The Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and the Rockaways started its STEM program — focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics — three years ago in order to produce more engaged students who are better prepared for 21st-century jobs.
With help from the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education, the Lawrence school is expanding the program for the upcoming school year, while introducing new STEM classes for all middle school students.
Benjamin Gross, HAFTR’s director of educational technology and STEM innovation, said the program helps students develop the skills they will need in a working world skewed toward technology and engineering.
“We have an opportunity to teach students skills that will make them successes in the future,” Gross said. “We want to give them skills that will be essential to their careers in the future.”
Collaborating with CIJE, HAFTR has implemented STEM programs for every grade from kindergarten through high school. Even elementary school students learn the basics of engineering, robotics and computer science, which are embedded in the lower school’s curriculum. After a successful pilot program this year, which exposed students to rocket design and launching, the new program at the middle school will include drone engineering, rockets and wearable technology, building on previously acquired skills. “It’s amazing to watch a kindergarten student sit there and tell you what an algorithm is,” Gross said.
STEM education continues through high school, with a two-year engineering sequence that includes a course for freshmen on scientific engineering and one for sophomores on biomedical engineering. Both courses culminate with a STEM fair at HAFTR, in which more than 600 students from 26 schools competed this past school year. The event gives them the opportunity to demonstrate their working robotic, electronic or biomedical products and prototypes. The hope is that it will inspire them to continue their scientific and technological pursuits.
CIJE raises funds and accepts donations for STEM curriculu. It oversees initiatives at more than 150 Jewish day schools of all denominations nationwide, and provides faculty mentors, textbooks, equipment and workshops, all in an effort to bolster students’ skill. “What we really want to teach them is skills — scientific inquiry and skills they can apply in all academic fields,” said Judy Leibowitz, CIJE’s director and vice president.
The organization also sponsors several innovative programs, including Israeli-based Excellence 2000 robotics competitions and technology seminars for teachers.
More than 40 HAFTR teachers attended educational technology classes this summer at the Lawrence campus, and learned how to incorporate technology in the classroom.
“The students feel very empowered,” said HAFTR Bible teacher Nechama Landau. “It’s very nice that we’re giving them other ways to learn.” Landau added that technology in the classroom has helped engage less academically inclined students.
Plans to further expand the school’s STEM program include a new, two-floor technology lab in the high school as well as more advanced. “The purpose of our STEM initiative is to foster a love of science, technology, engineering and math in our students while also building the critical skills they will need to be successful in an ever-changing workforce,” said middle school Principal Joshua Gold. “We’re excited for our students to have the opportunity to engage in this kind of inquiry-driven work that promotes hard skills such as robot programming, navigation and rocket launch engineering, while also cultivating the soft skills of communication and collaboration.”
Baruch Glaubach, who has a child at the school and whose wife, Ariel, attended HAFTR as well, said he appreciates what the students are being exposed to, especially the emphasis on applying skills to solve problems. “It’s fantastic,” Glaubach said. “Our future is the education of our children, and it would be a shame if we don’t take advantage of this opportunity.”
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