The Maker Movement: The Gift of Creation

By Dr. Eliezer Jones, Head of School of Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School

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In one of his most important books, Halachic Man, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik writes that our “task is to ‘fashion, engrave, attach, and create,’ and transform the emptiness in being into a perfect and holy existence, bearing the imprint of the divine name…….If a man wishes to attain the rank of holiness, he must become a creator of world. If a man never creates, never brings into being anything new, anything original, then he cannot be holy unto his God.” The Rav was speaking about man’s purpose and, as we celebrate the creation of the world on Rosh Hashanah, also about what was uniquely given as a gift to humanity; the ability to create. This gift is at the center of the maker movement. It was not around in the Rav’s time but it is built with the same philosophy in mind.

“If you can’t open it, you don’t own it.” This is the motto of the maker movement, led by Do-It-Yourselfers. They believe in deeper, more meaningful learning, advocated through vibrant projects and hands-on learning that offers flexible opportunities for students to learn in their personal style. However, this call for more meaningful learning is not new to Jewish educators. It has been nearly 3,000 years since Shlomo Hamelech suggested that if we “educate a child according to his way, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Sadly though, this wisdom is often quoted but rarely seen.

For these reasons, last summer Akiba-Schechter proposed to rethink and redesign our current library space into an integrated library and large Makerspace. This summer we built it. In this space, children can follow their personalized learning pathways in an integrated approach that will include Judaic and General Studies. Social and technological forces have intersected to transform how we design, manufacture and distribute. Schools need to become hubs of design knowledge, rapid prototyping, and self-directed learning to ensure our students are better prepared for a more flexible global world where, as an example, science and math skills are not isolated knowledge sets, but a set of thinking skills that can be applied to the real world.

The Akiba-Schechter Makerspace is an environment where students have the opportunity to create, make, hack, experiment, program, design, produce and build. In the space, the learning will be brought together, often through the use of technology, in hands-on, real-world applications that show students how and why things work. Through learning by “doing” and applying their learning to the real-world, their inquiry-based skills, understanding, and retention of core concepts will increase. The space houses cutting-edge technologies, resources, and materials designed to inspire creativity and collaboration. Besides being a meeting place and hub of creativity, the goal is that the pedagogical approach of this space will become a transformative model for the core curriculum and instruction in the area itself as well the classrooms. It is also our goal to share this with the community as we would like to open up the space to the community at times. We also look forward to sharing exactly how we built this on our soon to be launched resource sharing site www.JedLight.org so that it can be replicated.

At Akiba-Schechter we are committed to realizing Shlomo Hamelech’s wisdom and reimagining Jewish education where one-size does not fit all. This is one of our core values and has been the challenge of education for centuries. Today we also find ourselves with the additional challenge of a future that is even more unpredictable given the rapid pace of technology advancement. We have to train our students for an unknown tomorrow that will require them to master technologies that don’t yet exist with skills they have yet to acquire. Therefore it is crucial to develop timeless skills such as curiosity, creativity, and the ability to learn on one’s own. These are precisely the skills that are honed by efforts such as 21st-century skills integration, project-based learning, and Makerspaces in schools. Additionally, we believe that in this environment, students who have generally felt that they couldn’t “do” math and science or Tanach or Gemara will discover that they can’t live without it. However, above all, we must design more spaces and opportunities for children to utilize their unique gifts from Hashem and create.

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