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Introduction: We are excited to continue our popular Educator Spotlight series, and also to expand it to feature both classroom and office educators who are the heart of Gibbons. In doing so, we offer readers a glimpse of how Gibbons Educators care for and engage with students, forming them as men and women of faith, service, and leadership in church and community. So far this year we have spotlighted counselor Susan Ellis, Latin educator Whitney Crabbe, Director of Classroom and Educator Tech Support Rodolfo Argueta, English Educator Amy Rokita,  Math educator Chris Poisella, Dance Educator Brooks Owens, and Athletics Director Todd Schuler. Today, we spotlight Theology Educator Patricia Gallagher.

Pat Gallagher with her students in theology class.

Adorning the walls of Room 113 are such spiritual sayings as  ”Trust in the Lord with all your heart” that uplift and inspire you. So do the theology educators who make religion and faith come alive in novel ways for students in this room.

Pat Gallagher with student.

Patricia Gallagher is one of those educators. Early on a recent Tuesday morning, Gallagher, who has been teaching theology at Gibbons for 33 years, starts her freshman class by asking, “How is everyone?”  They nod and giggle, acknowledging the care shared between students and educator.

Gallagher then talks about the major project they are about to start - building a temple. Well, to be exact, she is asking them to use LEGOs to create full-scale, 3D replicas of an authentic Jewish temple during the time of Jesus.

It is, to be sure, a multi-part, hands-on, immersive project that sparks students’ imaginations and encourages intrinsic learning.  These ninth graders are intrigued by the challenge, evidenced by the excited voices that fill the room.

Assigned to work in small groups, the students must investigate the role the temple played in the lives of the Jewish people during the first century. How did the temple look? What happened in the temple?  Who used it?  Did people view it the way we view our parish or congregation?

The project is particularly important as we approach Lent. Why? By acting as architects, researchers, historians, and scholars, the students gain insights into Christ’s life, passion, death, and resurrection, as well as our Christian legacy, notes Gallagher.

Pat Gallagher teaching a theology class.

For the project, done in collaboration with the library staff, students conduct research, plan and design the temple, as well as prepare a presentation, including slides and blueprints. They also participate in a puzzle room experience, using the facts they learned to solve a mystery collectively. The three-week-long project places student learning on an ever-evolving basis and results in two models, each made with 1-2,000 LEGO pieces.

Gallagher also integrates technology into the project to foster greater participation and ensure students engage with their research. She, however, remains the students’ consummate guide throughout the project, taking them on a journey to the heart of our faith and discovering how different it is today.