The Tradition of Tinkering


lilyguitarFull STEAM Ahead Hillel Day School adds arts back into its STEM curriculum

Tinkering in Michigan is hot. Once again, people are starting to make things with their hands, right in the state where making things for the masses got its start. Here is my article on the new maker space at Hillel Community Day School. 

| by Stacy Gittleman | Contributing Writer

Tinkering in Judaism goes all the way back to Mount Sinai. After all, Sinai was the place where the children of Israel declared they would learn about the Ten Commandments through doing. Growing out of this tradition, Hillel Day School’s new Innovation Hub and Makerspace, part of the Audrey and William Farber Family IDEA Collaborative, provides a resource where students apply the tried-and-true methods of trial and error to deepen their understanding of everything from kinesthetic energy to kashrut.

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Tinkering is trendy throughout Michigan. As the state once again reenergizes its can-do spirit of innovation, makerspaces are popping up in Detroit, Ann Arbor and Northville. Think of them as a spot where enterprising inventors can come together to collaborate and share overhead costs of rent, tools and materials.

Just in its first few months of operation, the Hillel makerspace has inspired several projects and events. They include a schoolwide Makerspace Faire and a Shark Tankstyle entrepreneurial competition, where local businesspeople and innovators sat on a judge’s panel while students pitched their product ideas and marketing plans. Some product ideas included a multicolored crayon and a smart-chip golf club.

One judge was local entrepreneur Arik Klar, owner of Toyology, who also spent several months working with fifth-graders in creating a school store where kids of all grades can sell their creations. As they learned what it takes to run a small business, the fifth-graders applied their math skills and learned basic economic concepts such as supply and demand. They will donate their sales to tzedakah.

“I loved working with the kids to give them my feedback on what makes a product successful,” said Klar, 25, of Berkeley. “The makerspace is the perfect setting to inspire ingenuity.”

Hands-On Tradition

Sol Rube, Hillel’s dean of Judaic studies, said that in addition to their hours of daily Torah study, all of Judaism’s great sages did things with their hands. Rashi was a French winemaker. Maimonides was a physician.

“Creativity and collaboration are all core aspects of Jewish learning,” said Rube as he sat in the new sunlit area of the school that houses the makerspace.

In the room, one child was programming the 3D printer to create a geometric toy. Other students worked with their Judaic studies teacher in front of a green screen to film a video based on the week’s Torah portion. Some of the school’s youngest kids looked through the bins of recycled materials to upcycle them into a sculpture.

Teachers harness the makerspace’s hands-on appeal to enhance their students’ exploration on a variety of subjects. They work with the space’s innovation director, Trevett Allen, as how to best apply the makerspace to their lessons. Seventh-grade students built a shakeable table to study the impact of earthquakes on buildings for earth science class.

Eighth-grader Lily Collin, 14, Farmington Hills, used the makerspace as part of her social studies project about culture in the 1960s. “I love the music from the British invasion,” said Collin as she showed off a wooden prototype of a guitar designed to resemble the one played by the Who’s Pete Townsend. To design the guitar, she first penciled a blueprint of the guitar using precise mathematical measurements, drew another colored rendering before she set to work on the wood. She carved the shape herself using a circular saw. And, of course, her training mandated that she use safety goggles.

“STEAM is the new STEM,” said Hillel’s Director of Curriculum Joan Freedman, referring to the importance of adding the arts back into science, technology, engineering and mathematical skills to create a well-rounded education. “In some ways, the makerspace is undoing what kids have been taught in the culture of standardized tests: to be compliant, to learn for a test,” she said. “We are seeing the beginning of a time when education is turning back to project-based learning. The makerspace teaches students to think critically and use applied sciences and the arts to prepare them to be global citizens.” ■

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About stacylynngittleman

I have been a public relations professional and reporter -- and always thought I would live in the New York Metro area - before my husband took a job in Rochester, New York. Most in Metro New York can't find Rochester on a map,and neither could I before we moved. I am now a columnist and a freelance writer for Rochester's only daily newspaper, the Democrat & Chronicle. I also am passionate about gardening, fitness and most of all, Jewish education and Israel Advocacy. Here's my perspective on Western New York living - the good, the bad, and the snowy.

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