Sunday, July 14, 2013

Day Three of the Sandbox and Next Steps!

High Tech High Sparks Discussion 

Day three of the Summer Sandbox began with participants watching the following video about High Tech High, a network of schools in California that employ passion-based learning; emphasize innovation, design, and engineering; and allow students with myriad academic and learning abilities multiple entry points into learning:

The video sparked a lively debate: about how comfortable Sandbox participants were with PBL; about their desire not to abandon tried-and-true teaching practices they find effective; about the college admission process which stokes anxiety in students and parents alike; and about the need to educate parents about different pedagogical approaches such as PBL, inquiry-based learning and student-driven learning. In fact, the discussion was the first of a few during the day that revealed that while the Sandbox was coming to a close, the conversation it had initiated was just beginning.

Finishing our Protoypes

By 10:30 am, participants were spread around the Ma'ayanot classrooms and lunch room, iterating their PBL prototypes. At this time, Emma Goldman of Innovation: Africa popped by the Sandbox to meet with educators who are interested in partnering with the organization. Innovation: Africa uses sustainable Israeli technologies to improve life in Africa, and working with the non-profit is a great way to build soft advocacy for Israel into a curriculum. We were glad that over the course of the three-day Sandbox, both Innovation: Africa and Areyvut stopped by in order to show how social action learning can be used in a Jewish educational setting.

The Coffeehouse: Big Ideas Brew

Lunchtime at the Sandbox -- the Coffeehouse, as we like to call it -- saw another thoughtful discussion, this time about ways schools can create open, healthy dialogue between administrators and faculty, particularly when school employees might be feeling edgy and scared about budget cuts. The discussion highlighted how thirsty educators are for chances to participate in real ways in discussions about the health of the institutions they work in. 

Final Presentations: The Prototypes!

After lunch, it was back to iteration and then . . . the final presentations!

Meryl Feldblum of Frisch went first, telling us she'd been inspired by her colleague Dan Rosen's suggestion that curriculum be organized in a game-based way around solving world issues. After getting suggestions from math teacher Becky Katz of Ma'ayanot and science teacher Batya Kinsberg of Moriah about how to engage left-brain thinkers, Meryl created a PBL about female empowerment, a world issue she wants her students to know more about. PBL asks teachers to build many types of skills and subjects into a unit, so in addition to honing students' reading and writing abilities, Meryl is having her students develop financial literacy and philanthropy skills, as kids learn how to assess and raise money for different charities and raise money. 

If you want to check out the PBL Planning Forms Meryl is holding in the picture above, here they are!

TABC English teachers Nancy Edelman and Lauren Burstein presented on their awesome semester of PBL and digital literacy and citizenship, which we describe here. Following are links to Nancy and Lauren's project:

Ma'ayanot Tanakh teacher Leah Herzog unveiled what she'd been working on for three days. After taking advantage of the human resources at the Sandbox -- Leah tapped Penina Warburg and Akiva Mattenson for their student viewpoint of PBL and curriculum; Ma'ayanot colleague Pam Ennis for her legal background; and Rabbi Aaron Ross for his PBL knowledge and Sefer Devarim expertise -- she came up with an extensive overview of Devarim, using her essential question of What is (Torah) Law? 

Leah spent her time at the Sandbox developing her complex overview of the Sefer, though she's inserted where she'd like to include PBL units:

SAR history teacher Judith Ballan and Solomon Schechter Westchester High School Tanakh Chair and English teacher Dorothy Weiss presented their work next: cashing in on the Paleo craze, they created a PBL unit that has students focus on the shift humans made from living in hunter-gatherer groups in Paleolithic times to being city dwellers in the Neolithic era. Students will see through art and history just what it meant to create monumental buildings and artwork and what the Torah's response to this building frenzy is (hint: think Babel and Sodom). Students will blog and use additional edtech tools to show their mastery of understanding textual inferences and writers' attitudes towards their subject matter. Judith and Dorothy really embraced the "anti-disciplinary" ethos at the heart of the Sandbox and worked hard to adhere to that standard in their unit.

The last presenters were Peter Eckstein and Tzvi Daum. Peter, who leads a congregational school at Temple Beth David in West Palm Beach, FL, and Tzvi, who founded and is a Jewish day school educator, came up with an extensive PBL on tzedakah that they put on a Moodle. The unit includes PBL basics such as a four-week calendar of the project; interactive quizzes asking for participants' and their parents' reflections on tzedakah; an art project integrated into the unit; and rubrics letting students know what they'll be graded on. Like Meryl, Peter and Tzvi focused on developing financial and philanthropic skills in their students, though Meryl's project is for sophomores and Peter and Tzvi's for elementary school students. Building future Jewish communal leaders seemed to be on more than one educator's mind at the Sandbox, though doing so seems a natural way for Jewish educators to build authentic purpose into a PBL unit. For authentic purpose in PBL, click here

You can access Peter and Tzvi's amazing Moodle using the following link and the guest login:

Next Steps

We all left the Sandbox feeling charged for change, not only because we have projects we can implement in our classrooms and schools but also because we feel excited to share our ideas with others. Our next steps include smoothing out the rough spots of our units -- continuing to iterate -- and reaching out to members of our different communities about the exciting pedagogies that are making their mark on 21st-century learning. 

Stay tuned for more information about what the Sandbox participants will be up to next! 

Favorite Sandbox Ideas

* We echoed edjewcon Andrea Hernandez at the Sandbox, telling participants to "start the journey where they are." Those words calmed us when Andrea began edjewcon with them, letting us know that wherever we are on the journey to changing and improving our educational practices is the right place to be.

* The idea we kept returning to again and again at the Sandbox was student engagement. That's the driving reason behind our desire to constantly re-think teaching practices. We want students engaged with the curriculum; not only because they'll remember content better if they're really connected with it, but also because we want to keep deepening their spiritual, intellectual, and emotional development in as effective manner as possible.

* We got out of our comfort zones at the Sandbox. We were sometimes ("deeply") uncomfortable -- and we survived and thrived and grew. We want the same for our students.

* We saw that collaboration among educators, parents, students, community outreach organizers, and members of institutions and organizations led to truly unique and inspiring educational ideas. We look forward to creating additional opportunities for democratic creation and serendipity by design!

Thank you to all who participated in the Sandbox! Each of your voices added something truly special to the experience.