also made a few suggestions for activities and games you can play in the first week of school to get to know someone's name. These games included:

  • Adjective Name-Game
  • Scavenger Hunt
  • Student Interview

To read the full post and find out how to implement all these suggestions, visit The Religion Teacher website.

(photo credit: Flickr

November 11, 2013

The Right (and Wrong) Way to Show Videos in Class

As the access to iPads, laptops, SMART Boards, and LCD projectors increases in Catholic schools, so does demand for engaging media to use as learning tools. In particular, many teachers are seeking out short videos to use in class to supplement their instruction.

As showing videos in class becomes easier, it is important to consider how exactly those videos are being used as tools for learning. Consider these suggestions for the wrong and the right way to show videos in theology classrooms.

The WRONG Way to Show Videos in Class

Send students to the Internet to find videos themselves.

Now that anyone can upload a video to YouTube, there is no telling what false information students will find and trust on the web. Before endorsing any video, you need to vet it for accuracy and point out any errors or misleading information that might appear in a video your students are watching. This is especially the case when dealing with videos about God and the Church.

Assign a video without context or questions.

When you have students watch a video be sure to connect it to what they have learned in class or read in their textbooks. Do not let them watch the video in isolation from what you are trying to accomplish in class. Give them the context of what they are watching and give them some questions to answer while they watch.

Show long videos and documentaries without interruption.

While a documentary may display valuable information for the students, they still need reminders about what is important or relevant to the lessons they have learned in class. Pause the video and clarify what you want them to remember. Then you can reference each part of the video in later discussions or lessons.

Do not give the students the opportunity to talk.

While walking out of a movie theater, people talk about the film they just watched. The same should apply to in-class videos. Give the students the opportunity to talk about the videos they watch in class. Give them some discussion questions or guide the discussion as an entire class.

The RIGHT Way to Show Videos in Class

Use graphic organizers.

A graphic organizer is a visual way to represent and organize information. Graphic organizers are excellent tools to use while watching videos. You can create these graphic organizers yourself or search for common forms of them on the Internet.

Use comprehension questions.

Have students answer specific questions while following along with a video. This will enable them to know what is most important about a video before they even start to watch it. If they can't answer the question, then they can go back and watch the video again until they get it.

Use discussion questions.

Unlike comprehension questions, discussion questions are open-ended and require people to take a position or form an argument. These questions require critical thinking. They almost always start with "why" or "how."

Refer back to videos later on.

Students will remember the videos. If you refer back to them in lecture or subsequent lessons, you will help solidify the key take-aways in their minds. Have them recall key videos and build upon what they remember.

Create your own screencasts.

Use free or paid technology to record your lectures as videos that students can watch at home or during class. The key benefit is that they can rewatch the videos of concepts they do not completely understand. It also frees up class time to work on projects and assignments under your supervision. This is essentially the "flipping the classroom" approach to classroom instruction. Read more: "5 Ways Teachers Can Use Screencasts to Engage Student Learning".

Use Videos to Supplement Ave Maria Press Textbooks

To help meet the growing demand for high quality educational videos in theology classes, we have collected a number of YouTube videos to use in class with Ave Maria Press textbooks. In addition, you can find questions to gage comprehension or inspire discussion. Each video is connected to specific chapters and even pages of the textbook.

Check out the latest videos for your Ave Maria Press textbook including:

Ave Maria Press also offers two documentaries to use in class along with free, downloadable teaching materials:

(photo credit: Dave Fancher)

September 16, 2013

Guided Meditation on Our Baptisms

I'll never forget the anger a Sophomore girl expressed in class one day about her own baptism. We were discussing infant baptism and somehow the class discussion turned into a teenage tirade on the infringement of personal freedom and right to choose your own faith. Sitting in the back of the room, one girl said with passionate anger, "It isn't fair. I didn't even get the choice!"

I would bet you have some students who would like to renounce their baptism. Or, worse yet, could care less one way or the other if they were baptized or not.

The purpose of this meditation is to help your students realize the effect that baptism has had within them. Our baptisms make no sense unless accompanied by the realization of the love that we unknowingly experienced as infants. Our parents and godparents loved and cared for us. They wanted what was best for us. More importantly, at Baptism we experienced for the first time a sacramental expression of God's infinite love for us as his children. Through Baptism we become God's adoptive sons and daughters. We become a part of the body of Christ, God's own Son.

Help students imagine the love of God that will always prefigure the development and acceptance of faith with this meditation on baptism.

A Meditation on Our Baptisms


The Baptism of Jesus if the Jordan River
Matthew 3:13-17

Guided Meditation: My Baptism

Most of us experienced our baptism as infants. We have no memory of it ourselves and can only ask our parents to recount the experience for us. Nevertheless, imagine if you were there at your own baptism.

  • What would you have seen and heard?
  • Who do you think would have been there?
  • What kinds of expressions would they have on their faces?
  • What do you think they were feeling or thinking at that moment?

Now consider the Baptism of Jesus in relation to your own baptism. In baptism, we become like Christ, God's sons and daughters.

Picture the priest pouring water over your infant head or dunking you in the baptismal font. Then at that moment, look up and imagine these words being proclaimed in silence, "This is my beloved [son/daughter] with whom I am well pleased."

Now, imagine these words being said to you, today, right now. God speaks directly and privately to you:

"You are my beloved child with whom I am well pleased."

Silently, respond to him. What would you say if you heard these words from God right now?

Closing Prayer

Close with an "Our Father," but before you begin remind the students of the words that they are saying. They are God's children. God is our Father. When we pray the Lord's Prayer, we are expressing our relationship with God as our loving Father.

(photo credit: mark sebastian)

May 29, 2013

A Simple Approach to Teaching Religion

What is the single most important thing for my students to learn?

We often overlook this important question. Our textbooks have so much information. The curriculum is very demanding. The days, weeks, and months we have to do actual instruction in class seem to be getting shorter and shorter as time goes on often interrupted by assemblies, sports, and other school events.

There is just too much to teach and not enough time.

Then exam time comes and we find our students can barely remember a thing we taught them months ago. How is this possible? They studied it. We reviewed and reinforced it again and again. How could they possibly forget?

