The Power of “Pop”

Using scratch block programming in their Design, Library, and Technology course, our Fourth Graders hosted an arcade of games in the Pop Lab that they conceived, designed, and built from recyclable materials – all of which were inspired by core Jewish values of empathy and Tikkun Olam [repairing the world].

Why is the Popkin Innovation Lab so essential to our children’s learning?  Simply put, since opening in the fall of 2018, the “Pop Lab” has become an integral part of our curriculum and an indispensable tool that is helping prepare our children for the world they will inherit, not the world we know now. For them to learn in the way we did is to rob them of opportunities and experiences not even dreamt of when we went to school.

The world has changed, but too many schools have not.

At SSDS Bergen, our goal is to help children acquire the skills they need to live a purposeful and meaningful Jewish life, and to be prepared for an ever-changing economy, as most of the careers they will have do not yet exist. In addition, children today want to engage in authentic learning experiences.

I agree with the experts who believe that most of humanity’s simple problems have either been solved or relegated to machines. We are left to tackle complex issues that have economic, ethical, or ecological implications. Those who have developed their creativity, and are able to think critically, collaborate effectively and communicate successfully, will be better equipped to deal with these challenges. Ultimately,  these are the people who will lead the future. 

We want our children to be ready to take on life’s challenges as well as an exciting, global future grounded in Jewish values. Our mission is to inspire a passion for learning – and to teach the necessary perseverance to learn deeply. We want our students to learn responsibility and to recognize their obligation to contribute to society beyond their own wants and needs.

The incredible Pop Lab gives our students and educators the space, the stimulating environment, and the creative tools necessary for our children to gain the skills they need.

As head of this special Jewish day school, it is thrilling to witness how the education our children need today aligns with what Jews have always known. The skills needed in the world our children will inherit are skills embedded in our tradition; the balance between twenty-first education and Judaism is seamless. 

There are several essential skills students need today in our global world. Four of these skills are universally accepted as desirable by most professions: Critical thinking, Collaboration, Communication and Creativity. Each of these four skills is woven into the fabric of Judaism.

Critical Thinking – It has always been a part of our Jewish tradition to challenge us to think deeply, ask probing questions, and challenge the Jewish text to gain a deeper, more nuanced insight into our teachings.  We are encouraged to be skeptical and seek alternative solutions.  

Hevruta, the ancient rabbinic tradition of learning in pairs, is what today we call Collaboration. Our rabbis knew, even before the Common Era, that many brains working, deliberating, and problem-solving together are better than the lone brain. One of the earliest references to learning in groups can be found in the Talmud, Brakhot 63b, where it is written that Torah can only truly be acquired through collaboration.

Communication Who knows better about effective communication than the Jewish people? We are the People of the Book – studying, writing, speaking, and listening. We create and understand our world, our values, our ideas, and our understanding of God through communication, through the written word.  As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once wrote, Western civilization emphasizes the visual through art and images; we Jews emphasize the words.

For me, this concept manifests itself in the difference between our American national anthem, which begins, “Oh say, can you see…” and our Jewish proclamation of faith, “Shema Yisrael… Hear O Israel!”

Creativity – Our foundational story is told in the Torah. The Torah does not begin by stating that God is a king, or father, or just, or merciful. The Torah begins by describing God’s attribute as Creator – “Bereshit bara, Elohim et hashamayim ve’et haaretz – When God began to create the heaven and the earth…”  We are meant to create, to dream, design, and imagine – through creativity, problems are solved, discoveries are made, and lives are enhanced.

All of our values and the essential skills on which we focus align beautifully  with what our children need to live a purposeful, meaningful, and engaging life. And in the Pop Lab, the tools are at their fingertips, to design, create, collaborate, imagine, problem-solve, and have fun along the way! That is the purpose of Pop!


  • Carole Rothstein - January 3, 2020

    I am always impressed with your column and always learn something from you. This weeks did not disappoint Thank you.
    Carole Rothstein ( Rachel Berman’s grandmother)

  • Alicia Messer - January 3, 2020

    I really enjoyed reading about the coding project the 4th grade students are working on. Both my second grader and fifth grader use scratch to create videos, stories and games. Is there anyway to post the 4th grade arcade games you blogged about in this article? We all know how much kids enjoy playing games online and even more fun when your friends are the creators! I personally really enjoy seeing what my kids create. I’ve actually learned to use scratch through my kids and it’s fun.


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