Monday, April 29, 2013

Reflections on Day One of edJEWCon!

Yesterday, we enjoyed our first day of edJEWcon, hosted by Jon Mitzmacher and the amazing people of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School. Here are some of our thoughts from the day, but stay tuned for more of our reflections:

Greetings from Jacksonville, Florida! RealSchool is so excited to be here at edJEWcon learning, sharing, reflecting and planning with others.

Opening Keynote Speech by Andrea Hernandez from Martin J. Gottlieb Day School: The conference began with a fantastic keynote speech by Andrea Hernandez. Andrea spoke about the goals of the conference and what we, as participants, should do to get the most out of our days here. It was exciting to see that the concepts Andrea mentioned as key to maximizing the experience at edJEWcon are core RealSchool values. For example, Andrea talked about the importance of getting out of your comfort zone and trying new things and meeting new people, because that is how success and growth really occur. She also stressed that curiosity is a key to authentic learning, and she mentioned that babies naturally learn because they're curious. They're also not afraid to experiment and fail and try again.

]Andrea Hernandez delivering her opening keynote speech Andrea Hernandez delivering her opening keynote speech

In RealSchool, we aim to push students to do things they may not be comfortable with but we know they can do. Reawakening the curiosity that lies innate in students, that sometimes gets dampened by an endless cycle of tests and due dates, is also central to RealSchool's ethos. At RealSchool we also stress that failing is safe, acceptable and even -- gasp! -- a positive part of the learning process. Of course, self-directed learning is at the heart of the RealSchool model, so we were excited when Andrea included it in her list of key ingredients to learning success.

Breakout Session One: We went to the Speed Geeking session where fourth and fifth graders taught us about some great edtech tools (more on that another time!). The students kept referencing their blogs and the assignments they're always posting on them. One presenter even taught us how to appropriately comment on others' posts. After the session, we were given time to reflect and share our reflections with you.

4th and 5th grade MJGDS students answering questions about the technology they use 4th and 5th grade MJGDS students answering questions about the technology they use

Our Takeaway: So far, RealSchool has been an extra-curricular activity, but next year the model is also going to be applied to an elective. In that venue, we'd like to implement the ideas edJEWcon is stressing about giving time to learn, reflect and share. It's clear that the student blogging at MJGDS gives students that time, and here we are, after the session, typing away with fellow participants Ken Gordon from PEJE and Sarah Blattner from Tamritz Learning nearby, reflecting on our experience and sharing it with others (This is all so meta!)

Next school year, then, we're going to build into the Frisch RealSchool elective class reflection time. The students will have time to share their reflections with their schoolmates and the world on their own blogs, where they can post not only text but also short films, videos, and audio and visual presentations that reveal their impressions of the events and projects they'll complete. In fact, with the edtech tools we learned at the Speed Geeking session, we'll be well equipped to suggest many ways students can share their thoughts and ideas. Right now, RealSchool has a blog that is a shared space for all the teams, and we plan on continuing to update that blog. But RealSchool is about giving students a venue to develop their own passions and interests with the world, and personal blogging fits neatly into that key goal.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

EdJEWCon Session Presentation Resources

Be sure to check out our website,, created by RealSchool member Ari Mendelow. To get a constant update on 21st-century learning, Like us on Facebook  and follow us on Twitter: @RealSchool1

You've found your way here because you're interested in inquiry-based learning and self-directed learning, which this website has defined well:

“In its broadest meaning, ’self-directed learning’ describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identify human and material resources for learning, choosing and implement appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.” (Knowles, 1975, p. 18)

Well, we've compiled some resources for you about the various types of learning we engage in at RealSchool. Check them out:

1) Launching RealSchool: Here's a blog post with some of our favorite videos, ones which helped us launch RealSchool. We've also since that time seen some videos of kids doing some pretty awesome stuff:

If students designed their own school . . .

Students design their own car . . . 

2) David Kelley, Creativity and Design Thinking: Here's a blog post about another type of thinking we love, Design Thinking, which is when you start with empathy, asking a consumer about his/her desires and needs, and then design a product based on what the consumer has expressed. We used this type of thinking to design RealSchool, which we hope empathizes with how a student wants to learn and what a student needs to feel successful.

3) Here are some blogs and websites that are wonderful resources for those interested in 21st-century learning:

Edutopia: We particularly like the “Schools That Work” section, which highlights schools that are utilizing strategies such as project-based learning, social and emotional learning, technology integration, arts integration and more.
Will Richardson:

Science Leadership Academy (Chris Lehmann's school!): 

In Jewish Education:

Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky, Educational Director at The Frisch School:

Rabbi Aaron Ross, Judaic Studies principal and educator at Yavneh Academy:

Rabb Ross has been highly successful in using project-based learning in his middle school Judaic Studies classroom.

