At the Orlando Jewish Day School (OJDS), kindergarten students build their own flashlights by soldering wires, connecting light bulbs, and adding batteries to create complete circuits. Some first graders have been drawing plans for an electric menorah in time for the Chanukah holiday, while other students carefully dissect gadgets to tinker with parts and possibly invent something new.
These activities take place in the school’s Makerspace, a hands-on lab that encourages students to think like inventors and allows them to tinker with all types of technology in an effort to encourage critical thinking and self-directed learning. While the Makerspace is still new at the school, plans for the winter include teaching kids to code their own video games, build robots, and experiment with structure engineering.
“Our students love the Makerspace,” said Chani Konikov, the school’s director who founded OJDS in 1999. “It adds a 21st century twist to everything they are learning in class, in addition to developing their interest in STEM subjects (acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) that are so essential for a well-rounded education today.”
Emphasis on STEM subjects has been spearheaded by the Department of Education in response to the growing need for high school graduates who are prepared to be leaders in the fields of technology and engineering. The Maker movement has been spreading among communities and high schools, encouraging spaces where individuals can “play” creatively with technology and construction to make STEM subjects more accessible to mainstream students. Still Orlando Jewish Day School is one of the first elementary schools in Florida to incorporate a Makerspace for students as young as 5 years old.
“It fits perfectly with our school philosophy,” said Dini Druk, an on-staff educator who helped get the project underway. “We focus a lot on hands-on learning, and we have a record of exceeding the national standards in all subject areas. Putting our students face-to-face with cutting edge technology and allowing them to push their limits even further has been enriching both for the students and for us as a staff team.”
The technology doesn’t stay in the Makerspace. Through a carefully designed implementation system, students have begun using technology to create multimedia reports in literature class, digital science projects, and web-hosted extensions of art and music lessons.
“We believe that technology must enhance the curriculum, not replace it,” explained Konikov. “We don’t use our tablets to play games in class or to show educational videos; the students have plenty of time for that at home. We see technology as an added tool-kit; students can now create videos to express ideas that were previously portrayed only through writing. They can construct 3-D models with ease to demonstrate something they are learning in science class, and they are extending math skills by measuring and calculating the power of a circuit and the details of a program they are coding.”
According to the school’s administration, parents are thrilled with the idea. Students are coming home with gadgets they invented on their own, and most importantly, they are just can’t wait to get their hands on another math or science lesson. “Honestly, this is 21st century learning,” added Druk. “Exciting, enriching, empowering, and simply super-cool.”
Orlando Jewish Day School currently enrolls 50 students from preschool through grade 4, with a new grade being added every year. The school prides itself in providing student-centered education that is as academically rigorous as it is individualized and cutting-edge. Their newly renovated facility in Dr. Phillips includes modern classrooms and plenty of outdoor space where a state-of-the-art playground is quickly taking shape.
For more information on OJDS visit http://www.orlandojewishdayschool.com/.