Friday, December 27, 2013

26 Acts of Kindness Day at The Frisch School

Oren ('16) created this logo for our Acts of Kindness Day;
the logo graced the homepage of The Frisch School's website yesterday
Last year, after the horror of the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, a Twitter hashtag #26Acts encouraged people to do 26 acts of kindness on December 26 in honor of the 26 victims of the massacre. We participated, blogging about the day here, and decided to repeat the experience this year, since it was such a moving one.

However, our Acts of Kindness Day took on a significantly deeper meaning because of a student's initiative. At the end of the last school year, Talia ('15) took a Twitter chat final in my [Tikvah Wiener's] class. Inspired by Ken Gordon of PEJE and JEDLAB, who speaks often about making connections and cultivating interesting relationships, I asked the students, for the final, to reach out to the authors of their outside reading books (provided the authors are still living; anyone who can get in touch with Shakespeare gets MAJOR extra credit). Talia had read An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff, and she contacted Laura who wasn't able to get back to her until after our final. Nevertheless, the two began corresponding, with the result being Laura's speaking at Frisch on December 11, a few weeks ago. 

The entire student body as well as parents who had read the book heard Laura tell about her inspiring story: how she stopped one day on the street to take an 11-year-old boy named Maurice Mazyck out to eat, since he was homeless and hungry, and how 28 years later they are like mother and son. Laura's visit to Frisch moved us all.

When we were preparing for her speaking event, Laura mentioned her acts of kindness pledge, which she has posted on her website and is encouraging the public to participate in. Her acts are partly based on the activities she and Maurice particularly enjoyed doing when he was growing up, such as sharing meals and baking cookies. When I mentioned Frisch's Acts of Kindness Day and said we would incorporate An Invisible Thread's acts of kindness pledge into it, Laura immediately decided to spend the day with us. But she brought a surprise: Maurice! 

What better way to kick off an Acts of Kindness Day
than with Laura Schroff and Maurice Mazyck,
whose relationship is based on an act of kindness?
The excitement in the auditorium was palpable as Laura entered the room with her surprise guest, and students saw that it was Maurice, whom they had only seen in a video the day Laura initially spoke at the school. Thundering applause welcomed Maurice, as he ran down the aisles and high-fived the students. Then he and Laura spoke, telling of the profound impact acts of kindness have on people and the fact that we don't know how our moments of compassion can help or save a life. 

Students were so excited to meet Maurice and to see Laura again!
They had been so touched and inspired by their story.
We were delighted that Laura also brought her co-author Alex Tresniowski to Frisch to share our acts of kindness day. Alex, who wrote for People magazine for many years, covering human interest and crime stories, is now at work on a book about the unique love story of two Holocaust survivors. We can't wait to read that as well!

After the schoolwide address, we checked one item off of our acts of kindness list for the day: sharing a meal with someone we care about. Students in my junior English class, who had worked tremendously hard putting the day together, as well as the students in Ramp It Up, RealSchool's literacy program, ate breakfast with Laura and Maurice. 

Talia ('15), who got this WHOLE thing started with her email, Laura,
Maurice, and Rabbi Ciner pose in front of our McFrisch sign! 
Breakfast at McFrisch!
We created McFrisch, turning the conference room into a kosher McDonald's, since McDonald's was the restaurant Laura took Maurice to when she first met him. It was also a place they returned to often over the years. Thanks to Frisch's chef Kimberly Carey who made kosher egg McMuffins and Tator Tots for the occasion! For the rest of the day, we had students write on the McFrisch sign an act of kindness they had performed, and when Laura and Maurice left, we gave the sign to them.

At 10 am, the next part of the day got underway. Frisch parents Patty Borodach and Sari Schiff chaperoned students to a homeless shelter and an old age home. Last year, our acts of kindness were all on campus, but this year we wanted to go off site as well. Of course, the students are used to going off campus, on chessed [community service] trips, and Rabbi Josh Schulman, Frisch's Director of Chessed, had arranged for students to work with special needs children this week in Friendship Circle camp, something Frisch does every year at this time. 

We added to the chessed program with the trips to the homeless shelter and old age home, thinking some non-profits might be understaffed during Christmas week. The students proved very helpful at the old age home, where they were needed not only to visit the elderly but to do office work. The homeless shelter was a big success as well, with the YWCA Women's Shelter of Elizabeth telling us Frisch can return anytime. From the reaction of the students to the trip there, I think that may happen soon!

Going off site to do chessed, with our wonderful parent chaperones 
Esther ('15) makes this cute baby smile!
Eitan and Arianna ('15) play games with the kids at the shelter.
We collected educational games and donated them to the shelter when we came.
Ronit and Arianna have fun with the kids!
At a home for the elderly in Passaic!
Back at school, students were signing up to do acts of kindness and getting to hang with Laura and Maurice as they did so. Thanks to you both, Laura and Maurice, for signing books and taking countless photos during the day!

Students sign up to perform 26 acts of kindness 
Maurice and Talia
In preparation for the day, my junior English class, who has spent the semester learning about the American dream and how it sometimes fails, and my Hot Topics SIM CITY class, which has been busy creating a virtual world, got the chance to make the real America a kinder place. My juniors prepared the list of the 26 acts of kindness, basing it on Laura's acts of kindness pledge. Here are the acts we came up with:

1.      Hold the door for other people
2.      Be quiet during davening [ prayer] so others can pray
3.      Share a snack with your class
4.      Smile at a stranger
5.      Buy lunch for a friend
6.      Say ‘thank you’ to all staff
7.      Cheer up a sad friend
8.      Lend someone a pen/pencil
9.      Donate your change from lunch/ breakfast to tzedakah [charity]
10.  Help someone who is struggling with homework or a test
11.  Throw your garbage out when you’re done eating
12.  Help someone open their locker
13.  Say ‘sorry’ when you bump into someone
14.  Compliment somebody
15.  Start a conversation with someone in your grade you usually don’t talk to
16.  Write a nice note to someone
17.  Lend someone a sweater because it’s always cold in school
18.  Clean up after someone who left a mess
19.  Get your teacher a beverage of their choice
20.  Give your old notes to someone in a lower grade
21.  Expand your lunch table
22.  Call your grandparents
23.  Text your mom/dad you love them
24.  Do something nice for your sibling(s)
25.  Leave change in the copy machine for the next person
26.  Do something nice for yourself

Michele Gudis ('15) came up with the idea of having QR codes that you scan to give you a slide show of compliments. Here are the flattering things the class had to say to their fellow Frisch students:

1.      You look really nice today
2.      You look so pretty when you smile
3.      You’re a good friend
4.      All your friends worry they aren’t as funny as you
5.      You are the most charming person in a 50-mile vicinity
6.      You could pull off orange corduroy
7.      9/10 dentists agree you are the best
8.      Rumor has it Disney is basing their next cartoon on you
9.      You’re sweet as a can of artificially flavored diet soda
10.  The kid you passed on the street today wants to grow up to be just like you
11.  You’re funny. Like, LOL style
12.  Your hair looks great today; it also looked really good two days ago
13.  That song was definitely written for you
14.  Your cousins refer to you as the cool cousin
15.  Never change, you’re the best you
16.  Every country is jealous that you’re a citizen in this country
17.  Those shoes were a great call
18.  You deserve a piece of chocolate
19.  Your parents are more proud of you than you will ever know
20.  Today’s outfit = thumbs up
21.  You actually looked super graceful that time you tripped in front of everyone
22.  You did a really nice thing today
23.  You rock the gym uniform
24.  You’re wonderful
25.  If I had a golden ticket I would give it to you
26.  You doodle like Picasso

We really love #21!

The juniors also arranged the off site trips, made the McFrisch sign, contacted Google about changing its logo for the day to the one Oren created (Google never got back to us, but we like the big dreaming thinking!), drew artworks about kindness and cyberkindness, and created an exhibit about literary acts of kindness.

On the left is the QR code of compliments,
while the word doodle about kindness and the student-made take on cyberkindness
are in the middle

This is what we based our student-made cyberkindness poster on;
it's one of our favorite school posters!
My Hot Topics SIM CITY class was responsible for an exhibit to end racism, based on the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which depicts the awful effects of segregation and racism in early and mid-twentieth-century America. Maurice immediately took a picture under our End Racism sign.

The Hot Topics students also had fun converting the freshman lounge into a napping station and hair and manicure salon for the lunch periods of the day. After all, act of kindness #26 was "Do something nice for yourself."

Seniors Ben and Jacob set up napping stations for students to enjoy
during their lunch periods
If Google can have napping pods, why can't we?!
The freshman lounge became a spa for our Acts of Kindness Day

In the afternoon, we had the pleasure of having Frisch alumnus Ariel Sterman share with various classes the good work he's been doing. Have you heard of Good St.? Well, you should check it out:

Ariel and a group of friends at NYU have started this awesome organization, which has participants donate a quarter a day and then get to choose from a selection of two charities Good St. proposes, each of which addresses a particular cause of the day. Yesterday's cause, for example, was childhood obesity, and participants could choose to donate their quarter to a charity that teaches fitness and health to kids or to one that gets kids active and moving. 

We loved that Ariel shared the good he's doing in the world with our students and also showed them how to be entrepreneurial and proactive. Student-driven learning is something you know we're passionate about!

Ariel shows how Good St. funds get divided between the two daily charities
We love that Good St. gets donors engaged with the giving process
Seniors got to shmooze with Ariel about how to get a non-profit up and running
Maurice, Laura, and Ariel
The day wouldn't be complete without a video crew documenting it all. Thanks so much to Daniel, Oren, and Ayal ('16) who captured the day on film and are now working on a video about it. 

Maurice and Laura stop to film for the video crew
Our film crew (and me) with Laura and Maurice

Finally: there are really no words to describe the sadness and horror we feel over what happened in Newtown last year, and we still cannot imagine the pain and anguish that the parents and loved ones of the victims must live with. We can only offer our acts of kindness as a gesture to them, as an affirmation that despite the senseless violence and hatred that exist in the world, the majority of people in it, we believe, want to do and be good, and if there's a way to pay that good forward, we will do everything in our power to find it.

I mentioned to some of my colleagues and friends, after Laura's first visit to Frisch when I saw how moved the students were by her and Maurice's story, that if they are society's "rock stars," that is, if their story is the one having such a profound effect on people, then the world can't be such a bad place. 

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single minute before starting to improve the world." 
               -- Anne Frank

Friday, December 20, 2013

Our First Student-Run App Making Workshops

Today two RealSchool members -- Benji Cooper ('15) and Amitai Cohen ('15) -- visited Ben Porat Yosef, an elementary school in Paramus, NJ, to give workshops in coding and graphic design. Together, the workshops were an introduction to the world of app making. Benji started with the sixth graders and taught them the basics of coding, while Amitai ran an app design workshop for the seventh and eighth graders. Then the kids switched.

Amitai and Benji planning their workshops
Planning for the day was fun, as Amitai and Benji had to consider what it would feel like to teach and be in a session. Of course, we focused on creating an interactive, learning-by-doing workshop, so the students would be able to truly experience coding and app design and emerge from the day with a rough iteration they can build on in the future.

Benji began his workshop with how he got started in programming: in the eighth grade, with a program called Scratch, which happens to have been created in one of our favorite places, the MIT Media Lab. Here's Scratch's creator in a TEDx talk:

Check out Scratch here!

As a high school freshman, Benji moved onto learning the basics of programming by learning to code on his calculator, and by tenth grade, he was coding on his computer. To find out more about learning how to code, check out this introduction to programming from the Khan Academy.

In his workshop, Benji used Python to teach the students six functions:

Benji taught the students how to write a line of text;
add numbers; create an array; and more
Benji also taught the students how to make a
line repeat 10X. Students quickly had the computers
repeating a line 10,000X!
An unexpected bonus: Benji got to practice his Hebrew language skills,
with a student who spoke only in Hebrew.
Amitati also began his workshop by explaining how he got his start, in graphic design and app making. Amitai's father is in graphic design, and Amitai always liked to draw. Once he got a computer, he took his drawing digital, since he loved the fact that he could iterate so much more easily -- he loved failing fast to fail forward! Amitai drew his own bar mitzvah logo and entered Frisch ready to put his design skills to use. He quickly did so for the school chessed [charity] program as well as for RealSchool. We've shared before Amitai's amazing designs and logos for us!

Amitai explaining his start in graphic design
Here's the Superfood logo Amitai made for
RealSchool's Food Day program
Benji's workshop focused on the basics of coding, something kids can instantly see is important in app making. Amitai had to explain to students how important the design process is in app creation, but after doing so, the kids got busy designing a logo and three pages of their apps. Shira Ackerman, BPY's wonderful education technology director, had prepped all the students the day before, asking them to brainstorm an idea for an app they'd like to build. They spent the workshop time further iterating their ideas.

Amitai ideates with BPY middle schoolers
Morah Shira, BPY's edtech director, brainstorms with students

Amitai's workshop also included time for students to present their app ideas:

BPY students were poised and articulate during their presentation time.
They're ready for the business world!
This group's app is called Language Learner. . . 
. . . and this group also created an app that helps in
speaking a foreign language: it translates
what you say into the language you choose.
This group created a game out of the information they learned
about Egyptian history in their Social Studies class
We were really impressed by the fact that students created apps that helped increase and deepen learning.

Students also had time to reflect both orally and in written form on what they had done. We loved one student's response: he liked learning how much technology was capable of doing and the fact that it enabled him to be so creative.

We loved that students were so engaged in both of the workshops' activities, and we found the kids articulate, poised, and enthusiastic in their presentations. We were also deeply admiring of the students' creativity, genuine interest in learning, and ability to assess and comment on their peers' work. 

The middle schoolers asked Morah Shira if they could continue to work on both coding and app design even once the day was over. We're so glad that Benji's and Amitai's workshops sparked a desire to deepen learning in the BPY students, and we loved the opportunity to have students teaching students. Peer learning: it's the way to go!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Social Entrepreneurship attends a Lean Impact Summit

RealSchool has been busy with so many different projects that we haven't had time to update our blog recently, but we're catching up, and in chronological order, we want to share what we've been up to.

Our Social Entrepreneurship team at the Lean Impact summit!

First, on December 5, the Social Entrepreneurship team attended the Lean Impact summit in NYC. Frisch English teacher Rabbi Daniel Rosen chaperoned, and we enjoyed his droll observations about the day:

In summary, first we went to the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Bleeker. That was nice. Then, the first part was about funding.

The Social Entrepreneurship team enjoyed meeting the conference organizer Leeanne Pittsford, who gave them some tips about how to refine a project we're working on and will be pitching soon ;). The first thing Ronit Langer ('15) texted us from the conference was that in order to do something, "you've got to get out of the building." We couldn't agree more. 

Ronit also shared the following ideas she learned at the conference about social entrepreneurship:

Know your audience: be specific
Know your product: a service or solution to a problem
Is there demand?
Get rid of assumptions about everyone
Get young people
Find the root of the problem

Find stories and use data
Deal with poverty: half the world that's not poor should want to get other half not poor
Find new ways to solve old problems
Build-measure-learn cycle, proposal-grant-execute-follow-up: takes a long time
Program can be started in as little as 9 weeks
Entrepreneurs pitched their ideas to the judges
and participants at the summit.
Judges critiqued pitches and gave tips on refining
presentations and business ideas.
A lot of the ideas the conference espoused are ones we value in RealSchool: rough demo-ing; failing fast to fail forward; learning by doing; believing in youth.
The RealSchool members also discovered the power and fun of networking, enjoying meeting young entrepreneurs, including Megan O'Connor from Pencils of Promise, an organization that two juniors at Frisch have brought to the school.
The students also kept hearing about Eric Reis' book The Lean Startup, which we immediately ordered and are now passing around in RealSchool.

All in all, the Social Entrepreneurship team got out of the building and got a lot out of the day!