AVI CHAI concluded its general grant making on December 31, 2019.

Do Jewish Day School Students have to be Computer Programmers too?

Posted by: LeahMeir

August 25, 2011

With a double curriculum of general and Judaic studies, do Jewish day school students need to learn computer programming and robotics too? You might well say: “Programming? Robotics? Great for an after-school activity, but don’t distract them when they’re supposed to be learning math or Humash or English or Hebrew.”
The Jewish Community Day School  (JCDS) in Boston, along with a growing number of other Jewish day schools, beg to differ:  “Yes, our students need these technologies integrated with all of their curricular subjects.”  Earlier this summer, I attended a conference sponsored by JCDS for teachers to help them do exactly this: “Integrating Programming and Robotics in the K-8 Classroom.”  Having just hung on during high school physics and opted for the “science for poets” course in college, I was a more than a little apprehensive about whether I even had the vocabulary to understand the conversation.
What a relief! Hearing two brilliant technology experts not only speak comprehensible English, but talk about technology and robotics in the service of helping kids develop the skills that they’ll need in the 21st century: creative responses to new situations, working collaboratively and reasoning systematically.
Dr. Mitchel Resnick is the director of the  Lifelong Kindergarten group at the Media Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which develops new technologies to engage people (particularly children) in creative learning experiences. Dr. Marina Umaschi Bers is an associate professor in child development and an adjunct professor in the computer science department at Tufts University. Her research is in the design and study of innovative learning technologies to promote children’s positive development. Bers heads the interdisciplinary Developmental Technologies research group and collaborates with Tufts’ Center for Educational Engineering Outreach (CEEO) .
The conference focused on two ways to integrate technology into the curriculum: The first is Scratch, a graphic programming language developed by MIT that allows young students to tell stories, draw, create games and share it all with others. (An amazing feature is a drop-down menu that allows you to switch to one of 15 languages, including Hebrew.)  The second is robotics, such as the Mindstorms program developed by the Lego company (yes, the same ones you used to trip on in your living room!) that even kindergartners can work with.

Video of JCDS kindergarten kids called “Mi Ani? Who am I?”
Do students need to be learning 21st century skills? No question. Do 21st century technologies always have to be utilized to teach these skills? No – sometimes the “old-fashioned” ways, such as havruta learning, can teach these skills just as powerfully. But they will need these skills and these technologies to function in our new digital world. The challenge is – not a simple one – to develop school environments that appreciate the use of technology not as a new “gimmick” but as an exciting way to help students work together and dream up creative solutions to life’s problems. Then, schools have to help teachers achieve enough of a comfort level with these technologies to make them a part of their classroom “tool kit”. Can Jewish day schools meet this challenge?
Leah Nadich Meir is a Program Officer at The AVI CHAI Foundation. Follow her on Twitter @lmeir

WordPress Video Lightbox