Saturday, March 15, 2014

Connecting Head, Hand, and Heart: The Frisch Africa Encounter

Multi-talented sophomore Oren M. created this logo for the program
The Frisch School has recently finished running a multi-disciplinary program for the sophomores called The Frisch Africa Encounter (click here for photographs sophomore Amanda Leifer took of the night). The program, now in its third year, springs from the school's English and History classes, and its aim is to deepen student knowledge about the African continent and the problems there as well as to learn about the ways life on the continent is improving. To accomplish the latter, students study the work of and raise money for Innovation: Africa (IA), an organization that uses sustainable Israeli technologies to improve life in Africa. Learning about IA is particularly relevant for the students of Frisch, as they discover not only their obligation as Jews to better the world, but also to see how Israel is working to advance the world in ways that are impressive and laudable.

Connecting Israel and Africa is not without precedent. Here is Golda Meir on the comparison between the country and the continent:

"Like them, we had shaken off foreign rule; like them, we had to learn for ourselves how to reclaim the land, how to increase the yields of our crops, how to irrigate, how to raise poultry, how to live together, and how to defend ourselves"

This year, the English and History teachers at Frisch worked during the first semester to tighten the program, with Eitan Kastner, a Frisch alumnus who now teaches American history, suggesting that the kids give the parents a tour of what they had learned over the month. Thus, a new format for The Frisch Africa Encounter was introduced!

Because Frisch is focused on utilizing project-based learning (PBL), the teachers also wanted to incorporate student voice and choice into the project design. Though the teachers had their learning goals of wanting students to know about imperialism, the slave trade, the novel Little Bee by Chris Cleave, and the various technologies that IA employs, including drip irrigation and solar-powered energy sources, the teachers aimed to find ways to engage all types of learners in all types of ways, by allowing students to select the group they wanted to be part of for the evening. The teachers came up with the following stations and jobs that would be part of the "tour" the students would offer parents at the culminating event:

Africa at Night
Cell Phone Charging
Drip Irrigation
Gerry Can 
Slave Trade
Tour Guide

All the stations together would tell the story of past exploitation and modern-day cooperation, but Africa at Night and the Cell Phone Charging stations were closely linked, with one showing how hard it is to do things such as travel for medical care or study without electricity at night. The Gerry Can and Drip Irrigation stations were also tightly linked: the former would be an interactive station allowing parents to carry first an empty gerry can and then a full one, in order to experience what it feels like to have to walk for miles for water, as many rural Africans have to do. The Drip Irrigation station would be a demonstration of the Israeli technology now used in many African villages, where water is scarce and where IA has taught the villagers to make the best use of the water pumps the organization has installed. 

Here's the Google form the students filled out when the program was introduced:

Sign-up for The Frisch Africa Encounter

At the entry event, students watched this video from The Onion, which hilariously satirizes the exploitation of Africa by the West:

Soon after the entry event, Frisch welcomed Emma Goldman of Innovation: Africa, who spoke to the students about her work:

Emma Goldman addressing the Frisch students
Emma had a chance to have a follow-up discussion
with the juniors and seniors who had run
The Frisch Africa Encounter last year and the year before
As luck would have it, Emma had recently returned from a trip to Africa. She therefore not only presented informatively about IA; she was also able to sprinkle her session with photos and stories about her own experiences on the continent. Here's Emma in Katira Village in Uganda:

During her presentation, Emma talked about how excited the village children get when people from IA visit. The villagers feel so thankful for the many technologies the organization provides: children get educated better -- graduation rates in primary schools have tripled in villages after solar installation -- ; people get vaccines and medical care they need; and the villages can grow more nutritious food and increase their economic viability.

These two young Ugandan boys found Israeli flags with which to greet
Emma and her colleagues. Last year Innovation: Africa received a
Social Media Leadership Award for Nation Branding because it had
so improved Israel's image in the world. IA beat out the White House
for the prize, which was from the Wharton School of Business!
And these boys want to show off their new water pump!
They're very proud and excited about it!
Over the course of the month of February -- and over the obstacles the seemingly endless snow days created -- the students prepared for the culminating event, which actually had to be postponed to March 12 because of the many school days lost to the weather. Actually, as part of the program, each sophomore class had to raise $500 for Innovation: Africa. Frisch's goal is to light up a school in one of the villages IA works with, and so two enterprising sophomores -- Jonah and Sam -- shoveled snow to earn money, raising $200 in one day!

