Principals Perspective (April) - Dr. Eliana Lipsky
Dr, Eliana Lipsky
CESJDS Innovation Minimester: Where Tradition Meets Innovation, Middle School Style

This year’s Middle School Innovation Minimester was one of the most invigorating and inspiring periods of this year and I am incredibly proud of what our faculty and students accomplished together. Our Innovation Minimester began the week prior to Pesah break and concluded the week after the holiday. Students met in small advisory groups with teacher leaders, explored Jewish values, followed their passions by choosing an affinity track to explore, attended seminars of their choice, worked in Innovation Labs with teachers available to assist, completed a process journal to reflect on their learning and thinking, developed their ideas and products, and finally presented to their peers about their work and the process they underwent. 

Students engaged in creative thinking about the world around them, focused on problem-solving issues in our community, and continued social-emotional skill building through academically rigorous work. Their greatest struggle was the emphasis on process over product, likely because society emphasizes product without always thinking about whether there is value to that product. By focusing on process and creative thinking, students were encouraged to take their own learning risks and to get out of their comfort zone. They gained life skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, project planning, and design thinking. 

The greatest joy was witnessing the pride our students and faculty felt about the students’ accomplishments and the collaborative learning that occurred during Innovation Minimester. The best way to share our students’ excitement is through their voices. When asked what they thought we should keep for next year, students said they loved the seminars, independent components, innovation labs, and the small advisory experience. 

Some of our students wrote: 

  • “Basically everything! I thought it was so much fun.”

  • “I liked the independence and freedom I had while working on it.”

  • “I think you should keep the seminars and innovations labs the same - I also really enjoyed having advisories and knowing there was a teacher there when I needed help.”

When asked what our students thought we should change, most expressed a desire for more time to develop their idea and more time to present their work. 

This feedback included:

  • “I think you could add some more independent blocks because I think it's really important to have dedicated time to just work on the project and more of those blocks would help us get it done faster and more efficiently.”

  • “I think it might be a little better to extend the minimester a little bit. If that's not possible, maybe do less seminars to give more time to work on the project.”

  • “I didn't have enough time to see as many presentations as I wanted to. I think next year there could be more presentation rounds with less people presenting in each round.”

This project is a perfect example of where tradition meets innovation. Our faculty stepped out of a traditional classroom environment and demonstrated how important and powerful it can be when students are put in charge of their learning. The Innovation Minimester was designed to capitalize on the skills our students were learning in their classes. In turn, students gained skills through this experience that teachers are weaving into their end of year studies. In particular, our 6th grade team used the Innovation Minimester as the launching pad for their 6th Grade Symposium, which we will share more about soon! 

We realized that in taking this educational risk, we are living our school’s value of Torah Lishmah/Love of Learning, modeling the importance of taking risks in learning and experimenting with ideas as a way of pushing oneself to think and grow outside traditional lines. 

Students’ projects will be featured on our social media platforms and the JDS website over the coming weeks. Please take a moment to explore their amazing work. With such tremendous success this year, our Innovation Minimester is now a signature feature of the CESJDS middle school program. We cannot wait to do this again next year!

Dr. Eliana Lipsky

Middle School Principal