Global learning at Schechter and Moriah
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Global learning at Schechter and Moriah

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From left, Ethan Murad, Josh Forman, and Michael Bruck discuss work on their electrical circuit. Amy Levine

It was supposed to be “hush, hush” in the science room at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford last Wednesday. It wasn’t that anything top secret was going on, but just that the nine seventh-graders needed all their powers of concentration for an international science competition.

But as the questions began rolling in over the Internet, youthful enthusiasm took over and discussion bubbled up as the students hashed out the possible answers to the 14 questions posed, all involving electricity.

In the final tally, the Schechter kids got most of the questions right, but the score was less important.

“I’m much more interested in them having fun and learning,” said science teacher Stephen Taylor.

The program was also hailed at the Moriah School in Englewood, where 12 sixth-graders took part, said teacher Anastasia Kelly. “The students were very excited and took it very seriously,” she said.

They also did well in the scoring, which was especially gratifying since the students don’t cover electricity in their regular curriculum until the eighth grade, said Kelly, who teaches the program along with Batya Kinsberg.

The contest was part of the E2K program (translation: Excellence 2000) created by the Israel Center for Excellence Through Education, which trains the participating teachers. The program is coordinated and funded for participating Jewish days schools in the United States by the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education, based in New York.

Some 20 schools from Israel, the United States, and Singapore participated in the competition. Besides the Bergen County schools, students from the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston took part.

The participating Schechter students were Ben Danzger, twins Ben and Josh Forman, Ben Iofel, Josh Kauderer, Leah Koretski, Brett Levine, Michael Bruck, and Ethan Murad.

The Moriah School participants were sixth-graders Gabriel Billing, Zachary Greenberg, Rachel Leiser, Talya Kornbluth, Noam Lindenbaum, Aviad Sussman, Harry Ottensose, Gabrielle Klein, Evan Polinsky, Jeremy Rosenblatt, Zachary Orenshein, and Yael Weitzner.

The medium, as well as the message, was high-tech. The schools were linked via the Internet, and students interacted via a large-screen “SMART Board” on which the questions and diagrams were projected.

At Schechter, the students’ answers were entered on a computer keyboard by Dov Kruger, a Schechter parent. It was done on the honor system – adults could not help with the answers. All participants knew ahead of time was that the questions would involve electricity.

The special software enabled the students to hear each other speak around the world, but not to see one another.

“We’re all at the mercy of the Internet,” said “Liz,” the moderator from Israel. Fortunately, though, the software and Internet cooperated, and the session went off with nary a glitch.

At Schechter, the atmosphere was, well, highly charged, and the questions spurred spirited debate among the students.

“What’s the difference between magnetism and static electricity?” One answer: static electricity can exist in many materials but magnetism requires certain metals.

“What did Benjamin Franklin invent to protect against lightning?” Answer: the lightning rod.

The contest included questions relating to diagrams displayed on the screen. The Schechter students scored points when they correctly spotted a “short circuit.”

The highlight of the competition was a hands-on experiment involving an actual electrical circuit with batteries, some wire, and flashlight bulbs. In accordance with the contest directions, the students were supplied with the materials beforehand.

The students were asked to configure the batteries and two bulbs in “series” and in “parallel,” and were asked to determine if there was a difference in bulb brightness between the two configurations. There was.

“The lessons are in the answers,” said Taylor.

“I learned a lot about electricity and circuits,” said Josh Forman.

For Leah, it was a lesson in “what a short circuit is.”

For Brett it was a very practical lesson: “A short circuit ruins the battery.”

The hush returned to the group as the session ended and the youngsters intently waited for the winner to be announced. Top score went to the Catholic High School in Singapore, a primary and secondary institution.

The scoring was based on correct answers and speed of answering, and the Israeli organizers did not immediately announce the complete individual standings.

Because of the international time zones involved, the students turned out at 8:30 a.m. to participate. If there was any disappointment it quickly faded, and after the session was over at 10, the students rushed to catch up with their regular classes.

The science is important, but so is the social interaction, said Taylor. “These are the values we want to instill,” he said.

Both at Schechter and Moriah, the students participate in an after-school science and math enrichment program. “Everybody gets something out of it,” said Linda Goldberg, math and science coordinator at CIJE. “Everybody who participates is a winner,” she said.

CIJE works with some 70 schools in the U.S., involving 21,000 students, said director Judy Lebovits. The program is for highly motivated youngsters seeking challenges beyond the regular curriculum.

Besides math and science, CIJE works with arts, and English and Hebrew language programs, Lebovits said. Assistance includes providing the “SMART Boards” and the teacher training program. Participating teachers visit Israel for training, and once a year meet with Israeli professors during sessions at Yeshiva University in New York.

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