June 22, 2024
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BPY Students and Faculty Unite for Shark Tank-Style Discovery Learning Day

On Friday, November 30, students and faculty of Ben Porat Yosef (BPY) came together for the school’s traditional Discovery Learning Day, this year modeled after the ABC hit reality television series Shark Tank. Over the course of the day, students in grades one through eight presented ideas for how to improve the school to a panel of “sharks.” These ideas included systems to retrieve balls that go over the school’s fence or a new way to manage the lost and found. Using prototype models, descriptions and persuasive language, the students explained the problem, then proposed their solution for how to solve it. The panel of “sharks,” which included the school’s staff, parents and guests, listened to each proposal and then were able to ask follow up questions, such as how much money it would cost to implement the idea and who would be in charge of its execution. After consideration, one of the ideas presented by the students was approved for adoption and implementation. Throughout the day, students were also able to hear presentations from adult/professional engineers, which included employees from Google, Port Authority Bus Terminal and Kreisler Manufacturing, and they shared strategies and stories about how they identify and solve problems with teams at their work sites.

BPY’s Discovery Learning Day was created nine years ago to encourage and engage students in an interactive style of learning. In past years the staff have worked hard to get students involved and thinking about ways their learning can be applied to the real world. Speaking with The Jewish Link, BPY’s early childhood director, associate principal and one of the “sharks,” Jessica Kohn, elaborated on the process and thought that went into putting the day together.

“The goal of Discovery Learning Day is to get the whole school working together on one common goal,” Kohn shared. “With this year’s Shark Tank theme, the students identified problems or challenges in the school and have gone through a rigorous process of data collection, research and brainstorming solutions to their problems, designing prototypes and coming up with their pitches. Getting to be [a shark] is very cool; these are future entrepreneurs, inventors and engineers!”

The Shark Tank-style theme for the day was the brainchild of a team of four staff members, including elementary science teacher Jean Myers. “One of the highlights of Discovery Learning Day is bringing in adults who do this work professionally,” Myers shared with The Jewish Link. “Every year we bring in people from the field to talk about their experiences that parallel the students’ own experiences. We did a lot of research putting the day together, trying to really adapt a design thinking model. The Shark Tank theme matched the model we were trying for.”

The guests for the event included Dov Wasserman and Ari Gilder, software engineers at Google. Over the course of the day they spoke to the different grades, explaining what it’s like to work in their field. Overall, the two saw their presentations as an opportunity to both share their passion for engineering and also encourage the students to pursue their goals.

“The kids have seen a lot of really interesting things around them and they have a lot of questions, which is amazing,” Gilder shared with The Jewish Link, “It’s really nice to be able to actually try to answer those for real so the kids can actually get a good sense of how some of the things they see connect to real-world problems. Our advice is to ask questions about what problems in the world need solving, either in your small local world or the world at large, and what are the ones that matter to you most. That answer could give you a clear sense of mission and direction.”

When it was time to give their pitches, the students, broken up into groups, would gather in a classroom and walk a red carpet down to the panel of “sharks,” who were waiting eagerly to hear what the students had to say. True to their role on the show, the “sharks” were not afraid to ask hard questions about funding, execution and implementation. The criteria the “sharks” looked for included an issue that was widespread and affected the entire school, and a solution that was practical and cost effective. For the students, the day was a fun opportunity to work on public speaking and show off their creativity.

“We are working on a problem in the boys’ bathroom,” Jacob Greenstein, a fifth grader at BPY, shared with The Jewish Link. “There’s not enough privacy, so [our solution] was to have dividers put in between the urinals. Our teacher had us do a survey with all the kids in the bathroom to see if [the dividers] were necessary. Seventy-five percent said yes.”

Greenstein and his classmates’ idea ended up being the winning pitch and will be implemented in the future. BPY’s head of school Rabbi Saul Zucker was excited to see how involved the students became with presenting their ideas.

“The students really put their hearts and souls into the day,” Rabbi Zucker shared. “There are different layers of lessons to be taken from the day. One is the importance of having concern for the environment: What can I do to make life better, easier and safer for everyone in the community? Two is that it fosters the idea of creativity: I can be creative, I have a voice, and I have something to say and contribute. It’s really important that our students take that.”

By Adam Samuel

Adam Samuel is a journalist from Teaneck. He blogs at adamssoapbox.com.�

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