Let's cut our students some slack. They have a lot to remember and learn well beyond our subject areas. It is a lot to take in for anyone.

So what can we do as religion teachers to plant in their minds and hearts an enduring memory of the concepts we are teaching?

Keep it simple, stupid!

That's right: simplify. It is extremely hard to do for many of us, but it is the best way to create a long-lasting memorable experience of you as a teacher and of your subject.

How to Simplify What You Teach

Try answering these two statements:

  • If they learn nothing else, they must learn . . .

  • The single most important thing for students to learn is . . .

Ask yourself these questions at the beginning of the school year, at the end of the school year, while you are planning each chapter/unit plan, and each lesson plan.

You can easily transform these simplified statements into your lesson objectives or unit goals. Or, if you use the Understanding by Design system, turn these statements into your enduring understandings (big ideas) and essential questions.

Simple Quotes to Help Keep Things Simple

"Plurality is never to be posited without necessity." —William of Occam (Occam's Razor)

"It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer." —William of Occam

"It is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many" —St. Thomas Aquinas

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." —Attributed to Albert Einstein

"Nature operates in the shortest way possible." —Aristotle

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" —Leonardo Da Vinci

"Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. —Jesus to his Apostles (Mt 10:16)

This simple post is an adaptation of "Day 23: Simplify Your Lesson" from 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator by Jared Dees. Get your copy here at Ave Maria Press.

April 22, 2013

How to Get Your Students to Actually Read Their Textbook

How do you motivate your students to read their textbooks at night? How can you be sure that students have actually read and understood it? One answer we have provided for teachers is the directed reading guides that go along with each chapter of our Ave Maria Press textbooks.

Students hate them, but teachers love them.

To complete the directed reading guides, students have to actually do the reading. They have to look closely at the text and search for specific answers and words to complete sentences. The fill-in-the-blank statements and questions guide student reading and force them to do their reading assignment and answer questions while they read. Hence, teachers love them.

Here are some examples of our directed reading guides:

Using Directed Reading Guides to Get Students to Do Their Reading

So how can you utilize these reading guides in your classroom?

Shorten by Section or Reading Assignment

Cut and paste only the sections you need. They are divided by page number and section. These assignments can take awhile to complete so don't assign them all at once. Many of the questions are very specific require thorough reading.

Customize with Your Own Questions

Add your own questions. Make sure you add your own questions when necessary. If you want students to get a specific concept from the reading, make sure you write your own question or fill-in-the-blank statements for them to complete. Just make sure the questions are added in at the right part of the reading. The reading guides are ordered to follow along with the text so new questions that are added should be included in the correct order of the text.

Save Paper!

Have students submit their work via Dropbox, Evernote, or There are so many great tools out there to allow students to submit their homework digitally and save paper. Students can access all of the directed reading guides for free here at the Ave Maria Press website. Just send them to the classroom resources page for the book you are using.

Have Students Create their Own Reading Guides

After they get used to the format, have the students create their own reading guides. Instruct them to use a format similar to the ones they have been using as homework or in-class reading. Go over the various types of fill-in statements and questions as a class then turn the students loose. Make sure you give them a minimum number of questions to include in their assignment.

When the students bring their assignment in the next day, have them work with a partner to complete each other's reading guides.

Create Quizzes

Create short quizzes based on the reading guides for bell work and a quick formative assessment. As soon as students walk in the door, have them complete the quiz. Depending on the challenge of the quiz, you may allow them to use the reading guides for help. If it is a short, multiple choice assignment, collect their reading guides while they work on the quizzes. You could use Socrative or other online quiz-makers for this kind of assessment.

Grading for Effort

Check for completion, but have students correct each other's work. Grading every one of these assignments will absolutely decimate your time as a teacher. Check for completion keeping an eye on the written sections that may reveal some plagiarism among students. These assignments can be quick, small portions of their grade as homework assignments. If you keep them to grade and correct them for too long, you will be depriving the students of their notes to study for later assessments!

Instead of Reading Guides, Use Other Note-taking Strategies

The directed reading guides are just one way to have students take notes on what they read. Mix up your reading assignments with other note-taking strategies like the Cornell Note-taking System, a Fishbone Diagram, a Venn diagram, a KWL Chart, a Mind map, or an outline.

February 19, 2013

Teaching with Pope Benedict XVI's Message for Lent 2013

Before announcing his resignation, Pope Benedict XVI released a his message for Lent 2013, "Believing in charity calls forth charity." Each year, the Holy Father shares some thoughts to focus the Church on certain virtues and practices during Lent. This year, in honor of the Year of Faith, the he invites us all to meditate on the relationship between faith and charity (love). It is, no doubt, a taste of what was to come in his now-uncertain encyclical on faith.

He begins his letter with a summary of the connections he made between the theological virtues of faith and love in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. Then he goes on to distinguish between the two virtues and how they must go hand in hand.

Believe it or not, the Pope's message is not so advanced that you would need a theological degree. A high school student could certainly read and understand the message and apply it to their lives.

Have the students take a clean sheet of paper and fold it in half. On the left write "faith" at the top and title the right side "Charity (Love)."

Have the students read the message, which can be downloaded at the Vatican website. While they read, have them write how the Pope describes the connection between the two virtues in his message. Start with the third paragraph in section number 2. "Charity as life in faith" to create the chart.

