Wednesday, February 29, 2012

State Sum Dog Champs!

It's official. According to the Sum Dog website, the Margolin Hebrew Academy has won the statewide Sum Dog math contest!  In a landslide victory, our lower school students beat out over 60 other schools from across the state with a score of 2,049 points, representing the average number of correct answers given by our students over the week-long contest.  Granberry Elementary in Brentwood, TN came in second 1,391points and our neighbors here in East Memphis, the highly regarded St. Mary' Episcopal School, came in third with 1,291.

All of the students who participated deserve tremendous credit not only for the time and effort they put forth, but for the accuracy with which they answered the questions.  Special congratulations goes to 6th grader Yonah Frieden, who racked up an unbelievable 50,596 points (did he sleep this week?) and ranked #1 amongst all students in the contest.

Though far less important than the educational value of the endeavor, there were prizes involved as well!  For having been the daily winners on the first day of the competition, we won site licences for Yenka's 3D Shapes geometry software (a $330 value).  For winning the overall contest, we get site licences to Yenka's Mathematics software (a $750 value).

Not bad for doing a bunch of math problems and having a lot of fun while at it!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Adar is in the air!

With Adar in the air, the sense of excitement and festivity can be felt everywhere.  Once again we launched this special month with our high school students dancing their way down to our lower grades to pick them (some, quite literally) and bring them to the gym.  There they were met by our talented CYHSB band who played as the entire school, students and faculty, danced together and ushered in the happiest time in our calendar.

Here's a glimpse into what it was like:

Auction & Game Show 2012

The much anticipated pictures from our PTA's annual Auction and Game Show are finally  here .  The evening was a success in every way: great items, fantastic food, a particularly entertaining game of Friends and Family Feud, and - most importantly - a significant amount of much needed funds raised for the students of the Margolin Hebrew Academy.  On their behalf, we thank all of those whose hard work made the evening possible.

Friday, February 24, 2012

1st Edition of the Margolin Messenger

Congratulations to our Middle School on the publication of the first edition of their first-ever school newspaper, the Margolin Messenger!  Under the direction of English teacher, former journalist, and tech-wiz, Mrs. Ashley Brown, our 7th and 8th graders built on the recent success of our Boys and Girls High School newspapers by creating one of their very own.  Months of hard work were poured into the writing, design, and layout elements of the paper by the student editors, and it shows..

All one needs is a quick glance at what they produced to understand to the paper's unstated message:  Goldie Globe and Cooper Chronicle beware! The Margolin Messenger has arrived.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Math & Engineering Awards!

It's been quite a week for the math and science programs at the MHA!  Earlier this week we received news that the Engineering Club from our Boys High School, under the direction of Mr. Dana Vaughn, took first place in the small school division at the Junior Engineering Technical Society’s (TSA) Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics and Science (TEAMS) Competition held at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  Here's a description of the competition from the UALR website,

This event is designed to teach team development skills through students’ participation as a group in an engineering problem competition. Competition problems cover mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, visual interpretation, computer applications, and reading analysis and interpretation.
TEAMS presents the multidisciplinary aspects of engineering work by illustrating how the math and science concepts students are learning work together and are applied to solve real-world problems.
Our high school boys are the only ones excelling in math, though.  Just yesterday, our school was the daily winner in the statewide Sumdog Math Contest with a whopping 784 points (compared to 328 for the 2nd place school).  Points are given for the average number of correct math problems completed by students in the school.  Five of yesterday's top ten scoring individual students were also Academy students, with 6th grader Yonah Frieden leading the way.  While we're only ranked fifth for today's contest (the contest runs the entire week with a daily winner announced each day), we are still sitting comfortably on top of the leader-board for the week.  Let's go MHA!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tournament Updates

We have students spread across the country this weekend competing in various basketball tournaments and participating in the accompanying shabbatonim.   Our Junior High Boys are in Chicago at a tournament hosted by Hillel Torah Academy.  I am told they played hard this morning, but lost to the New Jersey Juggernaut, and my elementary school alma mater, the Moriah School of Englewood.

Our high school girls, who are in Miami for the weekend, suffered two disappointing losses yesterday, but bounced back with two wins today.  Way to go girls!  Both our junior high team and our girls high school team will play again on motzei shabbat.  Stay tuned!

C21: The Sumdog Bug

For some reason, I have resisted the urge to post the weekly column I write for our school newsletter on my blog as well.  As this week's column relates directly to our Curriculum21 Initiative and involves a resource that may be of interest to other schools, I'm going to take the plunge and post it.  Here it goes:

A contagious bug has infected our lower school.  Mrs. Gersten started it when she shared a post she saw on an educational listserve with her faculty.  Mrs. Massey then spread it to her 6th graders.  From there it exploded and before we knew it kids in all grades, 1st through 6th, were smitten with it.  The bug is called sumdog.  It’s math, from counting to Algebra.  And it’s a web-based video game.

