July 22, 2024
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This Fall, It’s ‘Full STEAM Ahead’ at Ma’ayanot

Despite comprising nearly half of the American workforce, women are vastly underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (or STEM). According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women hold fewer than 25 percent of STEM-related careers. This statistic has remained fairly constant over the past decade even though women’s share of the college-educated workforce has increased. What’s more, STEM careers are growing at almost double the rate of other non-STEM opportunities, but far fewer women than men are stepping up to fill those positions.

As an elite, all-girls yeshiva high school, Ma’ayanot is in a unique position to help close this gender gap and equip young women with the knowledge and skills they will need in a technologically driven work environment. Beginning this fall, Ma’ayanot is launching a new STEAM program in which all incoming freshmen will explore the cutting-edge fields of computer programming, engineering and robotics. Sophomores, juniors and seniors will also be offered elective courses in these fields.

Why STEAM? “The A in STEAM typically stands for the arts,” explains Orly Nadler, who co-chairs Ma’ayanot’s STEAM Education and Innovation program with Mrs. Gila Stein, the school’s science chair. “Ma’ayanot’s philosophy is that the A is for any application, including art, architecture, agriculture and any other real-world discipline that can be integrated with math, science and technology to stimulate a student’s imagination and creativity.”

“The goal of Ma’ayanot’s STEAM program is to prepare our students to be on the cutting edge of innovation in STEAM fields,” explains Mrs. Stein. “Our program is challenging, yet extremely engaging, and utilizes real-world applications in every aspect of the curriculum. Our courses will equip our students with the skills necessary for them to be sophisticated and visionary STEAM leaders.”

What makes Ma’ayanot’s new STEAM program stand out is that it will be a two-year course that is part of the core curriculum, beginning with this year’s incoming freshman class. All ninth graders will take Engineering I: Physical Computing, a new and exciting hands-on course that will provide them with a solid foundation in understanding circuits, microcontrollers, computer programming and 3D printing. Next year, in 10th grade, these students will take a required course in Engineering II: Applied Technology, a project-based course that will build on the skills from the previous year and focus on advanced applications of engineering, entrepreneurship and technology. Students in 11th and 12th grade will be offered advanced STEAM elective options, including Python (a programming language) and AP Computer Science. All students will continue to take their other core requirements, including math, biology, chemistry and physics, and have the options for AP offerings in those subjects.

“Many schools offer similar classes as an elective and only a self-selected group of students tend to take those courses,” says Mrs. Nadler. “What we are saying at Ma’ayanot is that STEAM literacies are true, core literacies and everybody must be proficient in them. Every student graduating from Ma’ayanot should be extremely comfortable looking at code, deciphering its meaning and confident to manipulate it. They should be proficient with innovation and understanding how to build and program gadgets. We want our students to have the sense of empowerment that they’ll gain through unveiling the technological process.”

In addition to Engineering I for freshmen, this year’s 10th graders are also being offered engineering as an elective, and 11th and 12th graders are being offered computer coding. “We’re very proud that more than half of our sophomore class of 80 students has signed up for this elective course,” says Mrs. Rivka Kahan, principal. “Their choice to pursue the study of engineering reflects their appreciation of the world of opportunities that lie open to them in technology-related fields. We are proud that they are developing the 21st-century skills that will equip them for success in their future careers and throughout life.”

The STEAM courses will take place in Ma’ayanot’s brand-new Makerspace lab, complete with state-of-the-art computers, 3D printers, and all of the tools and technology students will need to create, innovate and invent new devices and apps. The new lab and STEAM program are made possible by a generous matching grant from a well-renowned national donor, which will be announced in the coming weeks, as well as support from the CIJE-Tech High School Engineering Program.

Much thought and planning went into building the new project-based STEAM curriculum. “We did lots of research and visited many other high schools who were offering STEAM courses,” said Mrs. Nadler. “We first wanted to understand why girls were leaning away from STEM-related fields and how to tackle those issues.” Mrs. Nadler and Mrs. Stein noticed that most STEAM classes in other schools were populated almost entirely by boys. One instructor suggested that robotics and male-oriented video games, which tend to draw in boys to technology, might be a turnoff for some girls.

Ma’ayanot recognized that they had a lot to offer to engage all of their students in STEAM courses—an all-female student body; strong female mentors and teachers who serve as role models in science, math and technology; and an understanding of how to generate excitement by custom-tailoring a creative, hands-on curriculum.

For example, students will begin learning sophisticated engineering concepts by experimenting with the cutting-edge educational tools of paper circuitry. “They will be using easily accessible materials—copper adhesive tape, LED lights and a 3-volt coin cell battery—to produce creative hands-on projects,” says Reyce Krause, Ma’ayanot’s STEAM instructor. “While the tools are deceptively simple, students will be challenging themselves and absorbing the fundamentals of electrical engineering in the most engaging way.” Mrs. Krause has spent the summer working under the guidance of the team’s mentor, Dr. Duncan Bell, at Bergen & Rockland Makerspaces.

Another unit of the course will focus on wearable technology. Students will have an assignment to “hack their clothing” and invent a wearable piano that plays music. They will program microcontrollers and, using conductive thread, sew felt piano keys connected to the microcontrollers into their clothing. A new member of Ma’ayanot’s STEAM team, Aryeh Tiefenbrunn, who will also be teaching chemistry, physics and music theory, will be overseeing this project. Students might also design a hat that has LED lights that turn on when the sun goes down so that wearers can see and be seen in the dark. Other projects include building autonomous robots and programming them to avoid obstacles, as well as designing drones.

Ma’ayanot students put the drone project to the test last year, when the school piloted the STEAM program in a year-long elective course for 10th and 11th grades. As a final project, students worked collaboratively in teams to design, program and build drones—and make them fly. Throughout the process, students employed problem-solving skills to ensure that the propellers were not too close to each other and that their drone was well balanced. Students had to test and redesign their drones multiple times until they achieved success.

In addition to the new course offerings this year, Ma’ayanot will host its second-annual STEAM Talks (modeled on TED Talks), in which women in various high-ranking STEAM-related careers will present to the students in order to expand their awareness of employment opportunities. The talks will be followed by a Maker Faire, where students will enjoy numerous hands-on and innovative exhibits.

“What we’re aiming for is to expand students’ toolsets when it comes to technology, engineering and robotics,” says Mrs. Nadler. “What’s so special about this new program is that it takes a lot of very different disciplines and merges them into a very practical and real outcome. Ultimately, students acquire problem-solving skills that allow them to tackle challenges in any real-life situation.”

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