Faith and Charity Chart

Use the following as a guide/answer key:


Faith is knowing the truth and adhering to it || Charity is "walking" in the truth

Through faith we enter into friendship || Through charity this friendship is lived and cultivated

Faith = embrace the commandment of the Lord || Charity = happiness of putting it into practice

Faith = begotten as children of God || Charity = persevere concretely in our divine sonship

Faith = recognize the gifts God has entrusted to us || Charity = makes the gifts fruitful

Scaling the mountain || Coming back down, bearing love

Apostles proclaim the Gospel || Apostles concern to be of service to the poor

Mary || Martha (Lk 10:38-42)

Tree || Fruit

Baptism || Eucharist

Everything begins with the humble acceptance of faith || Everything has to arrive at the truth of charity

Here are the differences laid out in a table format:

Faith Charity
Faith is knowing the truth and adhering to it Charity is "walking" in the truth
Through faith we enter into friendship Through charity this friendship is lived and cultivated
Faith = embrace the commandment of the Lord Charity = happiness of putting it into practice
Faith = begotten as children of God Charity = persevere concretely in our divine sonship
Faith = recognize the gifts God has entrusted to us Charity = makes the gifts fruitful
Scaling the mountain Coming back down, bearing love
Apostles proclaim the Gospel Apostles concern to be of service to the poor
Mary Martha (Lk 10:38-42)
Tree Fruit
Baptism Eucharist
Everything begins with the humble acceptance of faith Everything has to arrive at the truth of charity

January 16, 2013

Using Different Colored Highlights to Increase Reading Comprehension

In the last iPad tutorial, I explained how teachers and students can use the Study Cards feature of the iBooks app to review glossary terms, main ideas, and Review Questions. A major part of that tutorial focused on effective highlighting with a designated color for Study Cards.

One of the important advantages of eBooks for education is that highlights don't have to be final. When you highlight a book with colored ink, the highlight is there forever. It is a static experience. You highlight, then you review. You can't change it.

The highlighting experience for eBooks and eTextbooks can be a much more engaging experience. One of our responsibilities as teachers is to use the tools to effectively teach students how to be better independent learners. The highlighting feature, when it allows you to have multiple colors, can be used in exciting new ways.

Check your eTextbook reader app to be sure it offers multiple colors for your highlights. The iBooks iPad app, the Direct Digital app, and the GoodReader app (for PDF eTextbooks) all include the ability to highlight in more than one color.

Teaching Good Highlighting Skills

First, let's focus on the purpose of highlighting. To increase engagement with what students are reading, they need to do something active to help them organize new information into their brains. When reading printed books, this may include highlighting, writing notes in the margins, taking notes on paper, outlining what they read, or creating a mind map.

Unfortunately, highlighting becomes an incredibly passive way to read books. We end up highlighting well-written sentences or long paragraphs with important information. What we are left with is a set of interesting sentences and paragraphs.

Now that highlights and notes are so easy to see in a book and access outside of the book context, we need to become better highlighters and teachers of highlighting skills.

What is the purpose of a highlight? Review.

If we never review the highlights we've made, then we've wasted our time.

If we do review our highlights, and notice that we've highlighted nearly the entire text, then we are again wasting our time.

Instead, try and teach this:

  • Highlight sentences that summarize main ideas of paragraphs and sections.
  • Highlight supporting arguments of main ideas (sometimes numbered lists or bullet points).
  • Highlight words, sentences, or concepts that you don't understand (for now).
  • Highlight words or sentences that your teacher points to.
  • Turn your highlights into outlines, questions, and summary points.

Or, consult the highlighting suggestions in the final section of the Study Cards Tutorial, "Using iPad Study Cards to Review Reading."

Most kids don't know how to study for tests and quizzes. Studying is a process that begins the first time you read something and ends in thinking creatively about ideas.

Highlighting with Multiple Colors: A Pre-Reading Strategy

I'm a huge proponent of pre-reading strategies. Most of us, whether we are teachers or students, skip this important step in reading new material.

Pre-reading is reading before you read. It requires a quick scan of a section of text looking at the headings, the images, the bold words, and the first and last sentences of paragraphs to get an idea of what a selection of text is about before we even read the details.

So how do you use highlighting to do pre-reading?

Remember that highlights in an eBook/eTextbook can always be changed. So if you highlight something now, it can be deleted later. If you highlight something in yellow, it can easily be changed to green.

Before releasing the students to read, ask them to use the following colors to highlight parts of the text:

  • Green: Words, concepts, and ideas that you already know well.
  • Blue: Words, concepts, and ideas you've heard of or understand a little bit.
  • Red: Words, concepts, and ideas you've never heard of.

Give students a little direction by pointing out certain words or concepts you want them to preview and highlight in green, blue, or red.

Next, give them five to ten minutes to look up the words or concepts they highlighted in red and blue (kind of know and never heard of). In most eReaders, students can do this directly from the app by clicking on a word or highlighted text and selecting "Search Web" or "Search Wikipedia."

Have them write what they've learned in a note connected with the red highlights.

As a class discuss some of the concepts they didn't know before reading that they understand now.

When they read the text, they can either delete the highlights to their liking or change the colors from blue and red to green.

You will need to practice this activity to get students used to this kind of pre-reading and highlighting, but eventually these will become habits. Students will find the things they don't know and utilize the incredible tools at their disposal to quickly increase comprehension. You will find that in the long run they will learn faster by engaging in a text in this way than in just reading and answering the review questions.

November 19, 2012

Bible Basics for Teens

Earlier this year we had the honor of publishing an excellent introduction to the Bible by Franciscan University professor John Bergsma called Bible Basics for Catholics: A New Picture of Salvation History. Dr. Bergsma, who is a colleague of Dr. Scott Hahn, is known for his fun and creative drawings that illustrate the deep meaning behind the Old Testament biblical texts. He has a unique approach to teaching the Old Testament that all religion teachers can learn from and teens will surely enjoy.

Bible Basics

What is really remarkable about this book is the memorable drawings of challenging texts. In a world with so much technology, students learn more visually today than ever before. Dr. Bergsma's drawings act as excellent teaching tools for the modern learner.

Earlier this year, Dr. Bergsma gave a webinar titled, "How to Get Through the Bible in an Hour," in which he shared brief samples of his creative illustrations. Here is the recording of that webinar:

Watch his presentation on YouTube or Vimeo.

Dr. Bergsma works really fast in this presentation, so you may want to watch and rewatch the way he teaches certain stories in the Bible: Creation, Abraham, Moses, David, the Prophets, and the Eucharist. You may even want to pick out clips from the presentation to show to your students. Dr. Bergsma's book, Bible Basics for Catholics, gives a step-by-step explanation and discussion that dig deep into the key Old Testament stories that illustrate God's covenants throughout salvation history.

