Jewish day schools are known for having a welcoming community, teaching Jewish values, and nurturing the whole child. But today, Jewish day schools are gaining a reputation for cutting-edge STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education programs aimed at preparing the future Einsteins of the world.
In fact, four of the Chicago area's top independent schools -- Akiba Schechter Jewish Day School, Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, Chicago Jewish Day School, and Solomon Schechter Day School -- are creating a new equation for student achievement through the power of STEM education.
These schools are part of the Discover Jewish Day Schools' multi-year initiative, funded locally by the Crown Family, and managed by PRIZMAH: Center for Jewish Day Schools. The initiative -- working in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago -- aims to arm Jewish families with information about STEM.
Dr. Eliezar Jones, the new head of school at Akiba Schechter in Hyde Park, believes STEM education teaches children the critical skills needed to navigate a global and connected world. Recently, Akiba Schechter created an R&D (Research and Development) Lab -- the first-of-its-kind for Jewish day schools -- from a Jewish Education Innovation Challenge. Faculty members use the lab to incubate and test new ideas in education. Jones wants the R&D Lab to become a template for other schools and his teachers to become known design thinking and innovation.
At Solomon Schechter in Northbrook, a new Innovation Studio creates a space for students to collaborate and experiment -- using 3D printers, green screens, and more. "When students walk into the Innovation Studio, they become architects, project managers, artists, problem solvers, critical tinkers, collaborators, teachers, and graphic designers," said Debbie Harris, Solomon Schechter's director of Education Technology.
In East Lakeview, Bernard Zell's M'Kom Drisha is a new, state-of-the-art science lab, where coding and circuitry classes take place across all grade levels. M'Kom Drisha, Hebrew for "a place of exploration," features 3D printers, a Vertical Garden, and a Tinkering Messy Zone for experiments. Bernard Zell students also collaborate with cutting-edge science organizations including a cyber learning program at the Learning Science Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
At Chicago Jewish Day School (CJDS) in Irving Park, students are learning coding on iPads as early as first grade. The integrated educational approach at CJDS infuses STEM education throughout the curriculum. The inquiry-based approach encourages curiosity, questioning, and critical thinking that connects STEM education and Judaism to the everyday world. Project-based learning integrates math skills during in a Rainforest Unit. Last year, one middle school student developed a scheduling app that is used by CJDS teachers and students.
Albert Einstein famously said, "The important thing is to not stop questioning." The tradition of questioning has been the foundation of Jewish study for generations. Today, Jewish day schools students are able to take questioning the world to the next level through the help of these programs.
As Bernard Zell science instructional leader Beth Sanzenbacher puts it: "We try to develop the inherent wonder and curiosity that all students have within them to better understand and develop questions about our world and universe."
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Traci Stratford is the Financial Vitality Program Manager and School Advocate for PRIZMAH: Center for Jewish Day Schools.