Using Design Thinking to Solve Real-World Problems

by Rachel Jury, 5th Grade Teacher

How do you prepare students to be problem solvers in the real world? You teach them the steps of Design Thinking and then allow them to practice those skills until they can independently apply those mindsets. Through Design Thinking in Middle School at Bernard Zell, we offer invitations into the complexities of the world and afford students opportunities to become empowered to solve real challenges that exist. We believe that with repeated practice students can strengthen their Design Thinking muscles and learn to view challenges as opportunities for which there are a multitude of possibilities.
Fifth graders are initially introduced the the concept of social issues as part of our history curriculum which focuses on the overarching concept of the impact of individual choice and how those collective choices create history. Speakers from the larger community were invited to speak about the issues of homelessness, bullying, refugee rights and diversity and inclusion. This served as our empathy step, helping students to begin to understand issues.
Students then moved to the define step in which they created statements called “How Might We’s.” For example: how might we help refugees feel more comfortable in America? These serve to narrow the focus of the challenge and ultimately become an opportunity. Then, students ideate. In this step, they practice collaborative brainstorming using a “Yes and” protocol that is high energy. Visual brainstorming helps students to think outside of the box without constraints and activates a different part of the brain than list making. Finally, students select the ideas that are most likely to delight the user, most realistic and most surprising. Creating an idea where all three of these categories overlap is the heart of innovation.
Next, it’s time to build prototypes: quick 3D representations that communicate an idea. Students grab materials off of the school’s maker cart and scrappily prototype, building a rough draft cheaply and quickly. Students are taught not to get attached to prototypes as they are merely a way to communicate ideas. We want them to embrace the notion of failing forward and building upon success. From each conversation about their prototype, students realize there are new questions and new ideas. During the testing phase, the students test with adults in the school or from outside organizations. Through the prototyping and conversations, students learn more about their issue, more about the complexities of life, and more about how to work as a team and collaborate.
Ultimately, 5th graders were invited to pitch their idea to a three-person Shark Tank-styled panel. One 5th grader commented, “I also learned that I have incredible ideas and I can help solve an unsolvable issue such as bullying.” This is how we want students feeling: creative, empowered and equipped with the tools to take on the challenges of the world today.
You might wonder, how does Design Thinking fit into a Jewish day school like Bernard Zell? Ultimately, at Bernard Zell we want our students to develop a mindset that is both Action Oriented and Tikkun Olam-centric. This year, as our students utilized Design Thinking to design and implement actual solutions for neighborhood gardens, developed a composting system for our school and built a working solar powered skateboard, it was clear that they saw the world with Tikkun Olam (Repair of the World) glasses and embraced the work of making our world a better place.

Posted on: 8/1/2018 12:30 PM Comments (0)

Recent Graduates Share What Bernard Zell Athletics Means to Them

by Allison Dunn & Adam Lewis, Class of 2018

Allison Dunn, Class of 2018
I jumped up and down. I played. I scored. I won. The blood coursing through my veins, the sheer happiness of achievement. These emotions are what give me motivation to continue in the sport I am playing. I’m Allison Dunn, an 8th grader here. I have been an athlete at Bernard Zell for 2 years, and I have participated in volleyball and softball. Each practice and game I have gone through has been important to me. When I was in 5th and 6th grade, I never imagined myself as an athlete, I thought of myself more as an artist. But in the summer before 7th grade I had a change of heart, and stepped out of my comfort zone, pushing myself to try something new. My parents jumped right in when I said I wanted to do sports, and helped me buy all the supplies I needed. I bought myself a set of knee pads, and joined the volleyball team. I was nervous for my first practice; I felt like a little mere mouse surrounded by eagles. I wanted to join a sport, but I was scared of the risk. Until then, I did not really play any sports, and I was worried that my teammates would be annoyed with my lack of experience. But once the practice started, I felt right at home. The coaches knew I had not played last year, and always addressed me in an encouraging way that helped me grow. The same thing happened for me when I began softball. I was nervous, but as the season progressed I felt more and more comfortable with my athletic abilities. Not only did the coaches help me, but my teammates did too. They gave me pointers when necessary, and always cheered me on, even if I didn’t succeed. I may not have gotten a home run, or even served overhand, but I tried my hardest so I could become the best athlete I could be.

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Posted on: 6/7/2018 3:20 PM Comments (0)

The Essence of Jewish Identity

by Tzivia Garfinkel, Director of Jewish Life and Learning

In 8th grade Jewish identity class, students have been learning about the concept of Jewish peoplehood and the idea that, in addition to Judaism as a religion, many members of the Jewish community feel a connection that they recognize as simply “feeling a part of the Jewish people.” During the course of our studies we learned about a radical idea posited by Avraham Infeld, a Jewish educator who created a metaphor for Jewish life that he calls “the 5 Legged Table”. He applies this metaphor to Jewish identity and proposes that there are five legs on which the “table” of Jewish life and identity stands: 
  • Memory
  • Family
  • Covenant
  • Israel
  • Hebrew
He then challenges each person to identify the three legs that are at the core of their Jewish identity. Why three? Because choosing three provides a stable platform for living a Jewish life. In addition, choosing three also means that every Jew shares at least something with every other Jew even though they may have very different lifestyles and may live in very different cultures. 

