Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Update on the Summer Sandbox

Thanks to Ma'ayanot High School,
our gracious Summer Sandbox host

Even as Rabbi Michael Bitton of Magen David Yeshiva High School keeps us updated on Twitter about ISTE 2013, we're here busy planning how we're going to integrate the latest educational innovations into the classroom. One thing we're noticing as we speak to educators and parents about the Sandbox is that there's a high level of interest in PBL and how to actually implement it in the classroom. 

We think Tzvi Daum is going to be a great resource for Judaic Studies teachers, since he can show us how to use his blended learning platform -- www.torahskills.org -- to ensure students reach the requisite benchmarks a teacher sets for a particular PBL unit. 

The general studies teachers can also learn from this Judaic Studies model, though there are more PBL resources out there for the secular studies teacher, one of which is obviously the amazing edutopia. There's really so much to choose from on that site, with any one of the PBL pages being informative and inspiring. Here's one we picked pretty much at random: Problem- and Project-Based Learning. Nancy Edelman and Lauren Burstein, English teachers at TABC, are planning on coming to the Sandbox to work on a PBL for the novel 1984. We're excited to see what they come up with! 

We're also going to have Q and A sessions with different educators who've done PBL and self-directed learning in the classroom. If you have expertise you want to share, please do so. We'd love to compile what the Jewish education world has done in this area. Yechiel Hoffman, I know you can jump in here with lots of good ideas. Rabbi Aaron Ross of Yavneh Academy and Rabbi Avi Bernstein of The Moriah School have much to contribute as well. In fact, if you haven't checked out Rabbi Ross' blog, Thinking about Chinuch, you should. Here in particular are his posts on PBL.

As we mentioned earlier, on Day 2 of the Sandbox, Sarah Blattner will let us know about Badge Learning, something Moriah is piloting in the fall. Check out Sarah's company, Tamritz Badge Learning Network, and learn more about the world of Badge Learning here

As we move towards projects that require deeper and more complex assessments, we have to rethink grading, something we've been discussing on JEDLAB recently, with Tzvi Daum's post on gaming a catalyst for the debateHere's a site that has a whole bunch of rubrics for grading PBL if you want to take a peek before we start the Sandbox.

We also wanted to let you know that Emma Goldman will be at the Sandbox to collaborate with educators on an exciting new approach to Israel advocacy. Emma works for Innovation: Africa, an organization Frisch students have raised money for. Innovation: Africa uses sustainable Israeli technologies to help improve life for people in Africa. David Bernstein, Executive Director of The David Project, has discussed how he has moved Israel advocacy away from drilling talking points into students and towards creating conversations and connections between people. Emma has concrete ways to do the same. 

Pam Ennis of Ma'ayanot High School, our gracious Sandbox host, is excited to discuss digital citizenship and  what the proper codes are for online conduct in a school environment. As a lawyer, Pam has a unique perspective to make this conversation a deep and meaningful one. We've found this site useful as a way to start exploring the topic. 

We'll be sending a schedule for the Sandbox soon and we've got lots more planned. However, since the Sandbox is not only an immersive workshop but also a model for how those involved in Jewish education can engage in inquiry-based learning, we want to know before we meet if there's anything more you want to discuss and that we can prepare for you!

Looking forward to playing in the Sandbox,

Sandbox Organizers

Akiva Mattenson
Penina Warburg
Tikvah Wiener

To register for the Sandbox, go to Registration for Summer Sandbox.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Jamie L.'s Poem in the Modernist Style: A Lesson in Astronomy

Multi-talented Jamie L. -- she made our RealSchool graphic and the graphic for the fashion show this year, to name just a few of her accomplishments -- wrote this amazing poem in the Modernist style, for English class:

A Lesson In Astronomy

The stars are perfectly aligned
Yes, all but the northern star
I don't know much about astronomy
But I'm pretty sure that'll never change
   You'll never change
   Things rarely do
   People never do
   And stars always don't

We could go stargazing
But I don't want to waste my time
Wishing that a star will streak through the sky
Wishing I could even make a wish
And still

