J-STEM Grows: Science with a Jewish Twist

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From left: Rachel Zivic, Helene Sterling, Eliana Seltzer, Sherri Quintero, Brittany McIlhenny and Joshua Schaeffer (Photos provided)

STEM learning — the combination of science, technology, engineering and mathematics — is taking hold as the preferred way to educate children for the jobs of the future.

The Department of Labor recently shared that 65 percent of the careers that children today will enter have not yet even been invented, but those jobs will be centered in the four STEM fields.

Kellman Brown Academy (KBA), a Jewish day school in Voorhees, N.J., is taking STEM a step further, integrating Jewish themes and thinking into its curriculum as part of its J-STEM Lab, which will celebrate its grand opening on Jan. 20.

“We feel STEM thinking is Jewish thinking,” KBA Principal Rachel Zivic said. “A cornerstone of Judaism is critical thinking. Additionally, Judaism consistently adapts and evolves in creative ways through changing times. J-STEM is the integration of Jewish themes and customs into the framework of STEM.”

Tyler Whitney and Mira Berman (fourth grade) paint a Jewish artifact on a 3D printer.

KBA’s Community STEM Lab will feature many of the same equipment found in any public school setting — an augmented reality/virtual reality center, robotics, advanced coding, 3D printing and engineering and circuitry — but it will be put to use in ways that work for the entire South Jersey Jewish community. The move follows the establishment of similar labs at Jewish day schools throughout the region over the last couple of years.

A flagship partner is Jewish Interactive, a London-based company with a goal of providing “universal access to high-quality Jewish education using modern tools.” Jewish Interactive is piloting some of its key products with KBA, including educational games and its J-STEAM curriculum.

“I started talking to [Jewish Interactive CEO] Chana [Kanzen] last year,” Zivic said. “Jewish Interactive is really revolutionizing Jewish education with its ideas and technology. They needed a school to pilot their products, to see if they work and, after vetting us, they partnered with us. We’re really pleased the way it all worked out.”

Kanzen, who will bring her London team to KBA for the grand opening, is equally pleased.

“Jewish Interactive is thrilled to have partnered with KBA on creating their J-STEM lab,” Kanzen said. “This special community school is so obviously passionate about providing the very best educational experiences they can for their children, and we have been proud to be able to support and guide them in implementation of this worthwhile endeavor.

“I have no doubt that the students in KBA will fulfill both a love of Judaism that is relevant and meaningful, while gaining core essential skills for the future workplace. It is a perfect partnership and one that will be a model for many other schools around the world.”

Zivic and KBA will be co-presenters of Jewish Interactive products at the 2019 Prizmah Conference of Jewish Education in March in Atlanta.

Natalie Leibowitz (first grade) and Jonah Frantz (kindergarten) prepare for a virtual reality activity.

Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute has collaborated with KBA in the science area in setting up the J-STEM lab, while Philadelphia’s PJ Library, which provides free books for Jewish children and their families, has also contributed.

Zivic is proud of her assembled KBA STEM Team.

“They are in the lab and with the kids all the time,” Zivic said. “We’re all learning and are flexible with all this. I couldn’t ask for any more.”

Zivic and her staff are showing how a J-STEM facility can mix science and Judaism.

“Our children are learning to read the Torah, but we take it a step further,” Zivic said. “A student can design his or her own unique yad that they will use in reading, then send it to our 3D printer and actually put it together. Technology, Judaism and learning hand in hand.”

Another exercise was performed at Sukkot, with a virtual reality sukkah that only one student was able to access at a time.

“Each student, by himself or herself, was able to accomplish the mitzvah of sitting in the sukkah,” Zivic said. “Our kids again leaned how Judaism works with all the new technology.”

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