Friday, October 28, 2011

C21: Project Based Learning in Pre-K3

The following is an article written for our school newsletter this week by Morah Barbara Kutner, our Pre-K3 teacher, describing how she and her assistant teacher, Ms. Katie Minner, brought Project Based Learning into their dual curriculum 3 year-old classroom as part of our Curriculum 21 initiative:  

The “Project Approach” is an in-depth study of a certain theme, incorporating children’s interests and ideas, which evolve into a concrete learning experience over time. After observing the “Project Approach“ in another school last year and discussing it in our inspirational workshops about “21st Century Learning” at In-Service, Ms Katie and I were very excited to try our first “Project Approach” about apples. The results were overwhelming. The timing was perfect. We were learning all about the customs of Rosh Hashana and of course the apple takes center stage. As Sukkot, the holiday of Harvest, drew near, our learning experiences continued to build upon each other.

One of our goals was to involve parents and strengthen the home-school connection. We sent home a survey asking parents to see which apple products they had in their home. The students were so excited to present their results to the class. We invited parents to share their best apple recipe with us and many came in to bake. The children loved having their parents in the classroom. One parent, who is a teacher, even brought her class with her. They acted as buddies with our kids and helped in the baking.

We made so many things from apples – applesauce, baked apples, apple kugel, and applesauce cake and of course dipped apples into honey! We learned math as we measured flour and sugar and enriched our vocabulary with new words such as recipe and ingredients. We made a Venn diagram comparing applesauce, which we cooked on top of the stove and the baked apples, which were made in the oven. We included many of these recipes in our class cookbook for the housekeeping corner.

Apple tasting and choosing our favorite apple provided the opportunity to do graphing. We examined apples and looked at all the parts. We became artists as we made a still life drawing of an apple and apple prints. We cut open an apple and were surprised to find a star inside, making a perfect holder for the seeds. We planted the seeds and are waiting for our apple tree to grow.

Making our giant paper tree gave us an opportunity to work together and use many skills. We searched on the computer for apple tree pictures. We talked about the parts of the apple tree and labeled them. The students decided how they wanted to decorate our tree.  We gathered real bark to glue on the trunk and some chose to do crayon rubbings to make a rough texture. We used our cutting skills to design our own leaves and sponge painted red apple shapes on the top.

We met together and discussed all of our activities, making charts and diagrams of all of our work. Come see our apple display hanging in the hall and you can catch a glimpse of all the exciting activities that took place as we explored all about apples. Collaborating together, science discovery , strengthening math concepts, expressing creativity in art, language development, parent involvement – all from one little apple. That’s the magic of the “Project Approach!”

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Kohelet Kickoff Event

Our second year in the Kohelet Fellowship Program officially kicked off on Monday with an orientation program at the JCC.  The program, funded by the Kohelet Foundation, provides tuition incentives to parents who participate in one of two adult education programs:  the Jewish Learning Institute run by Chabad or the Kohelet Conversations peer study program created by Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future.  

The orientation event brought 60 parents from our school and from the Bornblum Solomon Schechter to the Memphis JCC for an evening of communal Torah study.  After an introduction from Avi Narrow-Tilonsky, the CJF's liason for the Kohelet Fellowships Program, and a video message from David Magerman, president of the Kohelet Foundation, the group watched a trigger film about a Katrina victim who took his neighbor's boat and used it to save numerous lives.  When the boat went missing, though, the owner filed suit against his neighbor - "the hero" -  for having unlawfully taken his possession.  The next 45 minutes were spent in lively group discussion and analysis of traditional Jewish legal texts which explore the extent to which one is allowed to go in order to save a life and who bears the liability for damage incurred in the process.

Feedback from the evening was overwhelmingly positive and it set the stage for what we hope will be many more enjoyable and insightful encounters with Jewish texts and Jewish wisdom for these parents over the weeks and months ahead.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sukkah Building Competition

Another catch-up post...

One of my favorite pre-Sukkot events is our Boys High School sukkah building competition.  Instead of judging them on the carpentry or aesthetics, however, we judge them on the near misses - halachik near misses, that is.  

The competition begins with the boys spending considerable time  learning the intricacies of the laws of sukkah building with their teachers.  Then, their challenge is to construct a sukkah (just the walls, not the schach) which looks like it would not be permissible for a variety of reasons, but, in fact, uses various halachik provisions to ensure that it is.  

