Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Thanks, Rabbi G!

While many people helped in making this past weekend a great success, only in Memphis does the principal of the Boys High School drive seven hours each way in order to serve as the lead cook, head waiter, rav, mashgiach, lead educator, star actor, trail guide, ski instructor, and just about everything else... for the Girls High School Shabbaton.

Thank you Rabbi Gersten!

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Zionism at the GMHSG

One of the real gems in the curriculum of the Goldie Margolin High School for Girls is the two-year course on the history of Zionism and the State of Israel, taught by Mrs. Bluma Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein. Mrs. Finkelstein, a faculty member of the Bornblum Department of Judaic Studies at the University of Memphis, a noted author and recognized expert in her field, is known amongst our girls both for her rigorous course demands and for helping each and every student maximize their academic potential.

A few recent examples of course work, ranging from a powerpoint presentation on the Immigration of Jews from Morocco, to a short speech from a pseudo Libyan Jew, an essay on the Israeli MIAs, and an in-depth analysis of the Shemitah Controversy, serve to highlight the ways in which our girls are expanding their horizons and sharpening their minds, while gaining a nuanced understanding of Israel's history and its place in the hearts of Jews throughout the generations.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The MHA & The CJF

One of our many foci this year has been the strengthening of our school's and our community's relationship with Yeshiva University and their Center for the Jewish Future. The mandate of the center is to marshal the plethora of resources in Yeshiva University's undergraduate and graduate divisions, to help strengthen Orthodox communities across the country and across the globe.

While we have been collaborating on student programs, professional development, and faculty recruitment all year long, the most eye-catching, public manifestation of our strong and ever growing relationship was their acceptance of our invitation to host their sizable delegation of students and staff for shabbos prior to the GA in Nashville. The most recent CJF newsletter highlighted this event which was, without doubt, a smashing success on all fronts.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Learning How We Learn

As a school administrator, there are few things more gratifying than watching as your faculty reflects on their own practice, shares ideas with each other, and collaborates to make themselves and, thus, our school that much better. That is exactly what I witnessed this past Monday, as we spent the day together learning, sharing, and growing.

The focus of our time together, as has been the focus of much of our professional development this year, has been on what is known as Differentiated Instruction. Simply put, it is a process of classroom instruction that employs a variety of planning and implementation strategies aimed at reaching students of varying ability and of varying learning styles, within the context of a single classroom. Our program, coordinated by our Assistant Principal for Professional Development, Mrs. Melissa Perl, featured a presentation by the University of Memphis's Project Rise followed by two group activities: one which introduced a differentiated technique known as the Jigsaw Method, and the second, designed by Mrs. Perl, gave teachers the opportunity to begin planning differentiated lessons within their own grade level and discipline.

As I noted to the teachers in our final session, though, much of the success of differentiated instruction depends on the degree to which we know our students - their abilities, interests, and learning styles. The last of those three is often the hardest to assess, yet often the most important to ensure maximal learning. Therefore, we will be doing our best to make sure that we do, indeed, have a handle on each child's learning profile. As a start, though, it would be both informative and fun for each student to visit http://www.acceleratedlearning.com and take their free learning style profile assessment. Send us the results, and we'll be sure to share it with your child's teachers as but another helpful tool in maximizing his or her learning experience.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

MHA and the Herald Tribune

On January 1st the International Herald Tribune ran this story about the growing awareness amongst educators of the need to provide Middle School boys with training in organizational skills - something known in the educational world as Executive Functioning Skills. Here is a excerpt from the article:

With girls outperforming boys these days in high school and college, educators have been sparring over whether there is a crisis in the education of boys. Some suggest the need for more single-sex schools, more male role models or new teaching techniques. Others are experimenting with physical changes in classrooms that encourage boys to move around, rather than trying to anchor them to their seats.

But as they debate, high-priced tutors and college counselors have jumped into the fray by charging as much as $100 an hour and up to bring boys to heel.

The tutors say their main focus is organizational skills because boys seem generally to have more difficulty getting organized and multitasking than girls do.

I'm rather proud of the fact that here at the MHA we not only provide single sex education part-time at the Middle School level and full-time at the High School level, but as of today - January 3rd - and as the culmination of weeks of student assessment, curriculum development, and teacher training by our Assistant Principal for Guidance Mrs. Melissa Perl, we have implemented a special Executive Functioning Skills program for our Middle School boys who most need such help. The program addresses the precise issues referred to in the article, but does so within the context of the school day, thereby obviating the need for tutors and their $100 an hour fees.

We don't yet have the manpower nor the funding to implement similar cutting edge services for all of our students with special needs, but this is a great first step. If you'd like to help us take the next one, click here and under "Donate to" select the Louis A. Fineberg Special Education Fund. Doing so will facilitate our ability to continue creating new paths toward success for each and every one of our children.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Classroom Catch

I walked into a classroom today and found the students, during instructional time, immersed in a game of catch. It brought back a flood of memories from my own youth. I recalled quite vividly the day I decided to engage a friend of mine in a game of classroom catch. The game was quite simple. I had a tennis ball and was seated on one side of a "U" shaped arrangement of about twenty-five desks. My friend was seated facing me on the other side of the "U," on the opposite side of the classroom. The 6th grade rebbe was teaching us Gemara and would turn every so often to write on the blackboard. As soon as he did so, the one with the ball launched it across the room quickly and accurately enough to allow for a good catch and for the ball's quick disappearance inside the other's desk.

The game was rather enjoyable both for the players and for the twenty-three spectators who were cheering us on. Fun, that is, until I lost. An errant throw on my part bounced off my friend's hand and hit the classroom wall just as the rebbe was turning around. In an instant the game was over as was my welcome in the class until my not-so-amused parents wrote a not-so-pleased note assuring the rebbe that I understood just how bad of an idea my little game had been.

Despite the flashbacks, I'm glad to report that today's game of classroom catch was a bit different. In fact, in a dramatic reversal from the way in which our game was played, this game of classroom catch only happened when the teacher was facing the students and it stopped when she turned to write on the board. The game, which I have now seen in two different MHA classrooms, is a technique used to keep students on task and actively involved in the lesson: the teacher asks a question, hands fly up and one lucky student gets a ball thrown their way. She catches it (or tries to, at least), smiles triumphantly, answers confidently, and then sends the ball whizzing back to the teacher.

After seeing this game of classroom catch in action today, I wondered what would have happened if my 6th grade rebbe had played catch with us. Perhaps I never would have resorted to a game of my own. Perhaps...