December 9, 2023
December 9, 2023

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Engineering With Meaning: Ma’ayanot STEAM Expo Showcases Student Skills and Creativity

(Courtesy of Ma’ayanot) Ma’ayanot’s sophomore STEAM curriculum incorporates engineering, coding and design skills, engages student creativity and fosters social responsibility. Each team of 10th graders created an accessible toy for a specific student with visual impairment at the School for Children With Hidden Intelligence (SCHI) in Lakewood, New Jersey. At the start of the school year, each Ma’ayanot group met the SCHI student for whom they made their device, and consulted with the child’s teacher and therapist about the child’s individual preferences and capabilities. Reyce Krause, director of STEAM curriculum, explained, “Our STEAM students followed the Design Thinking Process, which includes five stages: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. Using the Design process as a foundation, the students imagined and created unique products and experiences for each SCHI student.”

On May 17, at Ma’aayanot’s annual STEAM Expo, Ma’ayanot sophomores showcased their projects. Organized by Esther Slomnicki, STEAM programming coordinator, the Expo began with a fair in which the students presented their interactive devices to peers and parents, sharing their iterative processes and design journey in prototyping, testing and completing their devices. The fair was followed by a presentation by Caitlin Sikora, senior software engineer at Google, who illustrated how she combined her background in physics, coding and dance to create AI devices that track movement and enhance choreography. Students then presented four finalist projects, chosen by faculty judges, in a live “Shark Tank”-style presentation. Representatives from SCHI also previewed the projects, and on May 22, sophomores, accompanied by Mrs. Krause and Gill Cofnas, teacher of science and STEAM, traveled to SCHI to present their accessible device to their students. The junior STEAM elective also created devices for residents at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh and the students at Elmwood School, facilitated by Jennie Jacboson, mother of Layla (’24).

Tenth-grader Avigayil Aharon reflected on her year’s work: “It was really special to use our skills to build something with a purpose.” Aharon and her teammates, Miri Rubinstein and Tiferet Ross, created “Meir’s Singing Friends,” with textured, brightly-colored, 3D-printed figures whose prototypes the students designed, including an “Uncle Moishy” with his name written in raised letters. Rubinstein added, “Although we met Meir only once before creating our project, we feel that we know him so well, because we were keeping his needs and interests in mind throughout the process.”

Sophomores Devorah Luber and Nava Price, creators of “Yosef’s Musical Block Puzzle,” also had to problem-solve and extend their skills. Luber explained, “Our project incorporated two technologies new to the STEAM lab this year, precision milling and magnetic reed sensors. It was both cool and challenging to be innovators. We had to figure out how to embed magnets into our 3D-printed puzzle pieces during the printing process, and place the sensors so that the songs play only when the puzzle piece is correctly placed.”

Gila Stein, science and STEAM department chair, said, “It is so exciting to see the culmination of all the students’ work. When the SCHI representatives came to preview the projects, they were thrilled! Our program, Making A Difference at Ma’ayanot, enables our students to perfect their STEAM skills while creating and giving.” At the Expo, Tzipora Ross, mother of Tiferet (’25), noted, “I am so impressed with the STEAM department, which teaches students to use technology for a purpose.” STEAM instructor Gill Cofnas agreed: “I’m so proud of their expertise in coding, robotics and fabrication, and their display of persistence and resilience. They can now see how their hard work paid off.”

Walking around the Ma’ayanot Makerspace on Wednesday evening, May 17, one felt the pride of each student sharing the details about the personalized toy she created. An ever-evolving curriculum, this project fuses the fundamental value of chesed and cutting-edge, 21st-century learning. Ma’ayanot Head of School Mrs. CB Neugroschl emphasized that “STEAM is a required course for freshmen and sophomores in Ma’ayanot’s curriculum. Some students are indeed inspired to make STEAM a career. Even if students ultimately pursue other interests, each and every student knows she has made a difference. They learn to innovate, problem-solve, revise and finally produce. They are truly implementing the words of the tefillah we say daily right before Shema: First they ‘understand’ and ‘listen,’ then they ‘learn, teach…do, and fulfill.’” Associate Principal Shira Heller agreed: “The projects truly reflect our values at Ma’ayanot: excellence in academics, excellence in Torah, excellence in middot and a commitment to service.”

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