Tikvah Wiener:
I teach English and art history and am coordinator of interdisciplinary studies at Frisch. I love integrating the arts into my classroom and also have this AP Art History blog: 

4) Here are links to self-directed projects completed by Frisch seniors this past year as part of their AP English Literature course:

The Self-Directed Learning Project: Frisch LEADs

As part of the project, students had to blog about their progress:

Student samples:






5) We love this blog because it embodies the kind of innovative thinking we love at RealSchool:


And we love this blog because it gives a damn:


6) Finally, to be very meta, feel free to check out additional posts on our RealSchool blog. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Yom Iyun Source Sheets and Art

RS parent Pearl Mattenson created this work from a verse from Qohelet
Just as we did last year, we compiled a source sheet booklet for anyone who came to the Yom Iyun, so the participants could at least get a sense of the sessions they were unable to attend. This year, we also prepared a lot of explanatory information about the art exhibit. We've posted both booklets here, as well as samples of art projects participants completed, based on the texts in the sessions and at the art exhibit:

Source Sheet Book

Art Exhibit Explanation

Art from the Yom Iyun

Yom Ha'atzmaut -- Israel's Independence Day -- was two days
after the Yom Iyun, so Mrs. Wiener took two of her classes
to the exhibit 

A session presenter gets to try her hand at the art; she chose a text
from another presenter. She chose "There is nothing new under the sun,"
which she said she grappled with. Here she shows how the light of the Shabbat candles.
a sign of her Judaism, redeem the world from nihilism and futility.

Active RS Member Talia creates her work of text art

Sophomore Jonas works on his project . . . 

We really like how he interpreted Qohelet 9:11

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Yom Iyun!

Zach Narin ('14) helped create the repurposed printer
for the Yom Iyun and also was a docent at the event's art exhibit 
This past Sunday was our long-awaited Yom Iyun, Day of Learning, which we call Sichot B'Emunah, Discussions in Faith. The event, which took place at Frisch from 4:00-7:00 PM and drew about 55 participants, was dedicated by Anne and Jerry Gontownik and their family in memory of Mr. Gontownik's brother, Sidney Gontownik.

Akiva Mattenson, a driving force behind our Religious Identity team, introduced the event with a beautiful thought from the Sefer Ha-Chinuch:

The Sefer Ha-Chinuch discusses the obligation to write a Sefer Torah and asks whether a person needs to do so if his father already wrote one. The Sefer Ha-Chinuch thinks a person is for two reasons:

1) Books should proliferate among the Jewish people. We should encourage the reading -- and therefore writing -- of books and thereby enable the multiplying of books among our people.

2) Old books become worn and used and perhaps people won't want to read them. Writing new books makes them appealing to a new generation, and the act of writing them forces the new generation to grapple with them. Each new generation should renew our people's texts both literally and figuratively.

Akiva said that the aim of the Yom Iyun is to have the new generation, the students of Frisch RealSchool, grapple with the texts of our heritage and share their insights with their grandparents, parents, teachers and friends, thus continuing and renewing the mesorah, our tradition. Furthermore, the Yom Iyun art exhibit, which is a visual journey of text is another way to imagine and reimagine the texts of our tradition and shows, throughout our history, that we've have constantly been using the arts as well to think about the Big Ideas our religion presents us with.

Akiva introducing the Yom Iyun

Here are the sessions participants were able to choose from:

And here are some of our presenters:

Ronit Langer ('15) discussing family dynamics in Bereishit, Genesis

Penina Warburg ('13) discussing Hagar's journeys and the akeidah,
the sacrifice of Isaac

Solomon Wiener ('14) comparing Qohelet with Ayn Rand's Objectivism
Here are Laura Friedman ('13) and Rebecca Zakheim ('13) (on the left), the curators of the art exhibit, putting the final touches on it with Talia Schabes ('14) (on the right), a highly involved RealSchool member who, as usual, was present and helping out in tons of ways at this RS event. Zach Narin ('14) (pictured at the top of the blog post) was also an indispensable part of getting the exhibit ready for game day:

On the right, you can also see the Studio Art contributions to the exhibit
For a fuller explanation of the exhibit, see our blog post on it and read more here:

One of our favorite parts of the exhibit was the repurposed printer the art history students created. Here is how it came out and following the photo is an art historical explanation of it:

Student-created work is obviously always big with us. Here is Laura's illuminated manuscript. Our exhibit was timed for Yom Ha'atzmaut, ending as it did with a celebration of Israeli life. Laura took an old art form and one all Jews indulged in -- illuminated manuscripts -- and utilized Ashkenazi and Sephardic styles to reimagine this new Jewish prayer for the Welfare for the State of Israel:

Neat or Messy? That was participants' choices for their own texting projects, which we'll post soon:

Get messy with fingerpaints, charcoals and oil pastels!