Below you can see their handy-work as well as a bit of the spontaneous Sukkot spirit which erupted from one of the groups.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Operational Dinner

Although it's a bit late, I'd be remiss if I didn't blog about our annual operational dinner.  Hosted again this year at the magnificent home of Dr. Joe and Cindi Weinstein, this yearly get-together which caps off our annual campaign, is always an inspiring event.  It is the night, more than any other, that we come together to celebrate the breathtaking culture of sacrificial giving which permeates our community, and the way in which our community understands that its future is tied directly to the future of Jewish education in our city.  Year in and year out, our little school puts far larger and far more affluent schools to shame with regard to the funds we raise - all without the help of a single fund raising professional.  Just an incredible group of volunteers whose tireless energy is matched only by their enormous hearts.

Here is a clip from the speech given by Josh Kahane, our Board President:

And some more pictures from the beautiful evening:

Thursday, October 6, 2011

C21: Videos for Next Generation

As Yom Kippur approaches, I wanted to share with you a rather unique experience I had with a group of our high school boys over the past six weeks and the rather inspirational results that emerged from it.

You can read all about it and watch what our students produced on the website I created for the project: If you find it meaningful, please share it with others.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

C21: 12 Year-Old Teachers

Last week it was our 3rd grade and 6th grade who took a turn at experimenting with cross-grade collaboration.

At the beginning of the school year we rolled out Google Apps for Education for all of our teachers and students.  For our older students, already familiar with Microsoft Office, email, and many social networking sites, learning to navigate Google Apps was not much of a challenge.  In a matter of days we had teachers launching Google Sites, students collaborating on Google Docs, and flurries of Gmail criss-crossing our high schools and Jr. High.

For our third graders, however, it was all very new.  With the help of Mrs. Laura Malbogat, our C21 consultant, our 3rd grade teacher, Mrs.Lisa Lukien, and our 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Cindy Massey, devised a plan to provide each 3rd grader with a personalized tutorial on navigating the new technology: the 6th graders would teach them.

So, on Tuesday of last week, our 3rd graders paired up with their across-the-hall neighbors, the 6th graders, to complete an assignment designed to orient the 3rd graders to Google Apps and to help hone the 6th graders internet navigation skills.  The lesson began with the 6th grader helping his or her 3rd grade buddy to log on to Google Apps and access their Gmail.  Once they were in, they found an email waiting there from Mrs. Lukien, with instructions for an "internet scavenger hunt."  Together, the 3rd graders and 6th graders searched the internet for the information needed to complete their "hunt," and the 6th graders then showed their younger buddies how to enter their findings into a Google Doc and share it with others.

Once again it was exhilarating to watch how much student learning was happening, on how many different levels, all without any frontal presentation from any of the teachers involved.  They were there at all times and the learning could not have happened without them, but their role was markedly different than that traditionally assumed by teachers in a 20th century classroom.  They were there to structure the learning experience and to facilitate it, but it was the world wide web and their 12 year-old school mates who supplied the information.

High School Selichot

The geographic location of our school literally in the heart of our community, affords our students opportunities throughout the year to come together in ways that go well beyond what is traditionally thought of as school or even as extra-curricular activities.

One such occasion is selichot night. The combination of the late hour (selichot are traditionally recited at the midpoint between sundown and sunup on the Saturday night preceding Rosh Hashanah) and the ancient liturgy, makes the selichot experience in most shuls rather difficult for teens to relate to.  Therefore, a few years ago we began running programs for both our boys and our girls high schools in the hours leading up to selichot in order to make the experience more meaningful.

This year's program, designed by Rabbi Stein, started at 10:30 with pizza and ice cream in each of the respective schools.  Then, both sets of students watched a lengthy clip from Disney's The Lion King followed by a discussion about the teshuva-related themes which the film explores: running away from the past versus facing it, living up to expectations, changing course, and making up for past mistakes.  Each group then had a kumsitz to further set the mood and then finally, at 12:50am, the boys and girls came together in the Beit Midrash for selichot led by Rabbi Gersten.

Below you'll find some pictures from the program as well as a short video clip of the boys signing at their kumsitz.

Gemar chatimah tovah to all.