I stargaze alone

When I'm lost
I look to the northern star
That's what it's there for, right?
But then I end up more lost in the dark sky

Did I ever tell you you're like a star?
Of course not, that'd be cheesy to the max
Cheesy and pointless
I'm taking a class in astronomy
The professor is flunking me
On the tests, I answer questions with more questions
Lesson one in astronomy is that
When looking in the sky I need
To keep a firm grip on the ground
   But I've got no grip
   No grip at all

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Summer Sandbox

RealSchool is an education reform program that has students engage in self-directed, collaborative, whole-person learning. This summer, RealSchool is giving all stakeholders in Jewish day schools the opportunity to experience RealSchool’s model. Whether you’re an educator, student, administrator, board member or parent, you’re invited to the RealSchool Summer Sandbox, where you can join a team of like-minded individuals and have the time and resources to “play and tinker,” that is, come up with a tangible project or event in your area of interest and return to your school ready to implement your new vision.

We’ve suggested team ideas in areas we know stakeholders are passionate about: student-driven and project-based learning; sustainability; digital literacy and citizenship; community-based learning; meaning-making in Jewish day schools; and school culture and leadership. We’d love for participants to create their own teams based on their interests as well. So get ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work on creating the school and classroom of the future! 

To learn more about RealSchool, watch our student-made video:

For more information about and to register for the Sandbox, visit this site: http://summersandbox.eventbrite.com. See you there!

More Thoughts on Fair Trade and the Fashion Show

From senior David Idler:

A few weeks ago, a few of my classmates and I decided to help prepare for the Fair Trade Fashion Show. In the process, I learned a lot about fair trade and how crucial the bare bones of any project, like a fashion show, are. Although we spent most of our time driving around helping pick out decorations and fair trade products, the fashion show couldn’t have taken place without our help, and my classmates and I helped raise awareness about the importance of fair trade. After extensive research on different fair trade chocolate and coffee brands, which we were looking at to buy for the fashion show, I discovered how important the fair trade system was, as it offers better trading conditions to, and secures the rights of, marginalized producers and workers. We looked at brands such as Sunspire, Green Mountain, Nibmore, and Equal Exchange to distribute at the fashion show to help raise awareness to fair trade. We helped instill the fact that we must continue buying fair trade brands in order to try to discontinue sweatshops and other inhumane manufacturing methods. 

One of the fair trade chocolates we bought for the fashion show

Overall, I’m very happy I participated in assisting in the fair trade fashion show; I gained an understanding that even the most seemingly meaningless part of an operation could, in retrospect, be the most important part. Similarly, while some may think fair trade brands are simply ridiculous, slightly more expensive brands, the work I put in for the fashion show helped me realize that fair trade is certainly an ongoing problem throughout the world. Even the miniscule percent of people that learned about the importance of fair trade thanks to our work is a big step forward to terminating this worldwide dilemma.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Friday, June 7, 2013

Akiva Mattenson's Graduation Speech in Which He References SparkNotes

          7:50. First day of school. I step over the metal threshold, gripping the shoulder strap of my ragged backpack. A wonderfully amicable, yet firm handshake – what is to be the first of many over my subsequent four years – greets me there, along with a smile and a name: Barry. A fine beginning. Still nervous, though. I hurriedly scuttle across the entrance hall, glancing upward only to avoid colliding with the menacing and frightful builds of juniors and seniors. I continue down the hall, through the double doors that lead beyond the business and academic offices. That is when it happened. Collision. Not with a junior; not with a senior. No. With the one, the only, Dr. Stein. See, in my ignorance I was unaware of the door that leads from his office directly into the hallway. He was pushed back a few inches by the impact; but nothing compared to the blow my self-confidence took. There I was, looking up at a grimace, a scowl, the likes of which I had not encountered in my short life. No words, just that hair-raising, blood-curdling facial contortion. I tried every formulation of “I'm sorry” I could recall in that moment of terror. Then I wandered off, keeping my head down as if he would a bore a hole in my skull if I dared turned back.

            That was my first day. And then I thought potentially my last day. And yet, I stand before you on this stage preparing to graduate from The Frisch School with one of the most wonderful cohorts of people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. So, I think it is safe to say I am in the clear. Nevertheless, I will take this final opportunity to apologize to you, Dr. Stein, for that incident that has been weighing down on me all these years.