Stay neat with paper and colored pencils!

All in all, the grandparents, parents, teachers and students who attended enjoyed the event and went home with new perspectives on text and our tradition. Thanks to everyone who made the day possible!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Texting: RS's Yom Iyun Art Exhibit

This coming Sunday, April 14, is the second annual RealSchool Yom Iyun, Day of Learning, entitled Sichot B'Emunah, Discussions in Faith. The event, which will take place at The Frisch School from 4-7 PM, features a selection of student presenters who will lecture on a variety of topics in Tanakh, Talmud and Jewish thought as well as an interactive art exhibit called Texting: From Bondage to Liberation. 

Bondage and the Passover story

The part of the exhibit on slavery and bondage will take participants through a history of Hebrew illuminated Haggadot and an AP Art History class' interpretation of the Ten Plagues.

Here is the research the AP Art History class completed so far on Haggadot:

Redefining texting: a printer repurposed into the Ten Plagues

For a modern take on texting and the Exodus story, the art history class has been repurposing a printer -- which helps us create text -- as well as using textiles and cutting out text from discarded books in order to bring to life the Ten Plagues. Here are the art history students at work in Mrs. Mantell's art room:

Students in AP Art History take apart a printer and sift through paperbacks
as they repurpose and retext mixed media into an artwork about the ten plagues
You'd be surprised how many book titles worked well for the Ten Plagues theme!
Once we got into the swing of things, we began to see shapes
like a frog in the printer's parts
The printer is really starting to look like the plagues!

Liberation and Yom Ha'atzmaut in the exhibit

The Liberation part of the exhibit will begin with an illuminated manuscript made by one of the curators, Laura Friedman ('13), who worked on RealSchool's first event, last year's Maurizio Cattelan-style Chanukah art exhibit. This year, Laura used her Frisch LEADs research paper to explore illuminated manuscripts, and for her LEADs project and the art exhibit, Laura created her own illuminated manuscript out of the text of the Prayer for the State of Israel

Mulling ideas for the art exhibit
Laura's illumination of a contemporary prayer about the State of Israel, just in time for Yom Ha'atzmaut, will provide a springboard into an exploration of the work of contemporary artists as well as of Frisch art students who have interpreted Jewish texts and Israeli culture in a variety of artistic ways. The Frisch art students, for example, are working on Pop Art interpretations of Israeli food packaging:

The Yom Iyun exhibit will also be shown at the school
for Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day
After the Yom Iyun participants take in the art exhibit, they'll have the opportunity to interpret artistically their own pieces of text. Participants will choose from a group of texts that the student presenters submitted to be photocopied.

Two student presenters researching their topics. The presenters and curators came
 to school on a Sunday (!) in order to prepare for the Yom Iyun
The texts will be ones which are most germane to the lectures' main points and which lend themselves to being interpreted creatively. Each participant will choose a text s/he prefers and then sit down at a NEAT or MESSY station to "illuminate" it, decorate it as s/he chooses. In the NEAT station, participants can choose to work with media such as textiles, paper, and colored pencils, while in the MESSY station, fingerpaints, charcoal and pastels will be available for use.

We're having a lot of fun creating this interactive Artists Beit Midrash, and we hope the Yom Iyun participants get a lot out of the experience as well!


Additional points

* Included in the exhibit will be information provided by Mrs. Wiener who teaches the art history class and runs RealSchool. Here's what Mrs. Wiener posted for the art history students about Passover that is now being used in the exhibit:

The March to Freedom: Liberating Art

* Overheard while the art history students were painting printer parts: a debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Students teaching students, debating with each other, broadening each other's minds, and talking to each other with respect: we love it!

* What do you think is a more meaningful learning experience: this project or cramming over 1000 artworks into the brain for the AP art history exam? (On a side note: to make up for the lost class time, those students taking the AP art history exam will meet each week for at least two hours after school. Drill. Kill. Bubble Fill.)