Teaching Bible Basics to Teens

Whether you teach a course on Sacred Scripture or occasionally include a lesson or two on the Bible, reflect on the following questions:

  1. How can I use images to teach about the meaning of the Old Testament and the New Testament?
  2. What connections can I show between the Old Testament and the New Testament?
  3. How can I help students see God's "covenant" in the texts we will study?
  4. How can I use humor to spike my students' interest in the Bible?

Bible Basics for Catholics is also available as an eBook on the Kindle and Nook or on the iPad using the Kindle or Nook apps.

October 29, 2012

iPad Tutorial: Using Study Cards in Apple iBooks eTextbooks

Earlier this year we released two of our textbooks into the Apple iBookstore: Jesus Christ: God's Revelation to the World and Jesus Christ: Source of Our Salvation. These eTextbooks are specifically designed for the iPad using the incredible tools offered by the iBooks iPad App. One of the most exciting features about this app is the Study Cards. We've all used or asked students to use note cards and flash cards to study for tests or review material. Well, Study Cards in iBooks elevates that learning tactic to a whole new level.

We hope this brief tutorial on using Study Cards in iBooks Textbooks for the iPad will make an impact on the way you and your students use the iPad in class this year. Download a free sample copy of one of our books to your iPad to test out these features:

How Study Cards are Created

Here are the default settings for iBooks Study Cards:

  • Glossary Terms (vocabulary terms) and definitions
  • All highlights (displayed on one side)
  • All notes and highlights (highlights on one side, notes on the other)

These settings can be adjusted. You can remove Glossary Terms or specify only certain colors of highlights to be Study Cards. We'll come back to this feature later.

At the top of each card you will see the Section title and page number. For example, here is a highlight of the vocabulary term "religion" as it appears in the running text of Jesus Christ: God's Revelation to the World:

iPad Study Cards Sample

How iBooks Study Cards Work

To open the Study Cards, you need to open the My Notes section of your book. To do this click on the Notes icon in the top ribbon of the app.

Once you are there, you can click on the "Study Cards" button from the My Notes page.

The Study Cards are organized by chapter or you can view all of them at once by selecting "All Chapters."

Each Study Card resembles a 3x5 note card. On one side is a Glossary Term or highlighted text. On the other side is the definition of the Glossary Term or the note that was attached to the highlighted text.

Tap the card to flip it or tap on the circular arrows in the bottom right corner of each card. To see the next card, you can swipe up, down, left, right, or diagonally to advance to the next card.

To go back to the previous card, click on the card that appears to be in the back of the stack.

Previous Study Card in iBooks

Using iPad Study Cards to Complete Review Questions

One of the most practical uses of Study Cards is to create answers to the Review Questions. Here is how to do this:

1) First, designate a certain highlight color for all section review questions.

2) We've chosen purple as the color for review questions. So, I'll highlight the question in purple and then answer it in a note. Here is how it will look:

Review Questions in Study Cards

3) Open the Study Cards feature. Click on the gear icon in the upper left corner to open "Study Options." Uncheck Glossary Terms and click on the blue arrow to expand the Highlights and Notes options. Check only the purple color.

4) Since we're only highlighting review questions in purple, Study Cards will only display these questions and answers. Here is how our answers to Chapter 1 Section 1 of Jesus Christ: God's Revelation to the World will look in Study Cards:

Side One:

Side Two:

Using iPad Study Cards to Review Reading

While students are reading, have them highlight parts of the text that are important or need to be remembered. Designate a highlight color for general highlighting and note-taking (the default is yellow).

Model the kind of highlights that students should make before they do the reading on their own. You don't want them to just highlight everything they read and as teachers we can't expect our students to automatically know the most effective way to highlight and take notes while they read.

Here are a few suggestions for highlighting while reading:

  • Highlight the main idea of each section.
  • Highlight important quotes.
  • Highlight sentences where vocabulary words appear.
  • Highlight sentences with bold words.
  • Highlight the first sentence of a numbered or bulleted list.
  • Highlight italicized sentences that were meant to stand out.

Once the students have read a section and made the highlights, encourage them to get in the habit of reviewing these highlights using the Study Cards immediately after reading, a few hours later, the next day, and then a week later. Reviewing the highlights will be the most effective thing they do to remember what they read and learned. This makes Study Cards an excellent tool for reading comprehension.

There are so many more ways you can teach with the iBooks Textbook Study Cards on the iPad. This tutorial is really just scratching the surface. Do some experimenting with your students and see what works best.

Ave Maria Press has eTextbooks available in the Apple iBookstore, as a PDF Site License, and through Direct Digital.

August 22, 2012

Catechism Scavenger Hunt

Catechism Scavenger HuntOne of the main goals of the Catholic Year of Faith is to promote awareness and study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on its twentieth anniversary of publication. Reading and using the Catechism can be a challenge even for adults. Use this Catechism scavenger hunt as a class activity to help familiarize your high school students with the layout and format of the text.

Students can work on this activity alone or in groups. This activity works best if students have catechisms of their own or if you can acquire a class set for the day. Otherwise, have students share the catechisms with their groups to find the answers.

The following ten questions can be used as a part of this Catechism of the Catholic Church scavenger hunt. There is nearly a limitless number of additional questions and clues that you could add to this list so please feel free to download the Word Document version of the questions. The PDF of both the questions and the answer key are available below.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church Scavenger Hunt

  1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is divided into four parts. List them below:

  2. Which Scripture passage is quoted in the first sentence of the Prologue of the Catechism?

  3. Find the five saints who are quoted in the Catechism whose first or last name begins with the letter A.

  4. What paragraph number list the fruits of the Holy Spirit?

  5. Which two people are listed as models of faith in the Catechism?

  6. What page contains the texts for the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed?

  7. On what page can we find the Ten Commandments?

  8. List five councils quoted in the footnotes of the Catechism:

  9. List all the women you can find who are quoted in the Catechism.

  10. What are the three expressions of prayer and in what paragraphs can they be found in the Catechism?

You can download and print these questions for your students here:

Catechism Activity Variations for Students with iPads or Laptops

If you have laptops and iPads in class then introduce students to the digital version of the Catechism freely available online and adapt the scavenger hunt questions for these online versions with great Catechism search engines:

June 25, 2012

4 Places to Find the Best Catholic Apps for Your Classroom

With so many schools switching to a 1:1 iPad program in the next couple of years, I am starting to get some common questions. As you might imagine the most common question I get from teachers who have been given new iPads is, "Do you have any suggestions for apps I should download?" Or, "What are the best Catholic iPad apps to use with students?"