            With that out of the way, I can proceed with my talk.

            In my freshman year, I was certainly a different person. One of the most distinctive features of freshman Akiva was his attire. Each and every day, nearly without exception, I would walk into school sporting a red fleece zip-up sweater. To demonstrate to you just how devoted I was to this red sweatshirt, on the night of Shiriyah I chose to wear it over my t-shirt. So, yes; pretty devoted. Which is why, when I discovered that Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of Catcher in the Rye, would often don a red hunting cap, I immediately fell in love. I was so excited, that when I got home, I ran to my desk and began reading...the Sparknotes online summary. It was marvelous. It was insightful. It was perfect for passing the upcoming test. And, as you are soon to discover, it would do just fine for a graduation speech.

            Sparknotes highlights three major themes in the book: alienation as a form of self-protection, the phoniness of the adult world, and the painfulness of growing up. Tonight, I will focus on only the latter two. On the phoniness of the adult world, Sparknotes provides the following insight: “Phoniness is Holden's catch-all for describing the superficiality, hypocrisy, pretension, and shallowness that he encounters in the world around him. Phoniness, for Holden, stands as an emblem of everything that’s wrong in the world around him and provides an excuse for him to withdraw into his cynical isolation.”

This is a sentiment that I think resonates with any 21st century individual. In this era of social media, ipads, iphones, etc., one finds himself inundated with “superficiality” and “shallowness”, if not lasciviousness and immodesty. As William Wordsworth observed over two centuries ago,
            The world is too much with us; late and soon,
            Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.

So consumed in its consumerism, so indiscriminate with its indulgences, society has become a breeding ground for phoniness. What then are we to do? How then are we to respond?

            Holden provides one model, that of “cynical isolation.” This is an atittude that has come to expression in one stream of Jewish thought. In the words of Saul Berman, “[it] starts with the assumption that the two worlds [of traditional religion and modernity] are so radically opposed that the only way to safeguard the Orthodox worldview is to maximize separateness.” In this Weltanschauung, the outside world is so polluted with superficiality and materialism - “phoniness”, so to speak – that it has become completely unconducive to spiritual life. As such, Judaism must become a cloistered endeavor. While this is certainly an answer to the above questions, it is not the only one. As Modern Orthodox Jews, we must take a different stance in the face of the “phoniness” of the world. We must recognize that the world is not compromised by pervasive phoniness; there is still much the world has to offer, and we should engage it so that we may enhance and enlighten our Judaism. Modern Orthodoxy is not easy. It requires constant attentiveness to the maintenance of Jewish wholeness in the face of the distraction of material excess and pure self-gratification. It necessitates struggle, duality, dialectic, tension. It asks for commitment to an often times complicated life. It is easy to be Holden Caulfield, to shrink into oneself. Not so, to be Modern Orthodox. But we must, in Shakespeare’s words, head “once more into the breach, dear friends. Once more” – for though the struggle is immense, the spoils are innumerable.

            Let’s turn now to the second theme – ‘the painfulness of growing up’ – a topic I imagine to be near and dear to the hearts of all those sitting upon this stage, myself included. Holden, as Sparknotes perceptively notes, “is an unusual protagonist for a bildungsroman [a coming of age narrative] because his central goal is to resist the process of maturity itself.” In Holden, we might see something of ourselves. As we stand at the edge of the rye, graduating from the Frisch school, perhaps we don’t wish to leap into the vast unknown. Perhaps we hope to be collected by the warm embrace of the “catcher in the rye,” letting us delay our departure for a little longer. Understandable. Yet, it is not to be. Time, indeed, waits for no one. So tonight, we must not turn inwards and deny change; rather, we must recognize the truth in the words of Remy of Pixar’s Ratatouille: Change is nature. Frisch has been a wonderfully nurturing environment – a glorious rye field, if you will. I know that much of who I am today is due to the faculty, and more importantly, my friends, at the Frisch School. But the time has come for us to leave the rye and embark upon the journey of life together.

I close with the words of Walt Whitman:

Forever alive, forever forward,
We go! We go! I know that we go, but I know not where we go;

But I know that we go toward the best – toward something great.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Reimagining High School with The Future Project

Teachers at The Future Project are called Dream Directors,
and the school has a Curiosity Director. We love that!

Last night, Penina Warburg, Pearl Mattenson, Jeff Kiderman and I [Tikvah Wiener] went to a workshop by The Future Project entitled Reimagining High School. From the moment we stepped into the building on Front Street, the office The Future Project shares with, appropriately enough, an animation studio, education felt different. The "office" is a warm, fun environment; it looks like a house, with its brick walls, fireplace and wood floors, and it's decorated with playful and thought-provoking objects, such as an ornately framed portrait of a wide-eyed baby, twisted iron masks with student-made portraits beneath them, and a wooden sled. The decor of the building reinforced the notion that the visual stimulation students receive in their learning environment is crucial to igniting curiosity and excitement about learning.

The Panel

The evening began with a panel comprised of Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators; Scott Kaufman, who recently published Ungifted, a post-Howard Gardner book about the need to redefine intelligence so we don't penalize children with labels; Iltimas Doha, a student we hope to work with on his education reform projects; and another amazing and articulate student, a senior who has already created her own company. The panel participants, each in their own way, drove us to imagine what high school would look like if, in The Future Project's terms, it was a place of dream building and curiosity creation, rather than a warehouse for standardized testing. RealSchool also loved the fact that a Harvard Fellow, Tony Wagner, was onstage with students not even out of high school. Go, #stuvoice!

By the way, have you seen Tony Wagner in action?

The Audience

Tim Shriver, CEO of the Special Olympics, moderated the panel and got the audience talking about how we're already reimagining high school. We were energized by the ideas we heard:

* One woman said her Muslim school begins the year by having all the students walk to the school garden where they bury the word "CAN'T." They mourn and lament the word and then return to the building whereupon can't is a bad word, and school is a place where there's no cursing. Therefore, if a student says, "I can't," she'll get a response along the lines of "We don't say that word in this school!" You get the picture.

* Angela Maiers said she had just left a school in Philadelphia that's having its seniors come up with a solution to a real-world problem. Students had to find something in the world that breaks their heart, come up with a plan to solve the problem and then submit genuine proposals to relevant organizations. Obviously, such a project is right up RealSchool's alley.

* Another audience member pointed out that a lot of schools have already reimagined high school and are doing exciting and innovative things with their students. The schools this participant mentioned included:

      Science Leadership Academy, which we wrote about after we visited
      The Met School, in Providence, Rhode Island, created by Dennis Littky, an awesome educator and visionary
      Cornerstone Academy for Social Action in the Bronx

The Sessions

At the end of the panel, Tony Wagner charged us with the task of coming up with a new way to explain what having a high school diploma means. If a HS diploma is no longer going to mean students have "served a certain number of hours of seat time" or taken x number of tests, what should having a high school diploma certify? We were directed into the "Visions Tables" we had selected online, prior to the night of the event. 

Making as Learning

I had chosen Making as Learning, so our group's task was to decide on how creation was going to be a process of the high school experience. The result of our session was that we felt a high school diploma should mean that:

Students have engaged in the process of making with the self and with others and have also engaged in the process of teaching what they have learned and accomplished to others. Students should understand the purpose of making and should have created an artifact(s) of importance to them and/or to the world.

Thus our competency emphasized the need to master creation as an individual, in a group and as an instructor.

Community-Based Learning

I also liked what Penina's group came up with. She was in a session entitled Community-Based Learning, run by Daniel Petter-Lipstein. That group's angle was so different from Making as Learning's, but just as important. Since Community-Based Learning was looking at a high school diploma through the lens of the community, they emphasized a competency that required students to have empathy, though we all acknowledge that's a difficult thing to measure.

Social and Emotional Learning

This group's competency was also deeply important. It emphasized students' needing to demonstrate self-awareness and social awareness; the ability to recognize feeling states and to self-regulate their feelings. It required students to be in touch with body, mind and spirit and to have experienced a relationship of deep trust that would enable them to take risks, endure failures and express the vulnerability that leads to being known, seen and heard. 


