Sunday, October 28, 2007

Text and Context: Integrating History with Tanakh

Now that the chagim are over and the teachers have had a few weeks to get started with their curricula, The Frisch School has been able to start the Integration Program. We began it this year this past week, beginning October 22, which turned out to be a highly appropriate date. The first presentation was on the awesomeness of the Egyptian empire and the presentation ends with a look at the temple of Ramses II, one of the pharoahs who might be the pharaoh of the Shmot story. His temple is at Abu Simbel and the last presentation slide takes a look at the interior of the temple, which is lit by the sun on two days of the year, Feb. 22 and Oct. 22. The students enjoyed the presentation, which took them from the pyramids to Tut's grave goods and focused on Ramses II -- his mummified remains, some building projects and the temple at Abu Simbel. Ending with the Oct. 22 fact was a winner, even for students who had the presentation later in the week. Most students were so enamored of the artwork, they wanted to take a trip back to Mitzrayim. Perhaps that wasn't the goal of the presentation, but nevertheless the students gained an appreciation not only for what God and B'nai Yisrael were fighting when God took on Egypt, but also for how art can help us better understand and -- obviously -- visualize history. Even students who are fine audio learners benefit from the visual stimuli of artworks.

This week, the Nach presentations will begin, and the first one will be on the Solomonic era, as the Nach courses will begin covering Qoheleth. The presentation focuses on archaeological finds from David's and Solomon's eras and mentions the existence of Wisdom Literature in the ancient world. While the Integration Program ran in Chumash last year at Frisch, this is the first time the Nach classes are going to have it.

So far, I've found the Integration Units helpful in establishing facts for other classes as well. I teach English and Art History, so I was able to tell my art history students to pay attention during the Integration Unit on Egypt for information that I then didn't have to repeat in class. I also teach a 12th grade English elective on hot topics in contemporary life. The class is a round robin, with one English teacher showing a film on a topic, another doing literature on it and my presenting art relating to the idea. The first topic was Freedom Fighter or Terrorist: Who Decides?, and my art presentation focused on the art of propaganda. I deliberately did not focus on Egypt, as I could then mention it when I gave the seniors the Egyptian empire presentation. In this way, the integration units have become even more solidly linked with secular studies classes, and students get to see how all types of learning become relevant to their world.

I'm still waiting for Frisch to be completely hooked up to all technologies and then I'll be creating a website that will allow others to view the integration presentations.

On a side note: I've noticed how many people on AVICHAI are enjoying the SmartBoard. I also have one in my classroom that has just been made available to me, and it has changed my teaching life. It's an amazing tool to teach with, and it excites the students. I hope the students stay as interested as they are now!

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