* Thanks to Laura for the Sichot B'Emunah artwork and to Ari for his work on the flier!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Self-Directed Learning Goes Beyond the Self

Rabbi Ross has continued the blogversation we and Rabbi Tzvi Pittinksy have been having about self-directed learning, voicing concerns about the possible loss of well-roundedness in the quest to allow students to choose their own pathways through school. Before everyone starts to worry that we're in for a future where we'll be tossing away accepted notions about what it means to be a Renaissance person, let us assure you that self-directed learning doesn't mean a student learns one subject all day, choosing, as Rabbi Ross suggested, only math classes, let's say, and forgetting that there's anything to be learned other than algebraic formulas and complex algorithms.

Math through Basketball?

Self-directed learning can mean many things. We first got interested in it because of Sugata Mitra's discovery of how students in India could teach themselves with very limited resources (thank you, RealSchool member Akiva for showing us that video!). Our interest in self-directed learning deepened because of Will Richardson's challenge to math teachers, asking them if his son, who is a basketball enthusiast, could learn all the math he needed to learn by studying his favorite sport. The answer, 60 blog post responses later, seemed to be "yes." That possibility has to be intriguing to any teacher; how much more engaged students might be if they could be analyzing their favorite sport as they learn!

Opening, not Closing, Horizons

The Sorcerer's and Their Apprentices by Frank Moss, a book Ken Gordon of PEJE suggested recently that educators from Jewish day schools read, highlights the work of the MIT Media Lab. One professor, Leah Buechley of the High-Low Tech group, works to ignite passion for engineering in those who wouldn't ordinarily be interested in it, particularly girls. Here is what Buechley's group does:

High-Low Tech, a research group at the MIT Media Lab, integrates high and low technological materials, processes, and cultures. Our primary aim is to engage diverse audiences in designing and building their own technologies by situating computation in new cultural and material contexts, and by developing tools that democratize engineering. We believe that the future of technology will be largely determined by end-users who will design, build, and hack their own devices, and our goal is to inspire, shape, support, and study these communities. To this end, we explore the intersection of computation, physical materials, manufacturing processes, traditional crafts, and design. (

Buechley is on a "quest to combat what she calls the 'cultural lopsidedness of the hard sciences,' in particular the gender gap, by getting more females . . . interested and active in the world of engineering and inventing" (Moss 227). An invention as appealing to girls as this interactive wall paper means Buechley is well on her way to achieving her goal:

This interactive wallpaper, called the Living Wall,
shows people, not only young girls, that creating
through engineering is fun and can lead to something
accessible and that adds value and fun to everyday life.
Imagine if our walls could help us with daily chores!

Buechley understands what girls are interested in; they want to play with pretty things and decorate their play houses (not to be too stereotypical, but hey, we posted girls playing basketball too, so we're safe with this gender-biased assumption). The point is that Buechley is trying to reach girls on their level, that is, directing learning so the student is at the center of it, with her interests being ignited and appealed to first and then building a curriculum from that.

So rather than having self-directed learning be narrow and confining, our two examples -- of sports-based math and design-based engineering -- show that a student interest can lead to something even more broadening and enriching.

More than One Value

It's also important to remember that one value doesn't define RealSchool and other programs like it. To remind you, here is RealSchool's Mission Statement, which begins with a verse from Ethics from Our Fathers, one said by the famous sage Hillel and which we'd like to think endorses the concept of self-directed learning:

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?"

But the verse continues, showing us that we must also use our talents for a common, greater good:

"And if I am only for myself, what am I?" (1:13)


Thus, RealSchool also prizes our culture of collaboration. RealSchool students work together in a friendly and respectful way with others, so that while pursuing their own passions, they learn to value others for the talents and interests they have. And more often than not, because the walls of the disciplines are dissolved during RealSchool meetings, students end up peeking into the doings of other teams and learning they have an interest in all sorts of things they never thought they may have cared about.


Bracelets we sold at our fashion show last year told wearers
"You are Beautiful. You are Enough."

Another value, crucial to RealSchool and which can also be derived from Hillel's second statement, is that what we produce has to contribute positively to the world around us. Therefore, all RealSchool students see that there is relevance to their work, that their interests can be converted into something that is meaningful and beneficial to society and the world. 

Learning by Doing

Though Hillel is silent, at least in this verse, on the concept of learning by doing, we cannot remain so, as it is one of the program's most important values. We want kids up and doing, not sitting behind desks. We want the learning process to be messy, we want kids unafraid of making mistakes, and we want to hear noise and commotion as we create and innovate. 

The Kindergartners Get a Say

We have more to share, but we'll end for today with this great video, called "Five-Year-Olds Pilot Their Own Project Learning." We love to post this video: it's of kindergartners engaged in project-based learning. While some aspects of the projects are clearly teacher-guided, one adorable one was totally student-centered: a funeral for the class pet bug. Enjoy seeing how these small students are taking ownership of their learning: