Monday, July 8, 2013

The Sandbox Begins!

What an amazing first day at the Sandbox!

The Demographics

First, some demographics, which we've been asked to supply. Attending the Sandbox are:


Judith Ballan, history teacher, SAR High School
Michael Bitton, Director of Educational Technology, Magen David High School
Ephraim Botwinick, Areyvut
Joni Blinderman, Associate Director, The Covenant Foundation
David Bryfman, Chief Learning Officer, The Jewish Education Project
Lauren Burstein, English teacher, TABC
Charles Cohen, Manager, Day School Affordability Project, PEJE
Shelley Cohen, Founder and Director, The Jewish Inclusion Project
Tzvi Daum, Founder,
Peter Eckstein, Director of Congregational Learning, Temple Beth David, Palm Beach Gardens, FL
Nancy Edelman, English teacher, TABC
Pam Ennis, Director of Development, Ma'ayanot High School
Meryl Feldblum, English teacher, The Frisch School
Ken Gordon, Social Media Manager, PEJE
Devorah Heitner, Founder, Raising Digital Natives
Leah Herzog, Tanakh teacher, Ma'ayanot High School
Becky Katz, math teacher at Ma'ayanot High School and board member at Yeshivat Noam
Terry Kaye, Director, Behrman House Training and Educational Services
Batya Kinsberg, science teacher, The Moriah School
Jenny Levy, Chief Academic Officer, Magen David High School
Pearl Mattenson, Education Consultant
Deborah Pultman, Intern, Areyvut
Daniel Rosen, English teacher, The Frisch School
Daniel Rothner, Founder and Director, Aryevut
Dorothy Weiss, Head of Tanakh and English teacher, Solomon Schechter High School in Westchester
Marnina Winkler, Areyvut

Sandbox Coordinators:

Akiva Mattenson, RealSchool and Frisch School alumnus
Penina Warburg, RealSchool and Frisch School alumnus
Tikvah Wiener, RealSchool and Chairman of the English Department, The Frisch School


The day began with Ken Gordon, one of JEDLAB's founders, explaining how the ethos of the MIT Media Lab can be seen in JEDLAB and in RealSchool. Those ethos are:

* big dreaming
* hard fun
* democratic creation
* collaboration
* anti-disciplinary learning
* iterative prototyping
* failing fast to fail forward

The Challenges of PBL

Since educators are spending the Sandbox iterating a PBL we want to take back to our schools, all stakeholders at the Sandbox got involved in discussing the challenges of project-based learning:

Session results from the PBLchat at the Sandbox:

Daniel Rosen spoke for Group One:

The P in project-based learning. How does it differ from what we’re doing already? We think passion-based learning is a better term: allow students to follow what students think is important to them.

But how is that good for the student?

Lauren Burstein spoke for Group Two:

There is fear of change. All parties -- parents, teachers, students, administrators -- are comfortable with roles and don’t want to change. Hard to break people out of their comfort zones and make them see a larger picture. How do we empower all stakeholders -- sorry, Ken, we said the word -- so they feel comfortable making change?

Tzvi Daum spoke for Group Three:

Practical PBL. How does PBL actually fit into our classrooms? Does PBL work? What needs to be in place for PBL to work? What skills do students need to develop? What resources can we have kids access? PBL takes a lot of planning. Some students might not enjoy PBL. Maybe they like frontal learning better.

PBL doesn’t have to happen all the time. Maybe it can happen once, twice, three times a semester. In order to take discussion further, because we can’t solve these problems here: maybe we can have subject-specific message boards, so teachers can share their obstacles, challenges and successes with each other. We can have a network.

Additional challenges:

Students need basic literacy.

Schools are geared towards standardized tests and the college admission process.

Some solutions:

How do we empower schools to change? We have to change school culture.

Students have to be part of the culture change.

Dividing into Teams

Speaking of students, here they are: the students who started RealSchool!

Inquiry-based and project-based learning experts Penina Warburg and Akiva Mattenson explained how the Sandbox participants, like the students in RealSchool, will divide themselves into teams based on their interests. In this case, those interests were what kind of PBL's the participants wanted to construct.

The birthing process of a PBL idea was sometimes messy. Here, Meryl, Batya, Becky, Shelley, Charles and Ken work out what kind of essential question should drive a project on Jewish unity.

Lauren and Nancy, both English teachers at TABC, both came to the Sandbox knowing they wanted to create a PBL about the novel 1984, so they were able to get right down to work. What the Sandbox afforded them the opportunity to do was, as Nancy put it, "use Akiva as a crash dummy to test the project." Other participants also tapped the students, experts and simply each other as resources, confirming for us that "chance [really] does favor the connected mind." For an understanding of the concept of Serendipity by Design, take a look at the video we watched before lunch, or as we called it, The Coffeehouse:

Here are Tzvi, David and Daniel brewing some good ideas for Jewish education:

After lunch, we continued to iterate our prototypes, that is, plan our PBL projects. Participants worked on an essential question and, if they had time, began to design the plan of their project.

Here Dorothy explains the ideas she and Judith discussed: how the transition from the Paleolithic hunter-gatherer society to a Neolithic, more settled existence creates anxiety in Sefer Bereishit [the Book of Genesis]. Dorothy and her teammate Judith connected that transition to the one we're undergoing now as we move into a new technological world. We were able to see that the transitional time we're in right now may bring us anxiety but can also be seen as a time of limitless possibilites, perhaps in the way the original Creation era was.

A Brief Summary of Projects being Iterated:

Leah: What is (Torah) Law?: A PBL Look at Sefer Devarim [the Book of Deutoronomy]
Lauren and Nancy: 1984
Becky, Batya, Meryl: Jewish Unity: How can we acknowledge and accept the differences of all types of Jews and still have Jewish unity?
Judith and Dorothy: Still planning the Essential or Driving Question of the PBL
Tzvi and Peter: A tzedakah [charity] project run by elementary school students in which the students research what organizations interest them and are in most need of money. 

Awesome day's work, everyone!


Homework:  Watch Ken Robinson's "Changing Education Paradigms" video: