Sunday, May 12, 2013

Keeping the edJEWconversation Going

One of the tables for our session's participants;
we wanted to give participants a taste of our programs --
and a free "I Am More Than a Test Score T-shirt"

Keeping the edJEWconversation Going

One of the goals Jon Mitzmacher set for us at edJEWcon was to keep the edJEWconversation going, and so for this blog post, we'd like to do just that, especially in light of the questions we received at our session at the conference.

One of the most interesting and perceptive questions we got at edJEWcon was about the path we took to the creation of RealSchool. Somehow the educators in the room zeroed in on the fact that I [Tikvah Wiener] had come to RealSchool from a place that included a lot of interdisciplinary work. Presenters always over-prepare before a session: Penina, the student co-presenter who attended edJEWcon with me, and I had talked out a lot of the ideas we wanted to share and the best ways we could explain RealSchool's philosophies and values in order to facilitate a conversation about student-centered learning.

Man Plans and God Laughs

Since man plans and God laughs, we'd never talked about the integration programs I'd run at Frisch, many of which Penina had experienced, not only because we hadn't seen those programs as central to RealSchool's current mission, but also because we had a limited time slot and wanted to hone in on what we considered the crucial components of RS's program. In the back of my mind, I kept the information about my interdisciplinary work handy in case the topic came up, but I didn't really think it would. So of course it did.

I found myself spending quite a bit of Q and A time during the session describing the interdisciplinary work I'd done at Frisch, which you can read more about herehere, and here. In fact, the questions the participants had about whether a grounding in cross-curricular studies is necessary for creating a program such as RealSchool's made me wonder if it was.

RealSchool and JedLab Values

I don't think it is, but many from our Twitter PLN, the folks currently chatting about Jewish ed. in a JEDLAB group on Facebook, have read Frank Moss' book about the MIT Media Lab, The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices, and that book advocates for an "anti-disciplinary" approach to learning. The book uses "anti-disciplinary" in a tongue-in-cheek manner to mean "cross-curricular" or "interdisciplinary." We've written about the values the book espouses in a previous post, values we also find vital to our program and the way we think kids should be able to learn. Briefly, some of those values are:

1) creative freedom
2) anti-disciplinary work
3) hard fun
4) serendipity by design

The JEDLAB group adds these values:

A focus on demonstration and iteration
Master/Apprentice partnerships [the book stresses the success of the atelier environment the Media Lab fosters]
Big dreaming
Democratic creation

Passion-Based Learning

In discussions with educators about RealSchool since the conference, my focus has been on how to create an environment where passion-based learning (thank you, Yechiel Hoffman, for that phrase) can occur. I definitely don't think one needs to have engaged in the kind of programming I've been doing in order to begin implementing student-driven learning (SDL). I do think an educator needs to prepare to undertake interdisciplinary work in order to accomplish SDL effectively, since it's both a requirement for and an outgrowth of an environment that's more open than a traditional classroom and based on inquiry.

During our session, we divided the participants into groups in order to have them engage in student-based learning by allowing them to brainstorm ways about how to create a student-centered learning environment. Here's one of the group's large post-it notes, and it makes clear how important interdisciplinary studies became to the discussion of SDL:

In case you can't read tiny, sideways print, here's what the poster says is:


-- Interdisciplinary learning
-- Meaningful Outcomes of Projects
-- Give students choices
-- Tap into student interests for their learning
-- Let them explore
-- Shift paradigm from teacher to student
-- Time -- HUGE -- curricular expectations/exams
-- Being the teacher moving forward -- team on a different place in journey
-- Anxiety-producing atmosphere
-- Create independent learners
-- Problem-solving skills

[By the way, note some of the possible drawbacks of SDL, things like lack of time; groups or students being at a different place in the journey than the teacher who wants to move forward; and an anxiety-producing environment. Feel free to comment on or contribute a blog post about those SDL disadvantages.]

All in all, our session gave us a lot of food for thought, and we can't thank the people at edJEWcon enough for giving us a space where we were able to share our thoughts -- whether on a front or back channel -- about 21st-century learning.

Additional Photos from Our Session

Another group brainstorming ideas about student-driven learning

We like this idea: "Eavesdrop on your kids -- Learn their passions and then create PBL!"

A highlight of our trip was being able to give Chris Lehmann one of our T-shirts!

RealSchool's Video, Produced and Directed by senior Ari Mendelow

If you didn't get a chance to see our student-made video about RealSchool, check it out here. Thanks again, Ari Mendelow, for producing and directing the video: