JCDSRI Featured by YU School Partnership!

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 10.45.47 AMWe are very pleased that our Head of School, Adam Tilove, was featured in a conversation about innovation in schools in the YUSP Spring 2016 Quarterly. While it was our billboard that caught their attention initially, JCDSRI’s reputation as a leader in STEAM and design preceded us: in fact, Mr. Tilove was mentioned in the YUSP Fall 2015 Quarterly, as well. Our commitment isn’t just to STEAM, though; we want our graduates to be good citizens, in both their local and global communities. That’s why we also have an ongoing partnership with the Islamic School of RI. We encourage our students to consider ideas from multiple viewpoints and to be respectful of different backgrounds and beliefs.

As the only school in southeastern New England with a Design Lab dedicated exclusively to elementary students, we believe strongly in a progressive curriculum that gives children plenty of opportunities to engage in authentic problem-solving. Our students, from Pre-Kindergarten through 5th grade, speak the language of Design Thinking: they employ empathy, they create prototypes, and they “fail fast” so that they can address the needs of a specific audience. Want to see our students in action? Call or email us and come for a visit!

Maybe we don’t need bridges anymore…

As it turns out, bridges are tough to build. Especially with constraints. Students were only allowed to use 100 popsicle sticks and white glue to build their bridges! Constraints drive creativity. Third graders persevered and learned to ‘fail forward fast’ and have a ‘bias toward action.’ Fail forward fast inspires designers to go with their instinct, build fast, and evaluate effectiveness of a prototype soIMG_6672 that they can move quickly onto making a better prototype. Similarly, bias toward action inspires designers to, again, go with their instincts rather than pondering the potential effectiveness of a prototype. In design lab, we do more and ponder less.

As of now, the bridges have been built, but not with complete success. In design lab, however, children know that they learn from failure and that it will only help them with the next prototype they build.

The innovative nature of the students in this classroom is evident. While monitoring the prototyping process, I overheard a small group of students whose building wasn’t going so well talking to one another: “If we were bridge builders, we would teach cars how to swim.”


Meet Paul the Ping Pong Ball!

When you’re a kindergartner in the design lab, there’s something very important to keep in mind: teamwork. As young engineers, we know that by working together, we can accomplish more.

Students were introduced to my good friend, Paul the ping pong ball. There’s just one problem with Paul; he has TOO much energy! In order for Paul to release some energy, he needs to use his body and his mind at the same time. The children were challenged to create a maze for Paul to go through so that he is ready to focus on learning in school.

Using Legos, connecting Legos, and Keva blocks, students began designing their mazes… after some quick discoveries: “I made a Hebrew letter!” Malcolm exclaimed.

They also discovered that there are many different components that mazes can have. Nathan explained, “I’m putting in a trap.” Aeden noticed that his part of the maze was getting close to Malcolm’s. “How about if we connect them?” he asked.

Next came the testing phase, where they set Paul free in the maze. “Let’s test this baby out,” said Zemer, excitedly. The maze snaked through the design lab.

“We should be in the world records!” Ben said.


Design Lab Update

In PreK, we designed an umbrella for Itsy, our spider friend. He was SO sick of getting wet every time it rains! We picked the materials we thought would work best. We had the choice of using plastic, tin foil, felt, or paper. Once we finished our umbrellas, we tested them to see if they could stand up to the rain. We also learned that if a prototype doesn’t work the first time, we can always build it again to make it better. Like Eli said, “It’s okay if it doesn’t work.”

Similarly to PreK, kindergarteners also designed an umbrella to keep Itsy dry. A few kindergarteners took a different approach and made our spider friend his own shelter! We learned that the plastic works best to protect Itsy from the rain.

First graders also worked together to come up with a way to keep Itsy dry. Working collaboratively helps us get lots of ideas from each other. We can accomplish so much more together! It can be so exciting when you come up with a solution as a team. “I think ours is going to work great, Moshe!” said Eliya.

Second graders are working on coming up with a solution to the design challenge, “How might we prevent habitat destruction and water scarcity in the Chihuahuan Desert so that we can protect animals?” Children in the second grade class love to build off of each other’s ideas.

In third grade, students learned about the 6 simple machines and how they help us do work. Students built structures that include at least two simple machines. Many children noticed that, interestingly, all of the structures incorporated an inclined plane.

Fourth and fifth graders began designing a Thanksgiving table made only out of 8 sheets of newspaper, an 8.5″ x 11″ piece of cardboard, and masking tape. Of course, our tables need to be able to hold a LOT of food, so we will be testing our tables’ strength by putting books on top. We can’t wait to see how much our tables can hold!

For an up-to-date explanation of what each grade is up to, come into the Design Lab and see our Bulletin Blog Board!

STEM Labs vs. STEAM Labs vs. MakerSpaces vs Design Labs: Whats the difference?

If you have been paying attention to educational buzzwords recently, you may have noticed a slow migration of thought.  First, we were obsessed with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).  Then we moved from STEM  to STEAM, adding an A for the Arts to humanize the purely scientific study of STEM.  This initiative was led by our partners and neighbors at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).   Many schools and universities are rebranding their STEM labs STEAM labs and beginning to incorporate art and the esthetics into their engineering and technology projects.

You may have also noticed the advent of Makerspaces.   The Maker movement is akin to a 21 century do-it-yourself shop class. People use the new tools of the trade – Arduino motherboards, 3D printers, vinyl cutters, and soldering irons.  The Maker movement is about creating with technology- not just buying it. Makers make their own cameras, musical instruments, computer tablets, drones and artificial limbs. It is an exciting way of mastering and welding technology that puts the power of curiosity, ingenuity, and initiative into the hands of everyone who wants to create.

Makerspaces are springing up all over the place-even in k-12 and elementary schools.  At the National Association of Independent Schools annual conference, held last week in Boston, 25 schools from across the country submitted their school’s Maker Spaces to a gallery for all to observe (JCSDRI was one of them:  Check out the NAIS Makerspace website here:)

The newest related buzzword is Design Thinking.  Design Thinking is essentially a way of looking at needs, problems, and solutions by putting people and values first.  It is ‘human centered’ and based primarily on empathy. The first role of the Designer is to observe, ask questions, understand the user’s needs and values, and the ‘make.’  The key mindsets of Design Thinking are a bias towards action, people above products, radical collaboration, rapid prototyping, and failing fast forward. Design thinking is about ‘how’ we think, before addressing content or skills.

We at JCDSRI love the STEAM movement (click here to learn more about our amazing relationship with Brown/RISD STEAM) and the Maker movement, but we are proud that what we have created is a DESIGN Lab. Design starts with values, empathy, and understanding.  These core human skills – asking, listening, observing, and empathizing are part of our Jewish and educational mission.


Tags:  K12, education, design, STEM, STEAM, Brown, RISD, kinderSTEAM,