Program Profile: CATS Academy Uses Technology to Boost Student Learning

At CATS (Collectively Aiming Towards Success) Academy 21st CCLC in Christopher Unit School District 99, technology supports nearly all aspects of learning and enrichment. It enhances research and projects but also provides a vehicle for students to create and express themselves.

Afterschool enrichment often includes Webquest activities, where students are given an inquiry-based task and then given access to online resources to complete the task. Because the activities are grounded in real-world problems, students have the opportunity to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Other 21st CCLC activities incorporate technology as a form of exploration and traveling the world. For example, students learning Spanish use Google Maps to explore Spanish-speaking countries, visiting landmarks and learning about the terrain. They also participate in virtual field trips, investigating ecosystems and visiting museums around the world. When students commemorated the September 11 attacks, they took a virtual tour of the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Since few of the students have visited the memorial, the virtual visit provided an opportunity to learn more about the attacks and discuss their impact on the immediate community, the country, and the world.

CATS Academy students are not just consumers of technology; they also use it to develop content. When the 21st CCLC began an anti-bullying campaign, students created and edited “kindness videos” as part of the project. They recorded brief video clips discussing the importance of kindness and acts of kindness and then edited them together with a soundtrack. Other students, who are fans of video games, have turned their attention to programming games, learning to code with CS First and Scratch

Community partners also integrate technology into programming. For example, the West Franklin Area Historical Society has provided volunteers to support genealogy groups in CATS Academy. Students have learned to research their ancestry using the Historical Society’s online resources. The 21st CCLC has extended this use of technology to family events, offering similar genealogical research opportunities for families.

The 21st CCLC transitioned to virtual programming this spring, and the team relied on technology to provide enrichment and maintain contact with students. The CATS team used Google Meet video conferences both for enrichment and to check on student well-being. They are also developing plans to provide more support for parents in understanding Google Classroom tools that teachers are using to better understand what teachers and students are doing during remote instruction.

The CATS team embraces technology because the 21st CCLC leadership sees it as a crucial 21st century skill. “Everyone needs to be able to navigate through [the] endless amount of resources and be able to decipher what is useful and what is not,” says Program Director Tiffanie Hobbes. Hobbes notes that encouraging students to be comfortable with technology makes it easier for them to explore and create. “They aren’t afraid of getting in and exploring the options. Students dive right in where some of the adults are more hesitant.” CATS leadership fosters an environment where people are excited to learn by encouraging the use of technology among staff and students. Staff research and look for new resources to bring in. Hobbes has also consulted podcasts and the development of resources from education technology sites like Control Alt Achieve and Ditch That Textbook.

Students and staff alike have seen the benefits of integrating technology into enrichment activities. Hobbes notes that in addition to using the technology to expand their learning, students show more confidence in how they synthesize and present what they have learned. “I enjoy watching students research new ideas and places and then organize the information into a presentation,” says Hobbes. “Seeing a student that is not very comfortable in front of others show everyone their avatar and the new game they just created is empowering. Having them want to show you their drawing or the video they just made is exciting. Our success is bringing the excitement of learning to our students.”