The Maker Movement & Jewish EdTech

In a Jewish school environment, our creations, inventions, and ideas should be guided by our Jewish values.

Photo by m0851 on Unsplash

[This article is part 12 of the series Continuing Conversations on Leveraging Educational Technology to Advance Jewish Learning. The series is a project of Jewish Funders Network, the Jim Joseph Foundation, and the William Davidson Foundation. For an in-depth look at opportunities in Jewish Ed Tech and digital engagement, read Smart Money: Recommendations for an Educational Technology and Digital Engagement Investment Strategy. Later this year, Jewish Funders Network will launch a new website to help advance the field of Jewish educational technology.]

By Tzvi Hametz

The Maker Movement

Over the past couple of years, a quiet movement has been creeping its way into our schools, businesses, and homes, altering the way we perceive and interact with the world around us in ways we would never have thought of before. The movement in question is not new; rather it is age-old, but only recently has this movement been given a name. At some point in your life, you have likely participated unwittingly in activities that this movement promotes, encourages, or downright invented.

The Maker Movement has captured the hearts and minds of millions. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept or have only heard the idea in passing, let me explain. The Maker Movement is simple: if you have ever created anything, you are a member of the movement. If it seems too simple, that’s because it is. Dale Daughtry, the arguable father of the Maker Movement and Founder of Make Magazine and the “Maker Faire” (the world’s largest DIY festival – go to one if you haven’t been), said that the simplicity of the definition is its power. It used to be that people who tinkered, worked with electronics, painted, or worked with wood were all in their own categories, but now, everything is under one umbrella of “Maker.”

Increasing access to technical tools and the ability to learn technical skills via the internet has caused Maker communities to pop up all over the world, both physically and digitally. These communities are rallying around the idea that we can create anything we want with our own hands. Thought leaders are calling this the “new” industrial revolution. The thing that binds all Makers together is a passion to push, to learn, and to create something new.

The road from idea to prototype has never been shorter. Your average individual can buy a powerful microcomputer for under $35, spend a few hours learning online to download and write the code, and have their own video game system. Making does not only involve computers though. Making encompasses everything from woodworking to fashion, with the entire creative spectrum in between. The Maker movement has instilled people with the novelty of playing with things we previously would never have dreamed of playing or tinkering with. This movement is innovation-based, and it challenges one to think in new and different ways about how we interact with the world around us. The essential question that truly burns in the hearts of all humans and makers alike is how can we shape and reshape the world with the tools at our disposal?

Also, creating stuff is really fun – try it, I dare you. (If you need a little help, look no further than

Educational Value

Jean Piaget is considered one of the most formidable and prominent contributors to developmental psychology in the last 100 years. Piaget revolutionized the way we think about the mind of the child, and in turn, flipped hundreds of years of educational methodology on its head. His impact has been so great that it continues to ripple throughout the education world today. Piaget wrote in his work To Understand Is To Invent:

“To understand is to discover,or reconstruct by rediscovery, and such conditions must be complied with if in the future individuals are to be formed who are capable of production and creativity and not simply repetition.” (PIAGET, 1972, P.20).

The works of Piaget, together with other great educational theorists including John Dewey, Joseph Schwab, and Jerome Bruner, have led modern educators to realize that learning cannot be confined to the walls of the classroom. Methodologies known as Project/Problem Based Learning (PBL) and Maker Education have become mainstream. These methodologies require one to apply what is learned in each class, blend it with knowledge from other classes, and apply this in new ways to the world around us. That is what true learning looks like, and what the Maker Movement demands from its consumers.

The beauty of the Maker Movement is its low-cost entry point and high-reward output. All that is required is tools, internet access, and the will to create. Here is a great list of tools to help you get started Making.

Jews Value Making

Making and Jewish Value Integration

Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, one of Judaism’s leading modern philosophers, in his classic work The Lonely Man of Faith, describes humanity as being in a perpetual state of duality. In essence, he speaks of humans as being two parts of one whole; the divine and the creative. Rabbi Soloveitchik argued that both facets of the human condition are essential and created in the image of G-d. We just need to properly structure ourselves to allow these two sides to work together for the greater good.

To make, to create, and to invent then is both a human and Jewish concept. Early on, human beings were referred to as Homo Faber (in Latin this means “Man the Maker.”) In Judaism, the basic premise of the laws of the Sabbath are a cessation from the act of creativity. In our bones and in our souls, we were made to create. The Maker movement is based on a concept of integration, using all of one’s resources to create something new.

In a Jewish school environment, our creations, inventions, and ideas should be guided by our Jewish values. Jewish learning has a strong and long pedagogic history with methodologies to learn Jewish texts that have been utilized for generations. The Maker movement does not advocate an abolishment of those traditional methods, but rather an incorporation of new tools and outcomes for Judaic learning. Every Jewish educator dreams for his or her students to grasp the Torah in new and unique ways and incorporate this meaningful learning into their everyday life. At my school, we have begun to integrate Making into our Judaic Studies curriculum so that students can create more than just summative projects, but rather projects of exploration based on their Jewish ideals.

Specific Examples of Success and Outcomes

A significant part of my job is to integrate emerging tools across classes and grades. I have the unique challenge of making learning engaging to the entire school community. We provide tools and training to students and teachers alike to get them Making. From 3D printing to illustration, and robotics to sewing; the goal is to give students more tools to apply their learning in creative ways. The more tools students have at their disposal, the greater their learning can be. Students and teachers are challenged to create beyond the confines of their classroom; we encourage everyone to learn in our Makerspace. This is a flexible learning space that allows the entire school to come and learn as they please.

The educational theory underlying our Makerspace is commonly known as Constructivism and was first set forth by the same educational theorist we discussed earlier, Jean Piaget. Constructivism posits that when we take information and process it (particularly, in a hands-on way) through differents lenses we change the way we think in small but significant ways. We are able to make connections that we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to make and specifically with making we start to realize that what we know and how to use it matters. Further, the maker culture is all about learning and sharing. These skills foster students to think deeply about what they are creating in ways that I have never seen before.

We work to challenge our educational thinking at every level. Below are a few of the student driven projects that we implemented this year. We had the opportunity to create curriculum and learning experiences based on our students’ interests, while still meeting school and state standards and expectations. Schools are shifting rapidly away from advanced computer labs, to super-powered shop rooms. All our students need to do is learn to use the tools at their disposal to try new things. Yes, this is a messy process, and at times it can even be downright dangerous. Handing a sixth grade boy a power saw for the first time can be nerve racking, but the value gained from a student being able to learn hands-on and have the confidence to problem solve on their own, is truly priceless.

3D Judaica items

  • Students approached me early on this year with a desire to learn how to use the 3D printer and its accompanying software. I worked with the math teacher and one of the Judaics teachers to leverage the skill of 3D printing in the classroom. We created a plan for utilizing the 3D printing and modeling software to support the mathematics and Judaics curriculum content. Students spent weeks learning how to use the 3D modeling software in our Makerspace. We used a Makerbot Replicator to print all of our designs. Students worked to learn the requisite math skills including geometry, algebra, and unit conversions needed in order to design and create viable 3D prints.
  • In Judaics, students learned about three pieces of Judaica and their relevant laws. We chose the Mezuzah, Tzedakah box (Charity box), and a Yad pointer (used for pointing in the Torah scroll.) Students learned about all the aspects of the content related to the math, as well as the Torah commandment related to the Judaica item, and its use on a consistent basis. Students then took their own 3D printed creations and used them for a month. In our Judaics classes we reflected on the difference between how we felt about completing mitzvot (commandments) with tools we created, as opposed to using the standard ritual items one can purchase at a Judaica store. The students reported that they felt a deeper connection to these mitzvot after using items they designed and created themselves and suggested that they wanted to learn how to create more things on their own to help them connect more personally to Judaism. One of the key aspects of creating these pieces were that they needed to follow a “learn as we go” process. Students created multiple failed pieces before they hit upon the right combination of Jewish law, mathematics, and personal design that worked for them.

Game Design

  • In an effort to infuse more coding into our classrooms, we decided to encourage our students and teachers to use the Scratch platform. Scratch, which was developed by MIT to teach coding, is one of the simplest entry points into the field of coding. Our students were challenged to build games based on content they were learning in class. Students also created physical game boards that connected to a digital realm as well.
  • Two particular subjects stuck out as being particularly successful. One was the formative process of building a game while simultaneously learning the Book of Numbers (Sefer Bamidbar) in a sixth grade class. Students were tasked with the challenge to code or create a game that helped Moshe navigate through the Midbar leading the Jewish people along safely. Students were required to provide source based annotation for all of the work they did. The reason this was formative as opposed to summative was the fact that student learned both the coding and the story of Bamidbar as the went. Students were constantly having to revisit their code and their understanding of the book of Bamidbar. Each time the students learned more verses or more commentary they could build more of the game. Either more robust or more complicated. Each time they learned another aspect of coding, students were able to create a better designed game.
  • Another success of integrating game design and Judaic studies was in a fourth grade class. The students built their own games while learning about the conquest of the land of Canaan in the Book of Joshua.
  • An important factor that played into the success of these classes were that both took place while students were learning the Biblical texts along with the creation of their games. Students had to develop their game as the story unfolded, and they would review their lines of code to revisit the game design as they learned more and built upon their already existing foundation of knowledge. We utilized the concept known as “design thinking” to encourage students to go through a more thoughtful and organized game development process. Students had to think about what the main point of their games were, and who their target audience was. Each time their game deviated from their goals, it was time to revisit their initial plan and rethink their design process. Ultimately, this is the way that we all learn; not through memorization, but with hands-on training that has a practical and tangible outcome.

These were two heavily digital examples, but we didn’t just use computers for our learning. Everything from cardboard to fabric to wood to metal is used to support making and learning in our school. For more student driven Maker projects we ran this year, click here.

The joy and confidence that comes from holding something in one’s hands that they have created is unparalleled. Students begin to approach learning, particularly Judaics, with a renewed fervor and desire to learn more. Many students gain a level of ownership over their Jewish learning through Making in a way that strict text based learning does not provide for them. In the long term, this deep connection with Judaics and Making will hopefully result in lifelong, independently motivated, Judaic learners.

Tzvi Hametz is the Educational Technologist and Director of the Innovation Lab (a Makerspace) at Gindi Maimonides Academy in Los Angeles, CA. Tzvi is a lifelong tinkerer, Maker, learner, and illustrator. Similar to many other Makers, Tzvi got his start by creating Lego inventions and graduated to repurposing things in his parents home; even things his parents really wanted to be kept whole. Tzvi attended Yeshiva University, RIETS, and American Jewish University, (also, currently working on a program through the MIT Media Lab). Tzvi has been working in education for 9 years in and out of the classroom. Tzvi also recently became a first time father: his lovely wife refuses to let him Make robots to care for the baby.

If you have not yet experienced the joy of making, please come to our Innovation Lab – my students will show you around. Our lab is always open!