WHITEFISH BAY – From abstract plans to concrete fruition, the Milwaukee Jewish Day School’s new innovation hub is open for business to students interested in turning their ideas into realities.
The innovation hub, which was completed over the summer, houses three main spaces for students to brainstorm, design and create: the ideation studio, the engineering lab and the maker space. Each of these rooms has specific tools for students to use as they work through the different phases of their projects, such as writeable walls, a projection screen and a 3D printer.
Brian King, the innovation director of the Milwaukee Jewish Day School, notes that while the innovation hub spaces have been fully built, they are always subject to change.
“The nature of these spaces is organic, and they are in kind of a constant state of motion, of growth, of change,” King said of the hub. “I think that really mirrors the innovation mindset that we’re trying to develop in our kids. There’s nothing static about it.”
According to King, the hub came together quickly, with planning taking place in late 2015 and construction completed over the summer. Funding for the project largely came in a $200,000 donation from the Daniel M. Soref Charitable Trust, but parents and other donors contributed gifts of up to $60,000.
While parents and administrators are excited to see how the hub is being used, Milwaukee Jewish Day School students have shown no delay in getting down to business in these spaces.
“They love being down there,” King said of students. “There are even some groups who have chosen to go to that space for ordinary Hebrew classes to do the daily prayers. We’ve had kids come down during recess just to be in there and to ask what they can do to help and if there are any projects they can work on.”
In addition to smaller group work, the innovation hub was used for a larger, six-week project by seventh-graders to design, prototype, build and assemble the school’s sukkah for the Sukkot holiday. No space was left untouched during the project, according to King. Some created prototypes of their sukkah using Popsicle sticks, while others printed models using the 3D printer. Finally, the sukkahs were assembled using wood cut in the maker space.
King also noted that over the winter, the school’s first-graders will be building abaci in the maker space. The students will begin by researching what exactly an abacus is, and once the abaci are completed, they will be donated to 3 and 4-year-olds at an area preschool to help them learn counting and basic math.
“That is I think a beautiful example of marrying our approach to teaching and learning with basic Jewish values of supporting our community and of doing good things for people,” King said.
When asked what the future might hold for the school’s innovation-minded curriculum, King indicated that he hopes to expand the use of the innovation hub not just to the parent community, but also to the greater Milwaukee Jewish community. King recognized that other schools in the area are toying with innovation spaces, but to his knowledge, the Milwaukee Jewish Day School is leading others in terms of having legitimate spaces set aside specifically for innovative learning.
“We are really out ahead in terms of how we’re bringing 21st century teaching and learning to our students,” said King, adding, “And that’s just really exciting and exciting for our kids.”
King also offered words of caution and advice to others who might be considering the path towards innovation in teaching and learning.
“It is not sufficient to just build a space. If you don’t start with the approach to teaching and learning, and if you don’t start with the belief that students need to be in control and to own their learning, then you’re going to get only marginal benefits out of these spaces.”
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About Milwaukee Jewish Day School
- Often called “MJDS,” the school offers kindergarten through 8th grade.
- MJDS says it pursues academic excellence and Jewish values to prepare children.
- MJDS was founded in 1981 to welcome kids from all Jewish denominations and economic backgrounds.