Rather than pretend to think I could possibly keep track of all of the amazing Catholic apps and prayer apps that are being released for the iPad and the iPhone, I'll defer to the experts. Check out this list of websites to get some ideas for new Catholic apps and prayer apps to use in your classroom.


The name and the URL says it all! Tom Lelyo, the main author and founder of, provides excellent reviews of the latest iPad and iPhone apps as well as the apps in the Android marketplace.

Each app gets a rating based on price, performance, usability, design, and catholicity. The authors also share the pro's, con's, and overall impression of the apps.


Our friend and author, Lisa Hendey, hosts a number of different authors who contribute to the Catholic Tech Talk feature on Writers like Sarah Reinhard and Dorian Speed share their expertise and experience using technology often sharing the newest and best apps for Catholics, particularly those who focus on catechesis and parenting.


A rising star in the Catholic tech world has been the website Not long ago they began a great resource for reviews and information about Catholic apps. This website has a great group of writers and offers engaging conversation about the Church and technology today.

4. CatholicApps (Wordpress Blog)

The Wordpress blog,, has a treasure chest of information about Catholic apps for prayer, politics, saints, confession, and more. Although not as well known as the websites above, there is some extensive information about many different Catholic apps as well as a list of videos to check out about the apps.

Classroom Assignment Idea: What are the best Catholic apps?

As teachers, we all know our students are much more tech-savvy than we will ever be. Why not take advantage of this? Why not save yourself the time and let them do the searching?!

Give the students an assignment to find and review Catholic apps and prayer apps on their iPads. Collect the reviews as a written assignment or have them create a video review using their iPads and post it to a public place like YouTube or your LMS.

You could even have them present the apps in class. Or if they are reviewing prayer apps, have them sign up to lead class prayer using the app.

Question: What Catholic apps have you found to be useful in the classroom?

May 14, 2012

Classrooms Ascending to the Cloud: Cloud Computing in Schools

Everybody's heading to the cloud these days. No, I'm not talking about the Ascension. I'm talking about the new home for most of your school files: the cloud.

For teachers, especially those moving to a 1:1 laptop/tablet school environment, this is huge. The cloud will allow us to send and receive files easier, provide immediate feedback on projects, and work on various devices from various places. We won't have to worry about running back into school on the weekends because our work will be in the cloud.

What Is the Cloud?

Wikipedia defines cloud computing as "the delivery of computing and storage capacity as a service to a heterogeneous community of end-recipients."

In other words, your files no longer need to live on your computer. You can access them on your desktop computer at home, your laptop at school, your iPad in the living room, or your iPhone while at the store.

In fact, your computer doesn't even have to live on your computer. With new products like the Google Chromebook, your computer exists on another server, not on the actual device you hold in your hands.

Our ubiquitous access to the Internet makes all this possible.

How Can I Use the Cloud in the Classroom?

As more and more students create presentations, videos, audio files, and other large files, it becomes increasingly difficult to send and receive via email. Cloud computing services (listed below) allow teachers to share folders with students so they can drop their projects into the folders for review. Teachers can then easily open the files and send back comments and feedback via the cloud for the students to collect.

Also, we get many questions about how our PDF Site License eTextbook program (view webinar) works. Schools have used some form of cloud storage to distribute the PDF files to their students. Each school has their own preferences, but many of the options below have been used efficiently without the danger of the files being shared illegally.

Where Can I Get Cloud Storage?

There are a number of services that provide free and paid cloud storage services. Here are the most popular ones among schools.


Probably the most popular cloud storage service is Dropbox. They have seen incredible growth in the last year and their ease of use is hard to beat.

Free Storage: 2GB (plus bonus storage for referrals)
Paid Storage: $100/year for 50GB; $200/year for 100GB
Access: iPhone, iPad, PC, MAC, Linux, Android, Web


I've heard a few teachers share on Twitter and Google+ that students prefer SkyDrive as their favorite cloud storage platform. Though it lacks the integration on mobile devices that most business professionals enjoy, students seem to like it anyway.

Free Storage: 7GB
Paid Storage: $50/year for 100GB; $0.50/GB
Access: Windows, Mac, Web

Google Drive

The newest addition to the cloud storage services is Google Drive, which effectively eliminates Google Docs as a separate product. It is new, but powerful. With so many schools utilizing Google Docs already, Google Drive will become a natural fit in many places. The best part about Google Drive is that it maintains the collaborative editing features of Google Docs with the added ability to store any kind of file and easily access them via your desktop via a synching folder.

Free Storage: 5GB
Paid Storage: $30/year for 25GB; $60/year for 100GB
Access: Windows, Mac, web


Apple made some changes recently to their cloud services combining them into one iCloud program, which works in the iOS 5 and X on the iPhone and iPad. There is also integration through iTunes on PCs and Macs. Currently the ability to share folders and edit collaboratively is not available.

Free Storage: 5GB
Paid Storage: 20GB for $40 and 50GB for $100
Access: iPhone, iPad, Windows, Mac

Amazon Cloud Drive

Believe it or not, Amazon has a large business of providing digital storage to businesses. They also want a piece of the cloud computing game. For now it is mostly for purchasing MP3s, but don't rule them out for a future flip into general cloud storage.

Free storage: 5 GB
Paid Storage: $1/GB per year over 5GB
Access: Amazon MP3 Uploader/Downloader for music; Cloud play for Android

What's your favorite cloud computing service? What are your students' favorite?

March 29, 2012

From Print Textbooks to eTextbooks: Navigating the Transition with Relative Ease

In recent years we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of schools who are switching from print textbooks to eTextbooks. The release of the iPad inspired an incredible amount of excitement about integrating technology into the everyday life of the student. Many Catholic high schools are purchasing or requiring students to purchase iPads as the primary learning device.

With so many schools transitioning to the iPad or other 1:1 device, what are the implications for teachers, students, and schools?

In the webinar recording below Jared Dees, Digital Publishing Specialist of Ave Maria Press, presents strategies that teachers can use in 1:1 laptop or tablet programs including a brief overview of cooperative learning and a popular movement toward "flipping the classroom."

Jared also shares some of the challenges and frustrations that Ave Maria Press eTextbooks schools have experienced this year after switching to a 1:1 program.

Finally, you will see why Ave Maria Press has focused on a PDF Site License as the solution for eTextbooks in the coming school year.

eTextbook Webinar Recording

Go straight to the YouTube recording or check it out on the Ave Maria Press Vimeo Channel.

Teaching with the iPad

If you are switching to the iPad and want to share some quick teaching tips with the iPad, feel free to dowload and adopt this presentation which was pulled from the webinar: "5 Quick and Easy Ways to Teach with Your iPad"

View more PowerPoint from Jared Dees

March 19, 2012

Teaching with the Kony 2012 Video in Schools

Odds are good that your high school students have already seen the Kony 2012 video. It went viral in the first week of March being viewed roughly 80 million times in only five days. In fact it is now considered to be the most viral video in history defeating the likes of Lada Gaga, Justin Bieber, and Miley Cyrus.

Social justice teachers will see this as an incredible opportunity, but all theology classes should jump at the chance to ignite the passion for social justice that many teens have within them.

Kony 2012 in School

About the Kony 2012 Campaign

The Kony 2012 campaign is an effort by a non-profit organization called Invisible Children. Invisible Children, Inc. organizes programs in Uganda in opposition to the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army). They "use film, creativity, and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony's rebel war and restore LRA-affected communities in central Africa to peace and prosperity."

It is clear from the video that Invisible Children has been at work for years leading up to the Kony 2012 campaign and in a large part the video tells their story.

The Invisible Children launched the Kony 2012 campaign as a worldwide effort to fight against the LRA and Joseph Kony. The video outlines a vision for a campaign that will inspire many teens, young people, and adults to join a movement.

The Controversy Over the Viral Video

As with any viral piece of content, there comes controversy. Critics of the campaign quickly pointed out that Invisible Children only dedicated 32% of their $8.6 million in funds to services in northern Uganda. It is unclear at this point what the organization will do with the $5 million dollars in funds it raised just 48 hours after the film's release.

Others have pointed out that the problems in Uganda and many other parts of Africa extend far beyond one individual. Kony is just one man and to pin all of Africa's problems on him is to do an injustice to the cause. Some even say that there are worse criminals than Kony and worse threats than the weakening Lord's Resistance Army. The fact that the LRA does not actually reside in Uganda anymore is a big point of contention.

The following articles help illustrate these points:

Still others point out that the issues are much more complicated than they appear in the video. cleared up some of the facts in their recent article.

The Invisible Children Response

Showing their wisdom in the digital age, Invisible Children were quick to respond to criticisms with a prominently displayed webpage addressing their critiques. There they respond to all the criticisms in this article as well as many others that have been circulated around the web.

How to Teach with the Kony 2012 Video

Activity 1: Watch the Video as a Class

So that all of your students are on the same page, set aside 30 minutes to watch the video either on YouTube or Vimeo.

Questions to answer while they watch the video:

  1. According to the video, why wouldn't the government get involved in the conflict in Uganda?

  2. According to the video, what did Invisible Children do to help people in Uganda?

  3. Even though the United States authorized forces to be sent to Uganda, why did Invisible Children decide to start this new Kony 2012 campaign?

  4. What are the goals of the Kony 2012 campaign?

  5. What strategies are the Invisibible Children using to make Joseph Kony famous?

  6. According to the video, what would motivate the government to act?

  7. What will happen on April 20, 2012?

  8. What three things can you do right now to support the campaign?

Activity 2: Class Discussion

Discussion questions to raise after watching the video:

  1. Do you think this campaign can work? Why or why not?
  2. Why would the United States government be so resistant to helping people in Africa? Can you justify this type of foreign poicy?
  3. If you could make a similar video for another cause, what elements of the video would you repeat?
  4. Why is it so much easier today to spread an idea like Kony 2012 than it was years ago? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Activity 3: Take Action

The video proposes three actions you can take right now to help the campaign. What other actions can we take to fight this or another social issue?

Activity 4: Research the Claims of the Video

The Kony 2012 video has been criticized for a number of reasons. Research the criticisms floating around the web and read the Invisible Children's response. What critiques are legitimate and which are unfounded? Divide a piece of paper into two halves. On the left write "Critiques" and the left write "Response." Use this sheet to take notes on at least 3 critiques of the campaign.

Activity 5: Debating the Reliability of the Video

If there is time in class, hold a class debate. Assign each of the critiques to one group of students and the responses to another group of students. Have the student sit on opposing sides of the room and debate the issues. Give the students a ball to hold when they talk. When they are finished making their points, they may lightly toss the ball to a student on the opposing side who would like to respond.

Activity 6: Research the Catholic Perspective

There is a rich history of the Church's teaching on social justice. Have students find quotes from Church documents that relate to the fight against Joseph Kony and the LRA starting with the following websites:

Other resources:

The Work of Catholic Relief Services in Uganda

February 1, 2012

Activities to Help Students Prepare for Lent

Activities to Prepare for Lent
The season of Lent always come so fast! Before we can really get the Christmas season out of our minds, it's time to begin our Lenten fasts.

We're probably all a little guilty of waiting to the last minute to declare our Lenten commitments for the year. Prepare your students for Lent and Ash Wednesday by getting them to think about their Lenten commitments ahead of time.

Lenten Preparation Activities

Reflect on Fasting, Prayer, and Almsgiving

The three pillars of Lent are fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. These critical practices during Lent are taken from the traditional Ash Wednesday reading from Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18. Give the students some time to reflect on the ways in which they can live out these practices during Lent. Brainstorm as a group the many different ways teenagers can practice fasting, prayer, and almsgiving in a special way.

Create Lenten Journals

One way to track progress during Lent is to use a Lenten journal. These journals could be created in class or purchased at a store. To create Lenten journals in class:

  1. Take ten sheets of notebook paper and fold them in half.
  2. Place the ten sheets inside a folded piece of printer paper that will act as the cover.
  3. Staple the booklet together at the middle of the page.
  4. Label the top of each sheet with each of the forty days of Lent (excluding Sundays).
  5. Decorate the covers.

Students can update these journals each day of Lent either in the classroom or at home. You can also have the students journal responses to the many Lenten guided reflections here at the Engaging Faith blog:

Integrate and Introduce Some Technology

Encourage students to use technology to set reminders for themselves about living up to their Lenten commitments.

Discuss the different ways that they remember to do things: checklists, calendars, planners, emails, to do lists, smart phones etc. For example, they might set a reminder (or an alarm) on their phones to remind them of their Lenten committment or add a reminder in their digital calendars.

They could also use services like 21 Habit (and add a challenge twice!) or Gonna Try to set reminders for themselves as motivation to carry out their new habits (or break habits). Another option might be to explore goal-setting software or apps like 42 Goals.

The options are pretty limitless, but make sure the students think through a reminder system in preparation for Lent.

May God strengthen us all this Lent!

December 22, 2011

Celebrate the Christmas Season!

Enjoy your time off with your family and friends this holiday season, but come back ready to share the joy of Christmas after the break is over! In the Catholic liturgical calendar, Christmas begins on Christmas Eve night and extends to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The "twelve days of Christmas" last from Christmas to the feast of the Epiphany, but the season actually extends to the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.

What a great opportunity to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas: Emmanuel, God-is-with-us!

So get excited about sharing the Christmas joy with your students when you return (but don't feel like you have to play those Christmas songs anymore!)

Engaging Faith Christmas Resources for Teachers

If you're looking for ideas, try these Engaging Faith Christmas resources:

Christmas Break Homework Assignments

Christmas Prayer Service for Peace

Infancy Narratives Assignment

Prayer for the Holy Innocents

Happy New Year: Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Comparing Accounts of Jesus' Baptism

American Saints and Blesseds: Elizabeth and Seton (January 4) and John Neumann (January 5)

St. André Bessette: The First Holy Cross Saint (January 6)

Merry Christmas from all of us at Ave Maria Press!

Celebrate the Christmas Season

Image courtesy of midiman.

November 14, 2011

Introduction to Using Tumblr in the Classroom

I know what you are thinking: "Tumblr?! We're just figuring out Facebook for the classroom and now we have to figure out another social network? No way!"

I know, I is a lot to ask. It is so tough to stay on top of the ever changing and new technologies. But the fact is as more and more adults get on Facebook, less and less teenagers will spend their time on there. Facebook becomes less cool with every mom posting her latest Farmville update.

So many teens have headed over to other social networks and blogging platforms like Tumblr. In fact, I was shocked by these numbers from a recent Nielsen report.

Based on the amount of time people spend on each social network or blogging platform, Tumblr ranks #3:

The Growth of Tumblr:

Teens and Tumblr

How does Tumblr stack up against the other social media sites for younger ages?

The percentage may seem small compared to the other groups, but when you consider 2-17 actually only includes around 13-17 year olds or a span of five years, the percentage is striking.

Teens love Tumblr because of the amount of customization they can create. Their Facebook profiles look like everyone else's profile, but their Tumblr pages uniquely suit them. Consider what venture capitalist, Fred Wilson, said (source

“My daughter came home from college on Thursday night and showed me all of her friend’s Tumblrs. All the cool kids have them at her school now. Had nothing to do with me. I can assure you of that. They use Facebook as a utility. They check Facebook when they wake up and check it before they go to bed. But their profile on Facebook looks just like everyone’s profile. A Tumblr is self expression.”

Using Tumblr in the Classroom

I am pretty active on social media sites. I love Twitter (@jareddees) and I'm now all about Google+ (+Jared Dees), but I haven't quite figured out Tumblr. I joined the service about a year ago and didn't touch it until preparing for this article. I did some experimentation and research to offer some tips below for using the service for educational purposes. You can see what I have posted recently on my Tumblog:

Consider incorporating Tumblr into the classroom in the following ways:

Questions and Answers

In Tumblr, you can ask a question that anyone can answer. Students can go on and answer your questions to give you a quick idea of how well they learned material or to assess prior knowledge.


One of the most unique features of Tumbrl is reblogging. Reblogging is a simple way to share great ideas from other people's Tumblr blogs. If you like the content and want to reshare it, just click the reblog button.

Using Tags

Like Twitter, Google+, and blogs you can add tags to your posts. Create a unique tag (#mrdoeassignment1) and have students post information related to that topic or question. Gather and discuss the various links, quotes, videos, etc. in class and discuss the most meaningful and helpful information.

Share Music

Students can share music about a certain topic. Have them search for or upload songs related to a topic you are discussing. Other students in the class can experience and comment on the music themselves. You can also have them upload Christian music for meditation or praise and worship during class.

Create a Class Blog

Although I haven't done this yet, you can create a group blog using Tumblr. Mashable gives a good tutorial on this. I can see multiple classes or sections of a course you teach sharing content between one another. You could turn this into a fun group project as well.

Getting Started with Tumblr

It is easy and free to sign-up, but it takes a little while to "get it." Get to know the tools by:

  1. Sign up
  2. Go to your Dashboard.
  3. Click "Explore Tumblr"
  4. Click on the Education tag and scroll through and start following and reblogging people's content.
  5. Click on a tag like #edtech or #teachers to see what people are sharing. Or go for a religious theme like #Catholic.

At the very least you are bound to find some new kinds of content and teaching advice from the educational community on Tumblr.

Warning: Like any social network, sexual content can be an issue. There are unfortunate posts with inappropriate images on Tumblr that can be found while exploring the various Tumblogs.

October 25, 2011

Prophets Lesson Plan

A very large portion of the Old Testament focuses on the lives and messages of the prophets. The prophets played a very important and influential role in the history of Israel and the development of the Jewish people. They voiced a constant reminder from Yahweh that his people must worship the one, true God and treat others with dignity and respect.

