Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Sandbox: Day Two!

"The Sandbox is a process. It is a laboratory. It's a frame of mind in which we experiment, fail, learn and try again. It is the first steps to bringing an idea into the real world." -- Peter Eckstein, on JEDLAB today.

Day Two of the Sandbox featured a variety of ideas presented to participants in order to help them clarify their PBL goals and objectives and provide them with ways to incorporate student choice and voice as well as the arts into their projects. 

Q and A Session about PBL with Rabbi Aaron Ross

The first one to offer clarity to the PBL-making process was Rabbi Aaron Ross, Assistant Principal of Judaic Studies and Judaic Studies Middle School teacher at Yavneh Academy in Paramus, NJ. [Full disclosure: Tikvah Wiener's children either graduated from or are attending Yavneh and two of them have been Rabbi Ross' students). 

Rabbi Ross telling us how he uses the Socrative app to make sure
students understand basic information they need to know
in order to create their PBL projects

Rabbi Ross first explained his use of PBL in his Talmud and Torah classroom, showing us the wiki on which he posted many of the resources he has students use in their work (he added that some of the resources aren't online and must be distributed as hard copies; a collective gasp was heard across the room). Once Rabbi Ross had given us an overview of his projects, he then opened up the session to Q and A. Here are some tips we learned from him:

The Buck Institute of Education was Rabbi Ross' go-to site for planning PBL. He found the site's rubrics and standards really helpful and downloaded them for free. (We've linked The Buck Institute to our PBL/IBL resource page as well. We also linked Rabbi Ross' ruminations on his PBL to our resource page).

* Rabbi Ross recommends reading the work of journalist and PBL advocate Suzie Boss

* Though Rabbi Ross teaches Honors students, he has observed his colleague Rabbi Simcha Schaum's use of PBL in a class of non-Honors students (we hate labels such as Honors and non-Honors; anyone want to suggest new ones?). PBL is successful with all learners.

* Establishing the culture of a PBL classroom is important. Students must feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for their projects. Rabbi Ross suggested having students sign contracts that commit them to their work and delineate what roles they'll have in fulfilling  the PBL assignments.  

* Rabbi Ross feels that because student engagement in course material is high with PBL, in the Judaic Studies classroom PBL offers a way for students to connect with their Judaism and Jewish texts in deep and meaningful ways. 

RealSchool Session

Inquiry-based, student-centered learning demands that teachers be flexible about what happens in class, thus allowing students to probe more deeply into areas of learning that interest them. Therefore, though the schedule for Day 2 originally said Sandbox participants had to choose between Q and A sessions about PBL and RealSchool, this morning it became clear that people wanted to hear both. We said OK, though having two Q and A sessions back to back meant participants were going to be sitting at desks all morning. Apparently, this was OK: Rabbi Ross had told in his session that frontal teaching is still allowed in PBL and in an unschooled classroom. Whew. 

Fittingly, Akiva Mattenson and Penina Warburg led the session about RealSchool (Check out the website and video RS member Ari Mendelow made this past year! Ari is awesome!).

RealSchool as an after-school club or as an elective is easy to implement in a totally student-driven manner: When a teacher doesn't have a set curriculum, students can decide what and how they want to learn. However, by the end of the session, Sandbox participants were discussing the value of finding out their students' passions so they could unlock them in subject-specific areas as well. 

Badge Learning

Since 21st-century learning always includes connecting to the outside world, we were delighted that Sarah Blattner of Tamritz could join us in a Google Hangout to discuss the credentialing program known as Badge Learning. Check out the resources Sarah shared with us for our Badge Learning page. Sarah also used Nancy Edelman and Lauren Burstein's PBL on 1984 as a case study for Badge Learning (the questions in larger print are the ones we spent time on today): 1984: A Case Study in Badge Learning.

One idea Sarah has taught us and that has become a favorite of ours comes from the world of gaming. Rather than focus on student failure, a gaming approach to education teaches students to "pivot or persevere," that is, change course in their learning or continue to master a skill. "Pivot or persevere": we love it. The concept re-frames learning so that it's not about failure or success but about mastery and self-development.

Another key point Sarah made was that kids love to learn from and with each other. The truth is all humans are social beings and love to learn with and teach each other. Fast Company introduced us to the notion of socialstructed learning. How are schools reflecting the change in how students learn and acknowledging how much kids can learn from each other?

Sarah, thanks for taking the time to drop by the Sandbox and share your deep knowledge of badges, connected learning, PBL and all manner of 21st-century learning tools. 

Ken Gordon also joined our Google Hangout, and here's a shout out
to Ken's son Ari, who made a cute appearance as well
Our re-scheduling of the morning meant we'd had no time to iterate our PBL prototypes, though we headed to lunch -- our Coffeehouse -- with a lot of information in our heads. The Coffeehouse discussion ended up being about women's roles in Judaism, a function no doubt of the fact that Nishmat's Yoetzet Halakha program has been sharing the Ma'ayanot space with us.

After lunch, most participants stayed for the project and book fair, where they could hear about how to get "anti-disciplinary" in the classroom and browse through the books that have inspired us. The project fair was another time to get participants thinking about how to create multiple pathways to learning and how to engage students through the arts, something we love to do at RealSchool. 

Tzvi Daum and Peter Eckstein ducked out of lunch early, as they were anxious to continue working on their PBL. We love the picture below; it's one of our favorites from the Sandbox, and we posted it on JEDLAB today with the following status update:

High tech/low tech, Congregational School Leader/Jewish day school educator, we're mixing it up at the Sandbox!

We love that the Sandbox, like JEDLAB, is a trans-denominational space where the glue among participants is that we're all passionate about Jewish education. It seems appropriate that one of the ideas to come out of the Sandbox is an inter-school project about Jewish unity:

Batya Kinsberg, Meryl Feldblum, Dan Rosen and Becky Katz are not only planning an interdisciplinary day of learning on Jewish unity, but they also want to help each other formulate PBL ideas around the topic of solving world problems. Batya teaches science at Moriah, Meryl and Dan, English at Frisch, and Becky, math at Ma'ayanot, so the world problems discussed were as varied as environmental issues, female empowerment and human geography.

We have to say we're impressed with how Nancy and Lauren have used their time at the Sandbox. English teachers who work together at TABC, they had the advantage of knowing what they wanted to come to the Sandbox to do: plan a PBL for 1984. However, they've ended up sketching out an entire semester, which turned into a look at how language shapes our understanding of ourselves in civilization. They linked their 1984 PBL with a unit on digital citizenship as well as an analysis of the bullying of Piggy in Lord of the Flies. Extensive digital literacy assignments will connect the two novels not only with each other but with an outside reading book, Life of Pi. 

It seemed like no time at all had passed before we were ready for our presentations. Presentation time is key in PBL, so it's something we've been careful to carve out time for at the Sandbox.

We love that Judith Ballan of SAR and Dorothy Weiss of Solomon Schechter High School in Westchester met at the Sandbox and are planning an interdisciplinary PBL with each other. Here they're discussing the major idea they've honed in on: how cities in the ancient world are oppressive places for the majority of people and how the Torah is a response to that injustice. Their entry point looks like it's going to be: What's wrong with a tower? and will ask students to look at how monument building in the ancient world  reflects the exploitation of the masses by the elite. 

Today we were also joined by Pearl Mattenson who had insightful and useful suggestions and observations for us as participants refine their projects. Pearl always makes us see things in a new light. (We're also happy she had the nachat of seeing her son present a session!).

All in all, another great day at the Sandbox. We can't believe it's almost coming to a close -- especially because we still have so much prototyping to do!