By Benjamin Gross
Director of Ed Tech at HAFTR
How many of us heard the words of the above headline when we were growing up? These professions made successes of many Jewish individuals. The common thread throughout the years, which has helped shape our overall success, is our commitment to educate every Jewish child. Torah, the original textbook, gives us an understanding of the fundamentals of educational significance. This educational foundation allowed Jews to help shape politics, financial institutions, war, and social-justice reform.
We live in a society that is about entrepreneurship, startups, and technology. Are we doing our job properly to prepare our students for the future? Sixty percent of today’s kindergarten students will be working in fields that do not yet exist. It is our obligation to get this generation ready for a big change.
A few years ago, HAFTR decided the slow and steady approach to technology integration would produce the most substantial results. It was not about the technology, but about what we do better educationally for our students to prepare them for the future. This approach helped us build a Jewish day school that is academically driven for success, but utilizes technology to help facilitate learning.
Our students, from pre-K through 12, are learning how to use Microsoft Office, Google Docs, apps, and iPads, in addition to computer programming, engineering, 3‑D printing, and gamification. We have begun to fully immerse our school in a STEM initiative that starts from four-year-old nursery and continues to the day they apply for college.
Our approach enables students to become facilitators in the classroom, along with the teacher. In the past, teachers struggled with questions like, “How do we keep them interested?” Or “How will they remember the curriculum?” With these new creative conduits, we can help the teachers engage students while giving them the foundational skills they will need to succeed in the future. Computer programming is a logic-based language, and so is Gemara. 3‑D printing requires math-based skills for measurements and drafting. Engineering helps our students to work on problem-solving skills, an important tool needed in science.
Most important is our ability to educate and support our teachers to fully use these cutting-edge tools in their curriculum. This year, we are fortunate to have partnered with The Jewish Education Project to create a robust professional development initiative. Instead of asking teachers to come in early or stay late, we created a program that will allow them to have professional-development time during the day, without missing class time. We also created a new position for an educator to facilitate once-a-week professional-development group sessions. We worked on our scheduling to accommodate all teachers so they do not have the pressure of missing a beat in the classroom.
Jewish day schools across the country are in an opportune position. We are not tied down to all of the government-enforced rules regarding education. There is wiggle room to create change. I invite you to come see for yourself. It is special to watch kindergarten students learn the alphabet with augmented reality. Fifth-graders create robots. Seventh-graders learn Judaic studies with advanced educational apps. Sophomores 3‑D-print a part to be utilized in a walking stick to assist the blind, and seniors take a class in entrepreneurship to help them prepare for the future. Please come see what we have created. It is time we prepare our students for a future that is vastly different from the one we were brought up to expect.