Robotics, virtual reality, and Israel go to NJY Camps

Robotics, virtual reality, and Israel go to NJY Camps

Campers working on computers during the 2018 pilot ORT Start-up Challenge, which has representatives visiting three NJY Camps this week. Photo courtesy ORT
Campers working on computers during the 2018 pilot ORT Start-up Challenge, which has representatives visiting three NJY Camps this week. Photo courtesy ORT

Campers at three NJY Camps are experiencing a slice of Israel’s emerging technology as part of the ORT Start-up Challenge this week.

The program allows campers to experience cutting-edge interactive activities involving science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) that showcase technological concepts emerging in Israel. Now in its second year, the ORT Challenge will come to Camp Nah-Jee-Wah in Milford, Pa., and Camps Shoshanim and Nesher in Lakewood, Pa. All three draw campers from the Greater MetroWest area and are directed out of the NJY Camps office in Fairfield. Representatives of the program will also be visiting two facilities in New Hampshire and Michigan, and working with more than 700 campers.

“The idea is to allow Jewish campers in the United States to experience all of what is going on with start-up technology in Israel and to learn how such technology is changing education for the future,” said Howard Lanznar, chairman of ORT America. “The campers will have the chance to work with our partners from Israel, and will have to overcome challenges using robotics, videos, and alternate reality.

“We want them to have so much fun, they forget this is a learning process.”

The Start-up Challenge gives the campers some of the highlights of Israeli ingenuity.

“Israel is a world leader in the field of technological entrepreneurship and innovation,” Lanznar said, “and as Israel’s largest leading provider of informal experiential science and technological education, ORT is shaping the next generation of scientists and entrepreneurs.”

ORT, the global Jewish education and vocational training organization, was established in 1880 and serves over 300,000 students in 35 countries to bolster educational opportunities in underserved areas. The ORT Start-up Challenge results from a grant from ORT America involving World ORT Kadima Mada (Science Journey), which has worked throughout Israel since 2007 with an educational network of six high schools serving a high proportion of students from troubled and disadvantaged backgrounds. Even though they’re still working through logistics, Lanznar said, so far they’re encouraged by the results.

Youngsters at NJY Camps last year learn how to maneuver their robot cars on the map of Israel — as they answer questions about the country in order to proceed — with, from left, Shahaf Pinion, robotics teacher from ORT Kadima Mada in Dimona; Ayelet Abramovitch, chief of informal education at ORT Kadima Mada; and Ziv Itzhak and, in foreground, Ta’ir David, both from ORT Kadima Mada in Dimona.

“We are still trying to figure it all out, see how it works with what we can do for campers and what they want,” he said. “We did a pilot program last year and decided to do six camps this year. We are looking to expand our camp reach next year if all goes well with this.”

David Or-Lev, an ORT Kadima Mada virtual reality and augmented reality instructor, according to ORT, is working with the Start-up Challenge, which has the campers discovering Israeli culture in a fun way. With teams competing in a tournament, the campers will build robots, experience virtual reality, integrate coding to help their robots overcome obstacles, and capture all the action on videos they produce.

“The children are fascinated by their encounter with an instructor from Israel and the information they are exposed to about the country — including life in Israel, technology, and entrepreneurship,” said Or-Lev. “They soak it all in, comparing the content they learn through this experience with their previous impressions about Israel and the information they have learned throughout their lives in the United States.”

Camp Nah-Jee-Wah, for children in the first through sixth grades, participated in the pilot program last summer and director Carrie Youngs is looking forward to the Start-up Challenge’s return.

“We had them for a week last year, and our kids really enjoyed the experience,” Youngs said.

Shoshanim, a Modern Orthodox camp for girls entering grades three through 10, didn’t have the ORT Start-up Challenge last summer, but not for lack of trying, according to director Esther Staum Katz.

“I tried to get this last year,” said Katz. “I am a robotics person myself, and I know this will be an excellent event for our girls. We try to teach them they can do anything in the world if they try, and this will certainly offer a challenge and show them that.”

She added that “The integration with Israel provided is, of course, also quite important to us.”

ORT America is the leading fund-raising organization for World ORT. ORT’s schools and programs aim to bridge the gap between aptitude and opportunity to expand knowledge, build autonomy, and strengthen Jewish identity. It is headquartered in New York, with regional offices in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio.

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