Technological Advances Strike SDJA
By Ariela Moel (‘22)
Hidden below the old library area in the school’s A building secretly lies a little-known gem of San Diego Jewish Academy. This beneficial learning environment boasts abundant technology and holds the key to innovation. What is this incognito luxury? The virtual reality lab! Even though it is relatively unknown now, students will soon become more familiar with the technological wonderland that SDJA has to offer.
Mr. Kwaku Aning, director of the school’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Thinking (CIET), gave students new opportunities when his lab debuted in 2018, and again when he developed a new station located in the art room which followed it the next year. Both labs give students the ability to draw, create, and learn through artificial intelligence and augmented reality. Sophomore Rena Novom (‘22), has recently joined an art class in which she uses the VR. Rena mentions that VR lets her “manipulate the art form more than in a real-life situation.”
Mr. Aning’s captivating VR Station, full of opportunities for SDJA’s students. Picture by Ariela Moel (‘22)
And this is only a small percentage of the enhancements SDJA has developed since the beginning of this school year. Other than the wonders which the virtual reality lab brings to the community, there have been other modifications made to the robotics team, classes added to the MS and HS curricula, and a newly established MS robotics program. As Jessie Gan (‘21), co-captain, along with Noah Katcher (’20), of the “7609 Lions” robotics team, mentions, the team has recently “taken advantage of the 3D printers.” She notes that “now, more people on the team have those marketable 3D printing skills needed for our robotics use.”
Though unknown to many students, the VR labs are a school treasure. Whether it comes to building a 3D art model in Google Tilt Brush, an application made specifically for painting in new perspectives, or simply playing a game, students are allowed to see the unique window of high tech that is the VR.
Anyone interested in visiting one of the labs simply has to reach out to him. As Mr. Aning mentions, “We have several headsets (wired and wireless) and students can always email me if they would like to meet me during POD to try it out and explore how it works.”
As if this VR station were not enough, Ms. Nebo has created a second VR lab, this one located in the art studio. When asked how it has improved SDJA’s art department, Ms. Nebo explains that “In the visual art class, we start off with a lot of paper and pencil and painting, kind of the more traditional art techniques and I think a lot of kids are intimidated by that because they don’t think of themselves as artists, and I feel like the VR gives them a different way to be able to express themselves.” With the implementation of the Occulus Quest, a type of VR headset, Ms. Nebo and her students have been able to benefit from the wireless technology.
Ms. Nebo’s new virtual reality headset which helps create student masterpieces. Picture by Ariela Moel (‘22)
Although virtual reality is exciting, it is not the only type of innovation at SDJA. “I think that when you challenge kids, you challenge students to try something new, and there’s a camaraderie that comes out of that,” says Mr. Marc Muroff, the AP Computer Science Principles teacher. When asked what innovations he has seen this year at SDJA, he responded, “I think SDJA offering two middle school programming classes and a full-year robotics class is very innovative.” Most people have generalized the word ‘innovation’ to be strictly technological, yet this isn’t so. As Mr. Muroff suggests, innovations can include allowing young students to take a leap into the world of experimental thinking in class and in the outside world.
The leaders in CIET have recently implemented a few new technologies at SDJA. After being asked about the upcoming projects or ideas for the school, Mr. Aning mentioned a new innovation center. “The plans are to create a space here on campus where students can conceive, create, and present new innovations in addition to incorporating these innovation skills into their school work,” he states.
Luckily, SDJA’s faucet of technology doesn’t stop running there. As well as the innovation center, there have been many new components in CIET. “I have seen a lot of amazing things this year!” Mr. Aning exclaims. “This include kindergarten students using AR to share their research about young activists with their parents, 5th-grade students using AI to develop adaptive solutions for people with disabilities, and high school students researching escape rooms to learn about film making, storytelling, and math,”
The many opportunities that SDJA offers its students are nothing short of sensational. As Ms. Alicia Johal, CIET assistant director, mentions, “Teachers and students across campus have done some amazing work to embed innovative teaching practices into their curriculum. I have been excited by all of it – augmented reality experiences, virtual reality, robotics, creative video productions, podcasting, coding, and more!”
So many cutting edge additions to the school in such a short time confirm San Diego Jewish Academy as an authentic innovation sensation. As SDJA continues thinking creatively, the school community can look forward to even more progress and improvements in the near future. Stay tuned!