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Posted on: 5/25/2018 1:55 PM Comments (0)

Tiyul 2018 - Days 13 - 15

A visit to the Dead Sea, Celia's Bat Mitzvah, and activities in Tel Aviv highlight the last few days of Tiyul. Enjoy these photos and a final montage as our crew makes their way to back to Chicago! 

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Posted on: 4/30/2018 2:10 PM Comments (0)

Tiyul 2018 - Days 10 - 12: Back to Jerusalem

Enjoy these photos and montage from the past few days while we wait on a full report from our student bloggers! 

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Posted on: 4/26/2018 11:58 AM Comments (0)

Tiyul 2018 - Days 8 and 9

by Caroline H., Ella K., Arielle P., Eva S.

On Monday morning the eighth grade crew got up bright and early from Kibbutz Ohalo to take a walk through a cemetery overlooking the Kinneret. We learned about two influential Israeli women who were buried there, Naomi Shemer and the poet Rachel. From there we drove to Kfar Kedem, where we were transported back in time by our guide, Amir, who is possibly the funniest human alive. Amir taught us a lot during our time at Kfar Kedem, like how to put on shmatas and tunics; how to harvest wheat; how to make pita; and most importantly, how to ride a donkey. Afterwards, we all got into groups of four (three, if you don’t count the donkey) and saddled up for our rides. We left Kfar Kedem after a traditional Israeli lunch and headed back to Tiberias.

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Posted on: 4/24/2018 6:30 PM Comments (0)

Tiyul 2018 - Days 6 and 7: Northern Israel

by Talia A., Maya C., and Lucy G.

Ariving at the De Karina Chocolate factory the whole eighth grade was so excited. We couldn't wait to learn why this factory was special and, of course, to make and try some delicious chocolate. We met our guide and then went into a room to watch a short video about the factory and the owner, Karina. It was super cool to hear that she had made Aliyah with her family from Argentina just ten years ago. It shows just how much a person can accomplish in such a small country and a short time. After watching the video we got to try some chocolates that were made at the factory. The grade especially liked this part; I have never seen us eat so much, so fast! Next, we went into the the actual factory where we got to see a chocolatier make a chocolate log and all the hard work that went into making all of the products sold at De Karina. Finally, we got to make chocolate products of our own! Everyone had so much fun and got really creative. Some made drawings, wrote their names, or tried all of the different flavor options. We all had a really fun time at the De Karina Chocolate Factory and we can not wait to get our chocolate creations at the end of the trip.

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Posted on: 4/22/2018 3:20 PM Comments (0)

Tiyul 2018 - Day 5: Northern Israel

by Will F. and Adam P.

On Friday we set out to go learn more about an inter-religious community in Israel. We met a Muslim Arab who lives in Shafaram in northern Israel. He talked to us about the experiences he has had being a Muslim Arab in Israel. We went to a mosque and a Catholic church to further learn about the non-Jewish community in Israel. We talked about the boundaries between people and what to do about it. Overall it was a great experience that made me think a lot about different  communities.

Friday afternoon we went river rafting in the Jordan river. It was a hot and dry day and  we all needed something to cool off. When we arrived at the rafting place we had a nice lunch of pita and hummus with meat.  While rafting everyone had a blast; we pushed people into the water,  went on to other rafts, or threw people from other boats into the water. By the end of the raft ride not a single person was dry. It was so fun and a great way to see the country. I can't wait to enjoy the rest of the trip.

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Posted on: 4/22/2018 1:09 PM Comments (1)

Tiyul 2018 - Days 3 and 4: Yom Ha'Zikaron & Yom Ha'Atzmaut

by Naomi A., Jaden K., Nicole L., Corey R., Ali S., and Nate W.

On Yom Ha'Zikaron we went to Yad Vashem where we were welcomed by our tour guide and given headsets. We headed into the museum’s massive triangular structure and started by watching a video showcasing Jewish life before the war. We walked through the many exhibits commemorating victims of the holocaust. At the end of the museum we witnessed an outstanding view overlooking Jerusalem and then ended our tour at the children's memorial. The children's memorial was powerful because it represented the 1.5 million children who died with 5 candle flames. As we walked through, we heard the names of the children being read in three languages: Hebrew, English, and Yiddish. I was struck by the fact that our tour guide has never heard the same name twice. 

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Posted on: 4/19/2018 10:57 AM Comments (2)

Tiyul 2018 - Day 3: Yom Ha'Atzmaut Photos

Check back here for a full post and montage tomorrow, but enjoy these photos of the group celebrating in the streets of Jerusalem on Yom Ha'Atzmaut. 

Posted on: 4/18/2018 5:07 PM Comments (0)
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