HomeFebruary 2014Forward-Thinking Program

Forward-Thinking Program

“We never give people answers; our job is to give people problems,” said Dr. Adrian Krag, director of the West Coast STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program developed by the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education (CIJE).  The objective, he said, is to enable high school students to develop the kind of creativity and initiative needed for the jobs of tomorrow by learning on their own with teachers as facilitators.
“The teacher can’t just stand in front of the classroom and lecture,” explained Ellie Cohanim, vice president for development at CIJE.  “Instead the teacher stands in the back and lets students try, fail and eventually succeed.  The student gets a sense of how the real world works.”
In 2011, CIJE launched the STEM program, a two-year course in scientific and biomedical engineering for high school students, which is now taught in more than 27 schools in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and California – including Tarbut V’Torah (TVT) in Irvine.  The curriculum prepares students for careers in engineering and advanced technology and has been designed from the outset to encourage analytical, systemic, critical and creative thinking skills in a discovery-focused, interactive, two-year curriculum.
CIJE provides participating high schools with a full curriculum; 21 days of rigorous teacher training and on-going mentoring; and the equipping of the classrooms with laptops, apparatus and all necessary materials.  The program is licensed from Israel Sci-Tech and used widely throughout Israel.  In the U.S. it provides something more than the typical high school curriculum of biology, chemistry, physics and math by giving students a blended program offering a chance to obtain the core skills they will need in the future, according to Cohanim.
“Since CIJE was founded in 2001, it has been at the forefront of bringing Jewish schools into the 21st century, helping students to compete and contribute in the global marketplace,” said Dr. Krag, who explained that the organization also has programs at a less sophisticated level for younger students.  “We look forward to ensuring a new generation of innovators in our schools.”
Dr. Krag, an accomplished electronics engineer who has worked with major companies and universities for nearly 30 years, training, hiring and mentoring other engineers, explained that “the difference between being a contributing, successful person or not is to solve problems that have never been solved.”  Students work in teams using a laptop and an arduino, a small, easy-to-program circuit with a microprocessor.  Using those tools and a budget of $100, the teams are expected to come up with a humanitarian project that actually works.
One team is developing an impact sensor for bicycle helmets, measuring force to determine whether the rider has a concussion and then dialing “9-1-1” automatically if necessary.  Another team is developing a black cane that will “listen” to tones and enable a visually impaired person to walk through a room or step off of a curb.
“Teamwork is compromise, steering rather than driving, shifting what looks like a stupid idea into a direction that isn’t stupid,” Dr. Krag said.  He visits eight southern California schools every week, walking around and asking or answering questions for students in the classrooms taught by Heidi Tyson and Annabella Kraut at TVT, whom Dr. Krag described as the best instructors in the southern California territory he covers.  Neither teacher has computer programming experience, but both had the attitude that they and the students would figure things out together, he said.
“Different students respond to this program in different ways,” Dr. Krag added, explaining that all of the California programs are in their first year.  “The TVT kids were well prepared, and they love it.  They took a test, had to program the arduino and do some other problems and were ready to rock by the start of school.”
Cohanim added, “The kids are so positive.  They start cheering when they get something to work.  They also apply the skills they get from this program – analytical skills and the ability to work as a team – to their other classes.”
Colleges are “loving the results” of the program, according to Cohanim.  “If 10 to 15 percent more students go into the sciences each year as a result of participating in this program, we’ll consider it a success,” she concluded.
For more information on CIJE, please visit www.thecije.org.  For more information on TVT, please visit www.tarbut.com.

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