Each day this week, our elementary students went home and did hundreds of math practice problems not because they had to, but because they wanted to.  We know, because we get reports detailing how many they have done, in what areas, and what percentage they got right.  In truth, though, all you have to do is listen in on a conversation at lunch or at recess these days, and you are bound to hear the word “sumdog” being mentioned.

Of all of the various techniques and approaches that are being promoted today as part of 21st century learning, “educational gaming” as it is known, is the one I have been most hesitant to embrace.  Others have been championing it for quite some time.  There’s a charter school in Manhattan called Quest2Learn that is based solely on gaming.  Well respected professors from well respected universities have recommended it strongly.  But it just didn’t feel right.  Until now.

When educational video games were first introduced, some twenty five years ago, the pitch for using them was rather simple: video games are fun, kids like to have fun, let’s get kids to have educational fun.  The argument for gaming in education today, however, is far more sophisticated.   With the explosion of online gaming in recent years, researchers have begun studying why it is that people  - of all ages and genders – are so drawn particularly to multi-player, web-based games.  Amongst the various things they have learned is that those who seriously engage in gaming are also seriously engaged in learning.  No, they are not putting down the controller for Shakespeare or a Bava Kama, but they are driven to complete the board, or stage, or level that they are on and the only way to do so is to try new things, make mistakes but don’t repeat them, figure out problems, and build certain sets of skills.  That is education in its most basic form.

What’s more, if aliens visited from another planet intent on researching this global phenomenon called gaming to which half a billion people devote at least an hour a day and to which the average American youth will have devoted 10,000 hours prior to his or her 21st birthday, they’d undoubtedly hypothesize that there was some material reward – money, food, a cruise in the Bahamas– which was motivating this craze.  Yet, we know they’d be wrong.  The overwhelming majority of gamers play for nothing more than the thrill of gaming.  Researchers break that thrill down into three component parts:  our innate desire to compete, our innate desire to be social, and our intense longing for immediate, positive feedback.  Online gaming does all three.  It allows a person to compete and to keep competing (usually at no or very minimal cost) until he or she succeeds.  It allows people to share their success with others, and offers the opportunity to build self-confidence and a bit of pride in doing better than others.  And, the minute a gamer does well, bells start ringing, lights start flashing, confetti starts falling, and a silly little man runs across the screen, does an acrobatic flip and yells “GREAT JOB!!!”

Proponents of educational gaming contend that for this reason, multi-player, online gaming ranks amongst the most powerful educational tools the world has ever stumbled upon.  If we, the educators, can borrow the platform and take control of the content the potential for learning at all levels and for all students, they argue, is unlimited.
The theory is powerful.  Clearly, there are dangers there too.  For our purposes, though, we are going to watch this sumdog experiment and see how it goes.  What we know right now is that our students are amongst the 1,342,484 worldwide who are playing its games and building their math skills in the process.  They are also amongst a far smaller group who are enrolled in a statewide sumdog math competition this coming week.  Their excitement is palpable, the learning is real, and those are exactly the results we all want to see.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Crucible

Our high school girls were downright frightening in their performance of Arthur Miller's The Crucible last night.  Replete with tears and fights, shrieks and charades, they brought the powerful tale of scapegoating and the misuse of religion to life on our school stage.

As always, the production's success resulted from just the right mix of very hard work by our girls, masterful directing by Dr. Jerry Kutliroff, and a healthy dose of breathtakingly good acting talent that seems to emerge from our little high schools year in and year out.

Following this year's performance, the girls paid their own tribute to one girl who personifies that talent: 12th grader, Leah Fleischhaker.  Those who have attended our High School Open Houses each of the past two years, may know Leah as the girl who spoke courageously (and completely voluntarily) about the challenges she has learning in a traditional classroom setting and the way in which our school has helped her to overcome those challenges.  Those who, in any of the past four years, have attended our Girls High School plays, however, simply know Leah as a truly remarkable actress.

We can't wait to see what lies in store for her as she takes her talents beyond the small stage of the Margolin Hebrew Academy to bigger and better venues.  We have no doubt, though, that she will continue to shine.

See below for a slide show from the performance as well as two video clips of our girls in action.  All of the pictures from the performance are available here.

Online Auction

If you haven't yet bid on our online auction, now's the time! There are lots of great items to be had and it's all for a great cause (the MHA!).

Be sure to join us on Sunday, February 19th at 5:45 PM at Baron Hirsch for an evening of community fun as we wind down our auction and we crank up a competitive - and undoubtedly entertaining - game of Friends and Family Feud.

For questions or to find out more email our PTA auction committee at  Looking forward to seeing you there!