May 30, 2024
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The Definitive Design Thinking:  Bereishit Bara Elokim and Noah’s Ark

If we examine Parshat Noah and Parshat Bereishit together, we witness the ultimate achievement of design thinking, innovation and faith: the remarkable creation of our world followed by the masterful engineering of an ark powered by belief and hope.

After executing the ark’s elaborate design and construction plans to ensure the world’s ultimate survival, God sends Noah, his “preacher of righteousness,” on a 150-day voyage together with his wife and sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, and their wives, and a strategically chosen menagerie of animals.

What a stroke of inspired genius to have first conceived the idea of creating the world—understanding its Divine purpose, “prototyping it,” creating it and then evaluating that creation. “And God said, let there be…and there was…” In the words of Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “It is one thing to conceive an idea, another to execute it. Between the imagination and the act falls the shadow. Between the intention and the fact, the dream and the reality, lay struggle, opposition and the fallibility of the human will.” A monumental lesson follows about the power of innovation, and the need for grit, perseverance, faith and hope in the wake of our human failings in Parshat Noah.

As human beings created “b’tzalmo,” in God’s image, Schechter is committed to teaching its students to apply design thinking as part of our International Baccalaureate (IB) program, a rigorous, globally minded framework centered on challenging students to make authentic, real-world connections in every subject area. We have tailored this gold-standard educational framework to our Judaic studies curriculum, creating a uniquely Jewish experience for students to connect their Jewish learning and values to the world around them and to turn their learning into action.

Our goal is to help equip young students with the values, traditions, texts and skills that will help them grow into globally minded future Jewish leaders and life-long learners who are prepared for an ever-changing future. What are our tools of choice? Schechter’s new IB program, our expanded STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) and Design Thinking curriculum, and this year’s opening of the Popkin Innovation Lab featuring emerging technology and traditional hands-on equipment—each of which is being used to empower students to learn to question, investigate, plan, create and ultimately evaluate and reflect on their work. They will examine their final creations or outcomes, and determine whether they met the specifications or requirements of the project. “Vayar Hashem ki tov”…

During the holidays, I read the book “The Innovative Mindset” by George Couros and found myself nodding in agreement at the turn of nearly every page. The author encourages teachers and administrators to empower their learners to wonder, to explore and to become forward-thinking leaders. If we want innovative students, he writes, we need to be innovative educators. Ultimately, innovation is not about a skill set; it’s about a mindset.

He goes on to explain that students walk into schools full of wonder and questions. The way educators respond to their students’ natural curiosity can help further their exploration and shape the way they learn today and in the future.

As Couros writes, “The traditional system of education requires students to hold their questions and compliantly stick to the scheduled curriculum. But our job as educators is to provide new and better opportunities for our students. It’s time to recognize that compliance doesn’t foster innovation, encourage critical thinking, or inspire creativity—and those are the skills our students need to succeed.”

By Ruth Gafni


Ruth Gafni is the head of school at Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County. Previously she served as the school’s lower school principal. Ms. Gafni served in the Ridgewood, N.J., public school system as director of special needs, ESL, and gifted and talented. During her tenure she received the Ridgewood Township’s Educator of the Year Award and was chosen as an Open Circle Trainer. Ms. Gafni has been instrumental in identifying the need for, and implementing, successful social competency programs in Ridgewood and at SSDS. She graduated from Bar Ilan University in Israel and received her Masters of Science from Adelphi University. She has written several articles for newspapers and educational magazines. She was recently published in the international thought-leadership site, Thrive Global, and also is a contributing author to the book “Fine Tuning a Listening Heart,” ed. Jeffrey Kress.

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