Jewish Studies Teachers Playing in the RealSchool Sandbox

Published: 
2013

Source: Original Post

 

On July 8-10, 2013, RealSchool, an inquiry-based, student-driven learning model begun by educator Tikvah Wiener and a cohort of students at The Frisch School, ran its first Summer Sandbox. The Sandbox, which took place at Ma'ayanot High School in Teaneck, New Jersey, was an opportunity for all those passionate about Jewish education to collaborate on projects they could then implement in their educational settings. Actually creating projects at the "funconference" gave participants a chance to engage in inquiry-based, project-based, and student-driven learning, find out more about what those terms actually mean, and discuss the obstacles to fully implementing these pedagogies in the classroom.

 

The Sandbox was coordinated by Tikvah Wiener, an educator at The Frisch School, and Akiva Mattenson and Penina Warburg, two Frisch alumni who now work with Wiener on RealSchool. The conference was attended by educators from Frisch, Magen David, Ma'ayanot, Moriah, Solomon Schechter High School of Westchester, SAR, TABC, and Temple Beth David Congregational School as well as representatives from Jewish education organizations and companies such as Areyvut, Behrman House, The Covenant Foundation, The Jewish Inclusion Project, The Jewish Education Project, PEJE, Raising Digital Natives, and TorahSkills, though many of the organizational members and edupreneurs attended for day one of the Sandbox only.

 

Charles Cohen, Manager of the Day School Affordability Project at PEJE and one of the day one participants, commented that what drew him was the opportunity to see on a micro level what educational planning was all about, since to him, affordability in Jewish education isn't only about how to save money and resources but also how to create a valuable product that has long-term sustainability and is something parents want to invest in.

 

Daniel Rothner, who runs Aryevut, a non-profit that works with schools and individuals to create service learning experiences, immediately grasped how inquiry-based learning enables high levels of learner engagement by enabling students to take responsibility for their own learning and explore what interests them most.

 

In fact, student engagement was a recurring reason educators stated for wanting to learn more about project-based learning (PBL), inquiry-based learning (IBL), and student-driven learning, but many teachers expressed concerns about the pedagogies, concerns which ranged from how PBL fits into the classroom and what it takes for PBL to succeed to students' need for basic literacy, an educational system that is geared towards standardized tests and the college admission process, and schools' and teachers' fear of change.

 

After these concerns were aired, participants chose "teams" in which to work on PBL's they wanted to create for their schools. Over the course of the three days, participants were able to do just that, after having been steeped in the guiding principles of RealSchool and JEDLAB, which take their cue from the MIT Media Lab and encourage big dreaming, hard fun, democratic creation, collaboration, anti-disciplinary learning, iterative prototyping, and failing fast to fail forward. This ethos drove the conference, which was about each participant's dream for Jewish education; a way to engage in real work but in a fun, collaborative manner, since all stakeholders in Jewish education could work together; different disciplines and talents involved in the creation of a final product; and the construction of a "rough demo," a project that the teams had worked on together.

 

By the end of the three days, participants came up with PBL units on George Orwell's 1984 and its connection to digital literacy and citizenship; Sefer Devarim and what Torah law is and how it compares to other forms of law and relates to digital citizenship; female empowerment through literacy and a fundraising campaign; the move from a Paleolithic world to urbanization and how the Torah responds; an interdisciplinary, inter-school day on Jewish unity; and a tzedakah project for elementary school students that enabled them to research and choose the organization they would like to donate to, involve their parents in the project and gain financial literacy and philanthropy skills. It's interesting to note how digital citizenship and financial literacy and philanthropy wove their way into several of the projects as ways for the PBL's to have authentic purpose. To learn more about the projects, visit the RealSchool blog

 

The conference ended with participants and coordinators agreeing that the conversation about changing education had just begun and that we were eager to continue working together. Stay tuned for what our next steps will be . . . .

Updated: Aug. 18, 2013
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