Old Testament Prophets Lesson Plan

Lesson Objectives: Prophets Lesson Plan

  • SWBAT list the eighteen prophetic books of the Old Testament.
  • SWBAT categorize the prophets as major/minor and northern kingdom/southern kingdom.


Prophets Matching Quiz

Teaching Approaches:

1. Bell Work: Directed Reading Guide

2. SMART Board Activity (or Prophetic Worksheets)
Using the Prophets SMARTBoard Notebook presentation or the PDF prophets worksheet version of the activities, address the following questions:

  • How many prophetic books are in the Bible? (18)
  • To what do the terms "major" and "minor" refer? (the length, not the importance, of the prophetic books)
  • Who were the "major" prophets? (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, [Daniel])
  • Who were the "minor" prophets? (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)
  • Who were the prophets of the northern kingdom? (Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Hosea)
  • Who were the prophets of the southern kingdom? (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah)
  • Who were the postexilic prophets in Judah (southern kingdom)? (Zechariah, Haggai, Isaiah (3rd), Joel, Malachi, Zechariah, Jonah)
    3. Create Matching Quizzes
    To memorize the categories for each prophet, have the students create matching quizzes on blank notebook paper. Have them create an answer key on a separate sheet of paper. After 10-15 minutes, allow the students to exchange their quizzes with a partner. Repeat the process as time allows.

4. Verbal Check
Check the students' ability to categorize the prophets. Say the name of a prophet and have the students show who the prophet is in the following ways:

  • stand if the prophet is a major prophet
  • sit if the prophet is a minor prophet
  • raise a hand pointing to the sky if the prophet is from the northern kingdom
  • point to the ground if the prophet is from the southern kingdom
  • point behind yourself if the prophet is from postexilic Judah

After students have shown sufficient evidence that they know the categories of each prophet, distribute the quiz.

5. Assessment: Matching Quiz
Give students the opportunity to show their knowledge in the Prophets Matching Quiz (PDF or Word versions). Note that the final question can use some of the names on the front of the sheet, but will require students to know the prophetic books that are not listed.

Answers: 1. A, 2. B, 3. B. 4. B, 5. B, 6. A, 7. A, 8. B, 9. B, 10. B, 11. A, 12. C, 13. A, 14. C, 15. B, 16. B, 17. A, 18. B, 19. A, 20. C, 21-22. the length, not the importance, of the prophetic books, 23-40. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Amos, Nahum, Hosea, Habakkuk, Micah, Zephaniah, Joel, Haggai, Jonah, Zechariah, Obadiah, Malachi, Lamentations, Baruch.

October 11, 2011

SMART Board Tutorial Video: Teaching Vocabulary

Most teachers use PowerPoint as the backbone of their direct instruction. Like me, many of these teachers didn't understand the true potential of the SMART Board when they first got one in their classrooms. IF you have a SMART Board, I'm challenging you to use the SMART Board Notebook software to step up your teaching and move beyond PowerPoint lectures.

SMART Boards are equipped with interactive tools to teach basic concepts and lessons.

Take vocabulary for instance. Those of you who have used the SMART Board Notebooks for Jesus Christ's God's Revelation to the World, will notice a few pages with a list of vocabulary definitions. If you click on the vocabulary word, its definition will appear beside it. How do you create something like this for yourself?

SMART Board Video Tutorial: Vocabulary align=

SMART Board Tutorial: Vocabulary Words and Definitions

  1. Type out the vocabulary word and definition as separate objects.

  2. Clone (or copy and paste) the vocabulary word and move it out of the way.

  3. Group the vocabulary word and its definition.

  4. Add object animation: "Fade In" to the grouped word and definition.

  5. Align the cloned vocabulary word over the grouped vocabulary word so that it looks like a single object.

  6. Send the visible vocabulary word to the back. You will still be able to see it, but when you click over it, you will actually be clicking on the invisible grouped version of the word.

  7. Click on the vocabulary word to reveal its definition.

Video Tutorial:

September 27, 2011

Respect Life Month Teaching Resources

Respect Life Month Teaching ResourcesThe month of October is Respect Life Month. When we hear "respect life," most of us immediately think of the pro-life movement to end abortion. This is a key cause to support during October (and all year round!). But Respect Life Month is also meant to remind us of the issues of capital punishment, euthanasia, contraception, and respect for those with disabilities.

September 28 begins the 40 Days for Life campaign that coincides with Respect Life month and ends on November 6. The three components of 40 Days for Life are:

  1. Prayer and Fasting
  2. Peaceful Vigil
  3. Community Outreach

General Respect Life Month Teaching Resources:

USCCB Website
This list of resources includes the Respect Life Sunday Statement, pamphlets, bulletins, liturgy guide, posters, flyer, clip art, and additional program activities. Check out the old USCCB website for past Pro-life Activities.
This teen-friendly website provides great talking points for discussion in class. Have the students explore the resources on their own or in class. Have them create a mock conversation that they might have with a classmate considering abortion. How would they explain to them the resources that can be found on the site?

Right to Life Michigan: Teacher Resources
This collection of resources provides teachers with materials to use in class at many age levels.

Pro-life Activities
Great list of pro-life activities for children that may be useful for teens as well.
40 Days for Life Teaching Resources

40 Days for Life Teaching Resources:

40 Days for Life Website This is THE home of the 40 Days for Life campaign. Explore the many valuable resources and share them with the students throughout the campaign. The resources include:

Teaching Resources from Ave Maria Press

Discussing President Obama's Embryonic Stem Cell Order
The Catholic response to the 2009 executive order that allows stem cell research using embryonic stem cells.

Prayer for the Holy Innocents
Background to the Feast of the Holy Innocents and a prayer for the unborn.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Prayer for the Unborn
Overview of the 36th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the U.S. and a prayer for the unborn.

Living and Dying on Death Row Lesson
Short lesson plan for reading an article about living and dying on death row.

« Older Posts

High School eNewsletter
Receive bi-weekly lessons, links, tips and more in our Email Newsletter

Resources Archive