Technology and specifically, iPads, have become so ubiquitous in the ICJA classroom that it’s hard to imagine the school day without them. Since 2015 when ICJA became a 1:1 school, where every student receives a tablet beginning in ninth grade, students and teachers have adapted academically in ways big and small. Next year, 2017-18, will be the first year that all four high school grades will have a device, thanks to Natalie Schleifer, president and director of the Jack P Schleifer Foundation, who has underwritten the iPads. The Foundation was set up by Natalie’s father, who was committed to Jewish education and Religious Zionism.

On any given day this past year, students and teachers use technology for:

  • Assignments
  • Assessments
  • Text books
  • Communication between students and staff
  • Video creation
  • Computer programming and more

Technology in the classroom, from iPads to SmartBoards, can be a tool or just a digital substitute for teaching in the same traditional way. At ICJA, the goal is for technology to enhance the curriculum and classroom experience—keeping students more engaged, providing them with the 21st Century STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) they need for the future and meeting them in the native space where this generation of students is most comfortable. To achieve that goal requires constant learning, evaluating and adjusting.

This past school year early technology adopters from every department met weekly to assess our technology goals and create a vision of where we are headed in technology and STEM. These groups are headed by Chairs Olivia Friedman and Rabbi Binyomin Segal. Members have focuses on three goals:

  1. Digital Citizenship: Developing robust curriculum training for staff to support ISTE student standards and digital age learning (International Society for Technology in Education). These skills are embedded in the classroom throughout the four-year curriculum.
  2. Embedded Technology Skills: Identify which skills—everything from how to use Google Drive on iPad to how to make a movie—should be taught within the regular ICJA curriculum and then determine which courses and instructors should cover them.
  3. New STEM Courses: Develop one additional STEM class

Members of this group attend ISTE conferences, reach out to other Jewish schools around the country and visit local schools using technology well—including Lane Tech, with one of the best MakerLabs in Chicago.

Teaching technology and STEM skills is a challenge because it is so fluid, says Olivia Friedman. “Research shows we want students with more flexibility of thought and creativity and yet, we still need to make sure students are meeting all the standard college requirements.”

As we rise to the challenge of meeting our students’ needs in the dynamic digital age, we are grateful to have the support of our board and donors like the Natalie Schleifer and Jack P. Schleifer Foundation’s Philanthropy to ensure our school is a model of teaching STEM both among Jewish day schools and college preparatory high schools.