Last Things

We also heard some comments during the night that we loved:

One woman said she starts her year wishing her students lots of failure. She tells her students, "I hope you make a lot of mistakes, because mistakes are how you learn."

We know that! That's why we made our failure wall: FailSafe: RealSchool Failure Wall

Here are some of our favorite recent additions:

That moment 7 hours ago when you thought you were going to do your homework.

I was trying to teach youngsters how to throw a frisbee and I hit an old woman in the face with said frisbee. True fact.

Another thing we loved was a comment during a discussion about reassessing assessment. When process is more important than a final answer, we can appropriate from the language of gaming and start-ups:

We need to learn when to pivot and when to persevere.

Great stuff from a great night. Thanks to The Future Project for being such an inpiration!

The Digital Badge Learning Network

Check out the badge learning program Sarah Blattner has created and the schools that will be piloting a badge program in the 2013-14 school year:

Four schools selected for 2013-2014 pilot to develop badge-empowered learning programs

Portland, OR—June 5, 2013TAMRITZ, a digital badge learning network for Jewish Day Schools, announced today the first four schools selected to pioneer its connected learning community. The following schools will form TAMRITZ’s 2013-2014 cohort:
TAMRITZ will provide schools with in-person training, a networked community of practice and ongoing coaching to design and implement their own badge learning programs. Beginning with a summer professional development course, Digital Age Teaching, cohort teachers will be immersed in a badge-based experience, focused on learning in the digital age, relevant research and connected learning. In the fall, schools will partner with TAMRITZ to co-facilitate a badge-based digital media literacy course for their middle school students. Schools will begin to roll out their self-designed badge learning programs semester two, 2014.

Digital badge learning takes a traditional system of awarding badges for achievements to a new media level. Guided by their teachers, students explore their own interests and acquire knowledge and skills. Each digital badge they earn becomes an electronic credential that contains not only what the student understands and has accomplished, but also the methods used and data about the institution that sponsored the learning experience. These badges can then be shared through social media from a digital backpack, providing transparent transcripts for students’ skills and achievements.

Selected schools demonstrate an innovative spirit and readiness for transforming how learning happens, according to Sarah Blattner, TAMRITZ’s founder and executive director. “These schools are willing to experiment and explore how digital badge learning can engage students,” said Myrna Rubel, chief advisor for TAMRITZ’s Advisory Council and principal of the Epstein Middle School. Rubel is the pioneer of Epstein’s badging program, where she has discovered that “true learning takes place when students have choice, create meaning with their in-school and out-of-school lives and connect and develop relationships with teacher advisors.”

TAMRITZ, meaning “incentive” in Hebrew, seeks to ignite collaborative learning between Jewish Day School teachers and students through its digital badge learning network. Through the support of the Joshua Venture Group’s Dual Investment Program and the AVI CHAI Foundation, TAMRITZ will match the program fees with in-kind support for each participating school for the first year of engagement.

TAMRITZ scaffolds its learning network with exemplary instructional practices, including project-based learning and teacher-as-coach, to give students a chance to create their own meaning. "We believe that every child has a spark within them: A spark of passion, creativity and excellence. Badge learning will help us nurture each child's spark, personalize their learning and gauge students’ understandings of Habits of Mind through our Beit Midrash program,” said Dr. Nitzan Resnick and Rabbi David Paskin, co-heads of the Kehillah Schechter Academy, Norwod, MA. “Our school will implement a badge learning program that offers new courses and differentiates the learning experience for our students, said Katie May, principal, Seattle Hebrew Academy. “Our teachers are excited to move in this bold new direction.”

Sarah Blattner, Executive Director, TAMRITZ
Kehillah Schechter Academy, Norwood, MA
Rabbi David Paskin, co-head of school
Krieger Schechter Day School, Baltimore, MD
Shelley Hendler, Head of Middle School
The Moriah School, Englewood, NJ
Dr. Elliot Prager, Principal
Seattle Hebrew Academy, Seattle, WA
Katie May, Principal