|A team constructs its bridge using only 50 straws and 20 pins. Teams designed and constructed their bridges to have the longest span possible and still support the weight of an eraser for 10 seconds. Adrienne shlagbaum|
Ever wonder how an F-16 lands exactly where it’s supposed to on the deck of an aircraft carrier? Or why a bridge doesn’t collapse from the weight of rush hour traffic? Why doesn’t a boat sink when it’s loaded with cargo?
These were some of the challenges that more than 50 students in the fourth and fifth grades from Yeshivat Noam, Yavneh Academy, and Ben Porat Yosef, all day schools in Paramus, faced when they gathered at the Yeshivat Noam campus for a Science Olympiad. It pitted teams and students against each other, but in a new and unusual way designed to teach teamwork and collaboration as well as science.
Linda Stock, the assistant principal at Yeshivat Noam, said, “At one time, the Science Olympiad had one school compete against the other, and this year, we, the participating schools, decided to do things differently. Yes, we created teams at each school to tackle specific problems, but then, instead of having the schools compete with each other, we broke up the school teams and created new ones, in groups of three, where every student came from a different school. We also continued the tradition of afternoon knowledge challenges, with ‘Picture This,’ ‘Science Jeopardy,’ and ‘Name that Scientist.’ It was a chance to teach kids how to collaborate with one another, how to make a project come to life from different ideas, and to teach them to think critically. It was a challenge in problem-solving, cooperation, and compromise, all skills required in real life.”
Bridges designed by each team were judged by the weight they could hold without collapsing; for airplanes, aerodynamic design that worked needed to be engineered from a single sheet of paper, the use of a pair of scissors, and five centimeters of tape. And the boats were made of clay and needed to hold a fair amount of cargo before they would sink. There were five teams in each category, and all the students received certificates for participating in the Olympiad.
Stanley Fischman, director of general studies at Ben Porat Yosef, told The Jewish Standard, “Teaching science is very important in all of these schools, and one of the benefits is to get children to think creatively and critically. In order to compete effectively in this Olympiad, we taught the principles of engineering and design to help the kids design models that are the strongest and most resilient structures. In this way they learn to appreciate the innovations of civil engineering and the skill it takes to build something that lasts. We at Ben Porat Yosef believe that ultimately, teaching science provides a child with a strong appreciation of God’s creation.”
Elaine Weisfeld, associate principal at Yavneh Academy, and Margi Saks, the enrichment coordinator at Yeshivat Noam, were the driving forces behind the day. Said Weisfeld, “The day was an educator’s delight. We achieved our goal of a positive experience in cooperative problem solving. The atmosphere of fun, camaraderie, and mutual respect motivated the children to work together and try their best. The students cheered one another’s efforts and accomplishments and expressed their appreciation for one another’s strengths and the unique learning experience.”
Saks told the Standard, “When Elaine and I found out Kushner Academy was not able to host the Science Olympiad as they had done for the past two years, we decided the learning opportunities were too valuable to lose and created our new alternative …, working collaboratively as schools and not competitively. Science is usually associated with boring and hard [work]. Through these experiences, all 50 children now view science as intriguing and extremely interesting. What greater outcome could we have wanted than to spark a love of learning in our children?”
As for the students, Eli Kuperman of New Milford, who attends Yavneh, worked on the bridge-building project and told the Standard, “I was very excited about this. I learned how to work with a team and with different supplies. We combined our ideas and it turned out to be lots of fun. I even made new friends.”
Alex Melzer of Teaneck, who attends Yeshivat Noam, also worked on a bridge project. She said, “It was interesting to see that the simple design of a straight bridge worked just fine and didn’t cave in when we put our first eraser on it, but it did collapse when we added more weight. But I did make new friends, too.”
Ariel Chechik, who lives in Bergenfield and attends Ben Porat Yosef, worked on one of the airplane teams. “We combined our ideas, and of course we tried, but we failed. I can only imagine what the little pilot in the cockpit had for breakfast – maybe he was drunk – because it crash-landed on its nose!”
Yehuda Saks wanted to be a participant but was worried that because his mother, Margi Saks, was one of the organizers there might be a conflict of interest. The judges decided otherwise when he passed the “entrance exam,” and he worked on a bridge. “I learned that it’s hard to make a thin, strong bridge, and it’s easy to make new friends,” he said.