Technology and engineering are becoming an increasingly important part of our daily lives. Smartphones have practically become an extension of ourselves. Three of the four companies with the largest market cap are technology companies. The omnipresence of technology is the new reality and it will relentlessly remain as such. Our children who are adept at moving in this world will be the ones who lead into the future
Seeing the success of Israel in technological innovation and recognizing the need to better train American students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), the Centers for Initiatives in Jewish Education (CIJE) began working in concert with Israel Sci-Tech in Tel Aviv to develop a curriculum for Jewish day schools predicated on an educational philosophy of learning by doing with the teachers acting simply as guides for student self-discovery.
This year the CIJE-Tech program expanded to the West Coast. At Shalhevet, the CIJE-Tech program has been a resounding success and clearly fills a pent-up demand. The school anticipated 8-10 students would be interested in taking an extra class on top of their dual curriculum schedules, but thirty freshman and and sophomores interviewed to be a part of the program resulting in the need to open up an additional section.
On the very first day, students at Shalhevet started working with LEGO robotics. After three classes, they had built a robot and learned how to write a computer program that allowed their robots to sense an obstacle and move away from it. Their teachers didn’t provide them step-by-step instructions, instead the students were guided figured out how to implement this themselves. Project-based learning and inquiry-based learning are words often thrown around in American education, but rarely are these truly implemented. CIJE-Tech is a program where the students are up to their elbows in technology from the very first day.
During the course of the fall semester, the participants have built Lego robots that autonomously move through a obstacle course with several stages. This required them to program the robot to transition between stages such as getting out of a box placed at random location within the box, navigating a line, and lifting a palette using only sensors. In addition, they have also learned the basics of electronics and sensor technology. In fact, during the course of the two-year program, they learn about electronics, sensors, robotics, biomechanical engineering, even how to used 3-D printers. But just as importantly, every project is done in teams which teaches the interpersonal skills required in today’s collaborative world.
Over the spring semester, the student teams will be building projects that they themselves have proposed. The projects range from a table that will follow a person, to a robotic hand that will respond to the movements of a human hand, to a device that will water a plant when it gets too dry, to other equally impressive projects.
“We have a dedicated group of freshman and sophomores who are willing to push themselves and take risks,” explained Dr. Jay Smallwood, who runs the program at Shalhevet. “As instructors, we love it, and even thought the class ends at 6:00 pm and the students have been in school since 8 am, we have to practically beg the students to put up their projects. It is an amazing to watch how absolutely engaged they are.”
Dr. Smallwood continued “We at Shalhevet are proud to be a part of the STEM vanguard in Jewish education and will continue to produce graduates that are technologically advanced while remaining grounded in Modern Orthodox values. We invite anyone who is interested in seeing this first-hand to stop by!”