The 21st century classroom is changing. More and more schools have “maker spaces,” in which students can build, engineer and test the limits of their creativity. The acronym STEM, (science, technology, engineering and math education) has gained a foothold not just within the pedagogical lexicon of innovative schools but also in widespread practice. Across the country, teachers and administrators are taking steps to advance the learning spaces of their students and each school day brings a new opportunity to move platforms forward.
So where do Jewish Day Schools fit into this exciting wave of digital learning? One need not look any further than JCDSRI, the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island, for an excellent answer.
Since January 2014, JCDSRI has been in partnership with STEAM, a club whose members come from Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, with the intention of supplementing school pedagogy and teaching elementary school age kids how to collaborate and construct. In addition to a JCDSRI design lab where kids integrate building and creating into their education, students at this school also learn how to incorporate art and aesthetics into the engineering and technical projects typically associated with STEM learning. At JCDSRI, the project is called KinderSTEAM.
JCDSRI is a progressive school, notes Adam Tilove, Head of School, where the teacher is the “guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.” This approach to education, Tilove said, meshes very well with the interactive design mentality; both are “about having the highest respect for people even if they are really young. Kids are coming in, not as blank slates but as intelligent, thoughtful individuals who want to be successful. In other words, we are making different assumptions about what kids can do.”
“Design fits with our mission,” said Adam Tilove, Head of School at JCDSRI. “Makerspaces operate under the premise of, let’s start with making something. STEAM starts with the underlying subject matter. But with human centered design, we start with the human being and build from there. It fits with the Jewish mission, building upon our common humanity.”
As examples of the school’s design lab work, Tilove added, the youngest kids in school read a story about a bird, and then attempted to design nests and birdhouses in a way to support birds’ needs: “It’s responding to literature in an active way.”
Similarly, he said, two years ago, the design lab was used to re-create Noah’s Ark. “They read the dimensions and they built different versions of it… and it looked very different from what we’d imagined,” Tilove laughed. The students then took their cardboard prototypes to the local JCC pool and floated them off. Another time, the students read a mishnah about Hanukkah, and they discussed whether the hanukkiah should have eight candles or one big one. Then they staged a hanukkiyah “build-off.”
Students at JCDSRI have the opportunity to design things using simple circuitry, copper wire and LED lights, as well as to utilize more basic materials like cardboard, markers, paper and tape in creative ways.
The school’s involvement in the design movement came about as overflow from a casual business meeting. Tilove read about a young local designer, found him on Twitter and took him out to lunch. The designer came to class and had fun playing games with the students. Soon thereafter, Tilove said, he received an email from Brown University, saying, “something along the lines of, ‘I hear you’re doing great things – can we collaborate with you?’”
Now, each JCDSRI class has an opportunity each week to go into the design lab. The experience of having a makerspace as part of the curriculum, Tilove said, has been “universally positive.”
“Design thinking,” he added, has been a paradigm shift in the culture of his school: “We’re all more willing to collaborate and work with each other, and listen to each other. And that’s directly because of the design lab.”
‘Kids want to build,” he said. “Building is joyous. It’s amazing to see something that you created, even if it’s silly and sloppy. You created something out of nothing and there it is in three dimensions. It’s exciting.” And Design lab education, is accessible to any school, no matter what their financial situation may be. “You don’t need that much,” Tilove said. “You need time on the schedule. You need a teacher who can be present, and you need faith and trust in children and their innate creativity and imagination. You need cardboard.
“What kids want is to rip cardboard apart,” Tilove laughed. “Don’t overthink it and don’t overspend. You want kids to create and build? Give them stuff they can break and mess up.”
Tilove is currently working with Brown and RISD to develop a useable, portable curriculum to share with other schools who want in on the design lab phenomenon: “our own proprietary design thinking process.”
Their vision is tikkun by design, which suggests that design thinking is a version of tikkun olam. “We are using our human resources to think about the needs of others and make their lives better,” he explained.
“We are trying to really enrich the curriculum, and make it something to share with other schools,” Tilove said. “It’s not a super-easy process. But that’s our dream.”
“There are people out there who are educating their hearts as we speak. They’re getting on with the work, they’re loving their kids, they’re loving their students, they’re loving their communities. We must retrain our vision toward those people—we must develop eyes to see and ears to hear where that love is already happening—that is worth our energy and our care and our time, to tend that love, to show that love ourselves.”
—Krista Tippett, Founder and CEO, The On Being Project
“There are just two outcomes that really matter: First, that students feel Judaism is the fertile ground in which they get nurtured to grow, and second, that they find Judaism joyful.” Rabbi Joy Levitt, Executive Director, JCC Manhattan
"Civil discourse requires us to listen generously and to act as though—and to really believe—we could be open to persuasion. We each may think: 'I did not cause this situation, I am not to blame.' Yet we each have the capacity to help society turn the corner, if we honestly ask what went wrong and what we can do about it."
- Martha Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University and Joseph William Singer, Bussey Professor of Law, Harvard University
The Wow Metric of Success: Jewish Life in Bloom on the Farm: Spring has arrived, and the Jewish community is busy planting with purpose. In Vaughan, Ontario, the yellow coltsfoot and purple-blue scilla are just starting to flower at the Kavanah Garden, a half acre community garden that’s part of Shoresh, the Canadian-based Jewish environmental organization that includes the Kavanah Garden and Bela Farm. Last Sunday, on “Yom Manual Labor” volunteers gathered to turn the soil, plant seeds, paint outdoor tables and participate in construction projects with the Shoresh team, preparing the garden for growing season.
“Our Jewish community is only as strong as its ability to include all members in the fabric of Jewish life. Doing so helps each of us recognize the unique strengths we all bring to the Jewish community, and that community cannot possibly be complete until we actively and intentionally welcome each other.”
-Meredith Englander Polsky, 2017 Covenant Award Recipient, Director of Institutes and Training, Matan, and Developmental Support Coordinator, Temple Beth Ami Nursery School
“From all of my teachers, I have grown wise.” Psalms 119:99. Framing Jewish Education, a project of The Jewish Lens and supported by The Covenant Foundation, was created to engage teachers, students, and families in conversation about the value of Jewish education and to illustrate the power of great teaching and learning via a curriculum based on visual literacy and text.
“For me, study is a divine and daily imperative; I study a page of Talmud daily so that I am not only teaching. My teaching is constantly being fed by my learning.” —Erica Brown Associate Professor, George Washington School of Education and Human Development. Director, Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, 2009 Covenant Award Recipient
The Covenant Classroom means something different to every educator but common goals are to motivate, engage and be inclusive of all learners. In this volume, we’ve collected an array of Teachings on Inspiration and Motivation in all areas of Education.
#ThankATeacher It has been twenty-five years since The Covenant Foundation first opened its doors, and we continue to be humbled by extraordinary Jewish educators from across North America and across the spectrum of Jewish life who have devoted their careers and considerable talents to the field of Jewish education. Now, in celebration of a quarter-century-old tradition of honoring Jewish education and educators, and to kick off a year of public engagement around great teaching, we’re proud to share The Covenant Foundation voices app with you: a new digital way to give and share your gratitude.
“What would it look like if we bet on Jewish early childhood education for the long-term, as our tradition instructs? The task might seem large, but the reward, we know, is great (Pirkei Avot 2:15).”
“Countless leaders have been inspired by the story of the Jewish people leaving bondage in Egypt – those whose names we know, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and those whose names we never will know, whose every-day acts of kindness and resistance fuel social change. This story, our story, has become a cornerstone of modern social justice work.”
—Abby Levine, Director of The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
This is how I see a “Covenant Classroom”: a place where challenging topics are passionately discussed; a place where complex ancient texts are grappled with; a place in which self- esteem grows, and motivation to learn increases exponentially because of it. An environment in which each Jewish soul is given the confidence to continue the eternal search for meaning.”
—Dr. Sandra Ostrowicz Lilienthal, Curriculum Developer and Instructor at The Rose and Jack Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education of Broward County and 2015 Covenant Award Recipient
“When powerful, new approaches to learning are introduced through digital tools, meaningful disruptions occur along the way… When this happens, new approaches which previously seemed inaccessible, are suddenly within reach.”
—Barry Joseph, Associate Director for Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives, American Museum of Natural History
“The future of Jewish teen engagement can in fact be found in 3D printers, and in text-people, and in service, and outdoor education, and in anything that brings teens into contact with authentic learning experiences and passionate, caring, knowledgeable educators.”
—Charlie Schwartz, Senior Jewish Educator, Director, BIMA & Genesis, Brandeis High School Programs
Portal seems like a particularly apt metaphor for entry points into Jewish life and learning because ultimately we want those experiences to be deeply experiential and transformative. We also want them to be accessible. A portal has no toll; passage is free. At the same time, a portal is particularistic, not a generic entrance. It conveys a sense of magic, ritual, and power. Similarly, we want to convey that Jewish life is rich, layered, and meaningful beyond what is immediately apparent. We want the encounter with Jewish life to take you on a journey that is profound and surprising. And, given that each of us may enter through the same portal but have a completely different experience of what is on the other "side," the possibilities are endless.
— Judith Rosenbaum, Executive Director, The Jewish Women’s Archive
"We need a new kind of creativity in the classroom that’s going to reach Jewish kids… If a teacher is imaginative, he or she is going to connect to students’ hearts and souls.”
—Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary, Board Member, The Covenant Foundation.
"There are four types of students... The sponge absorbs everything. The funnel brings in on one side lets it out the other. The strainer lets out the wine and retains the lees. The sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour." —Pirkei Avot 5:15
"There’s a misconception that a venture must depend on large grants from big donors. It makes more sense and it’s more sustainable to test out an idea, and see whether it has the opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives."
— Ariel Beery, founder, PresenTense
I think [creating new Jewish texts] is a really good description of what we’re trying to do. These days we’re increasingly creating products that are intended to be shared on the web. We’ve felt and continue to feel that this medium, and virtual communication as a whole, is being under-tapped for its possibilities for making art.
— Reflections from Sam Ball on the New Jewish Filmmaker Project