Three other sophomores, Oren, Ayal, and Daniel, were put in charge of video production for the event. You can see two of them here, working on the video:

They created this trailer which the school sent out to the Frisch community:

Getting ready for the night was no small task, with teachers and even classes from other grades serving as project tuners. It was important to Frisch to get the students to produce high-quality work that demonstrated deep learning of subject matter. Ron Berger, an expert on project-based learning, shows in this video how he has students act as critical friends in the deep learning process.

The students got help from everyone in the school,
including Jose Carino, Head of Maintenance,
who visited a class to unrivet a hard drive the students
wanted to repurpose into artwork
Rabbi Daniel Rosen, a Frisch English teacher
and one of the school's pioneers in PBL, merged
his class with another English class for much
of the month, allowing students in the same groups
to work easily together
 Assembling the drip irrigation sets
The Frisch art teacher, Mrs. Ahuva Mantell, worked with the sophomores,
explaining to them about African textiles and then having them
tie dye scarves to sell at the student store the night
of The Frisch Africa Encounter
Working on the Gerry Can station!
All the sophomores read Little Bee, a book about a Nigerian refugee;
the book was a springboard for discussion in Hebrew class
about the integration of Ethiopian Jews into Israeli society
and about the current debate going on in Israel about how to
handle Sudanese refugees
This sophomore was a tour guide. Tour guides prepared
a route they would take parents on and therefore had to know
about the role of each station. 
Josh Gotlieb, a Frisch History and English teacher, was in charge
of the Imperialism group, who didn't need much help, actually.
They did a fantastic job with their research and could debate with
complexity and depth the pros and cons of their topic
Rabbi Rosen and Tikvah Wiener ran practice sessions with each group
And finally the big night arrived!

Three of the tour guides, wearing T-shirts Innovation: Africa gave us
for them as well as to sell in the fundraising store. Sophomores raised over
$400 that night, bringing the total the sophomores made
over the course of the month to over $2,300!
The Gerry Can station ready to go! Not many parents
ended up wanting to carry the cans, but the kids
who came gave them a shot!
Mrs. Betty Kaplan (left) ran the fundraising store with her class,
while Mrs. Ruth Wang-Birnbaum was one of the English
teachers who taught Little Bee
Meir tells parents all about cell phone charging stations
and the role they play in creating economic sustainability
in Africa
Makey Makey makes making music fun! At the last minute, Meir also put together this station which allowed everyone to play African bongos with fruit:

The group researching the slave trade in the nineteenth century
also talked about slavery today
A tour guide tries out the Gerry Can station
Zach really mastered the art of drip irrigation
Why Frisch does this program

English teacher Meryl Feldblum worked hard with
her class on the Little Bee presentation

At the entry event, the Frisch teachers talk about the fact that as Jews we must feel responsible for the other, the foreigner, the stranger. After all, the Torah repeats 36 times, more than any other phrase, the following:

וַאֲהַבְתֶּם, אֶת-הַגֵּר:  כִּי-גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם

"You shall love the stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt." 

One of the tour guides, at the end of the night, had this to say: "Doing this made me really feel like I have an obligation, as a person and as a Jew, to help Africa." 

These words really capture what project-based learning, with its focus on creating meaning in the real world, can bring to a Jewish educational setting. The goal of Jewish education is to create a Jew who loves his/her religion and who uses it to enhance the world. Combining that goal with the PBL methodology connects head -- the knowledge students acquire -- ; hand -- what students create to internalize and bring to life that knowledge -- ; and heart -- how students feel about themselves and the positive role they and their faith can play in the world. How fitting, then, that the head, hand, and heart are strung together each day by tefillin, which remind us all that what we learn, what we do, and how we feel shape our world on a constant basis. 

Student-Made Resources

For those parents who asked for resources from the night, Frisch is happy to provide some of them below. They can't fully capture the complexity of what the students learned and know, but they give a glimpse of what the students created:


Little Bee

Here are one student's thoughts on the power of words in Little Bee:

Student artwork on Little Bee: Repurposing computers was popular as the novel is about language and communication. Using modern-day devices of communication to bring the novel to life seemed appropriate!

Here's an explanation of Sahar, Andrew, and Racheli's artwork:

Miriam made this keyboard, which "tells" the story of Little Bee

Future political cartoonist?: Kailee combines the story of Little Bee with some
astute artistic representations of the West's and African leaders'
exploitation of the African people, as well as of the hardship of living
at night without electricity

Slavery Today

A student-made fact sheet about slavery today

Sample Tour Guide Script

A special shout-out to Justin Safier ('15) for providing tech support for the evening. Thanks, Justin!