Taking Tech from the Screen to the Synagogue at Temple Beth Shalom

Taking Tech from the Screen to the Synagogue at Temple Beth Shalom

By Jayme Dale Mallindine

This year, Temple Beth Shalom’s youth programs thrived at the intersection of tradition, learning and innovation. From a school wide live action Pokémon Go game infused with Jewish trivia on the final day of religious school, to a computer programming club dedicated to teaching middle school girls about computer science through a Jewish lens, Temple Beth Shalom spearheaded new ways to combine ancient knowledge with modern inventions.

Hundreds of Pokémon trainers flocked to the fields of the JCC campus on May 7 to catch Pokémon that were scattered throughout the grass. The goal of Pokémon, a series of games, movies, shows and toys created by Nintendo, is to catch small fictional creatures called “Pokémon” in red and white containers known as “Pokéballs.” Players, known as “trainers,” usually catch pokémon by defeating them in battle. But on May 7, instead of battling with brute force, students at Temple Beth Shalom defeated Pokémon by successfully answering Jewish trivia questions about information they had learned throughout the year.

The trainers were students in kindergarten through sixth grade who used foam Pokéballs to tag Pokémon out in the field. The Pokémon were staff and teachers, madrichim (teenage teaching assistants), and older students in seventh through twelfth grade, who were identifiable by the Pokémon masks they sported. When tagged by a group of students, the Pokémon would ask the group grade-specific trivia questions, rewarding correct answers with personalized Jewish-themed Pokémon cards like “Goldeen Meir” and “Schnorrer.” At the end of the game of tag, each class got to choose a “Pokémon” from the Pokémon cards they had won. The Pokémon then competed on behalf of the class that chose them in a 14-way game of ga-ga, a variant of dodgeball played with only one ball.

“We really just wanted the kids to have fun and strengthen connections with their Jewish friends” said Jordan Magidson, director of youth education and programming at Temple Beth Shalom. “By taking something the kids already love and are familiar with, like Pokémon, we get this awesome opportunity to infuse a part of their everyday lives with Jewish knowledge. Not only that, they get to spend a day at religious school giggling, exercising their bodies and making memories that will last a lifetime.”

Pokémon are not the only modern inventions at Temple Beth Shalom. This year, Temple Beth Shalom celebrated the completion of its first Girls Who Code club, a weekly two-hour after-school program for middle and high school girls to learn to use computer science to impact their community. Girls Who Code is a nonprofit organization that provides curriculum and support to train club facilitators at host sites, such as Temple Beth Shalom. They have launched the clubs in all 50 states across the United States as part of their mission to close the gender gap in technology. Club members also met with professionals in the tech industry, including IBM designers and engineers from Electronic Arts, and took field trips to visit companies including General Motors and Facebook.

The Girls Who Code club is about more than just learning code. Girls in the program also learn about bravery, collaboration and how to use computer science to positively impact their community and perform tikkun olam (repairing the world).

This year, the girls in Temple Beth Shalom’s Girls Who Code club chose to focus their projects on decreasing student stress. Noting the rise in mental health issues their peers faced, like anxiety and depression, the girls wanted to find ways to help lighten the mental load in their community. Their projects ranged from an animation of unicorns playing soft jazz, soothing music coded in Python, a choose-your-own adventure story using html and hyperlinks, a video game showing how being timed increases mistakes during tests, and a coded story that teaches teachers how to respond with emotional intelligence to a child being bullied.

“It has been a truly meaningful and groundbreaking program for the participants,” said Niccol Graf, a mother who has a daughter in the Girls Who Code program. Graf has called the program “life changing” for her middle school daughter, who previously struggled to find a community of girls that shared her interest in computer programming.

“It was really important for me to make this a space where the girls felt safe to be their wonderful, quirky selves, while also teaching them about how their actions affect the world around them” said Jayme Dale Mallindine, education coordinator and head of the Girls Who Code club at Temple Beth Shalom.

“Technology is ultimately a neutral thing. Whether or not a new technology is positive or negative is really affected by the intentions and values that the creators have when making it,” Mallindine explained. “The club emphasizes bravery and standing up for other people, the importance of listening and collaboration, and complex problem-solving, all of which are values that can also be found in the Jewish tradition. Judaism might be a really old practice, but it has a lot of insight to offer when thinking about the new creations we make and what kind of impact we wish to have in the modern world.”

Temple Beth Shalom planners expect to continue integrating Jewish education and values with the many issues modern children face. In addition to religious and Hebrew school, Temple Beth Shalom will be organizing almost 70 different family oriented events and programs next year. Events will range from the technology-driven, like the Girls Who Code club, to the more traditional First Fridays, a Shabbat experience with a family-friendly dinner twist, as well as youth group events like limo-scavenger hunts and pool parties.

Registration for Religious School at Temple Beth Shalom will be open by mid-July 2017 at http://www.bethshalomaustin.org/learning/RS/.

For more information about the Girls Who Code club, visit www.bethshalomaustin.org/girlswhocode. For information about First Fridays, visit www.bethshalomaustin.org/worship/shabbat/firstfridays. For more information about Temple Beth Shalom’s youth programs, contact Jayme Dale Mallindine, education coordinator, at jayme.dale@bethshalomaustin.org.

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