By Matthew Bellas
Upon leaving ISTE, one of my goals was to develop authentic means to incorporate more STEM into our academic program across the disciplines, including both Hebrew and Judaic Studies. For our school’s first two years with a formal STEM initiative, the primary focus had been on “one-off” programs, conceived, planned, and executed primarily by our STEM specialist and with facilitation by our faculty. These events brought tremendous energy into the school for participation in activities in the core STEM disciplines. However, they were not emergent from the curriculum which the school had invested great effort and resources into building, and investment among faculty not primarily engaged in the sciences and tech was low. Therefore, the questions I asked our educational leadership team to consider were:
- How could we better integrate STEM experiences and studies into the everyday life and learning of the school?
- How could we accomplish the same positively charged learning atmosphere in the classrooms without setting aside “special days” for STEM experiences?
- How could we achieve more comprehensive integration of all subject matters, including Hebrew and Judaic Studies and the Arts, into the STEM-driven plans that we make?
We hit the ground running last fall with new ideas that promoted more authentic and comprehensive integration, while maintaining the charged energy for learning. However, the key to our success thus far has been identifying avenues for meaningful engagement with Judaic topics specifically. These are a couple of the best examples of work and projects that we have initiated. Inspired by cardboard STEM challenges, we created a “Cardboard Sukkah Challenge” during which students were required to design sukkot that were aligned with kosher sukkah laws while putting into practice math and engineering skills. Students also wrote reflections, in both Hebrew and English, on the building experience and how the Next Generation Science Standard of “Cause & Effect” was at play during the design and building process.