Monday, August 25, 2008

Expanding the concept of integration

At the end of the school year, my principal at The Frisch School, Dr. Stein, gave me the go-ahead to integrate the ninth-grade curriculum. Rather than integrate randomly, I thought it would be a good idea to choose a theme that would apply to as many classes as possible and would arise organically from the various courses' curricula. The theme of identity seemed logical and appropriate for students transitioning into high school and encountering many new experiences they've never had. I began working with a Judaic Studies Nach teacher and we started talking to teachers about the idea. I also approached the Educational Technology Director, Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky, wanting to know more about wikis, and he showed me how a wiki would be a great place to gather and broadcast ideas about the theme. He taught me how to use a wiki, and we assembled wiki pages to show to teachers. The pages incorporated ideas that 1) teachers already taught in their courses and 2) pertained to the theme of identity. Further, the pages were cross-curricular so 3-6 courses shared a wiki page on a topic pertaining to the theme.

We presented the idea and wiki to the ninth grade teachers at an end-of-year meeting in June and there was a lot of excitement, tempered with some reservations about how to use the technology and how we were actually going to implement the theme. By the end of the meeting, it seemed like we'd have to come up with an end-of-semester project for students to do that they could post on the wiki and that would cover an idea they had covered in multiple classes.

Over the summer, teachers have been taking advantage of Tzvi's Summer Technology Boot Camp and learning how to use the wiki. Tzvi and I have continued to grow the wiki and so far we have pages on the following:

What's in a Name?: We begin life in a basic way -- by getting a name -- and that name tells us a lot about who we are. Naming something is the first step in knowing something. We've set up a page about the importance of names in identifying someone. So far, these are the entries:

The speech in Romeo and Juliet by Juliet about "What's in a name?" Ninth-grade students learn this Shakespearean play.

An excerpt from Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street about the protagonist's struggle with her name and identity as a Hispanic woman. Students also learn this book in ninth-grade English.

An essay by a Hispanic woman about the difficulty of labeling someone "Hispanic." This essay is from Foreign Language. Spanish is one of the choices in the ninth grade.

Students will be learning BaMidbar next year: The pasuk in Sefer BaMidbar that discusses Yehoshua's name change and Rashi's and Rashbam's comments on the pasuk. This can lead into a discussion of the significance name changes have in Tanakh.

Zionism: The theme for Nach in the 2008-9 school year is Shivat Zion. Students will be learning Ezra, Nechemia, Hagai, Zecharia and Malachi. We got Nach, History and Hebrew Language together for a page on Zionism. The page begins with the Cyrus Proclamation and then references the pesukim in Ezra that discuss Cyrus' decree to allow the Jews to return to Israel. The Cyrus Proclamation will figure prominently next year in both Nach and History. Nach will have the students compare the style of the Cyrus Seal with the way Sefer Ezra speaks. History discusses the problems Jews encountered when they returned to the land and then asks them to compare that with the wave of aliyot in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is where Hebrew Language enters. Hebrew Language asks the students to research the first and second wave of aliyot to understand why they happened and what was motivating Jews in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to immigrate to Palestine. They also read from Rav Kook's writings about the role of secular Jews in the formation of the State of Israel. The unit comes together then under the theme of identity by showing students the long history of settlement of the Land of Israel and the problems of settling the land. Students can make connections between both "then's" -- Ezra's time and the time of the last century -- and now -- and discover who they are as Zionists. They can see the problems of Shivat Zion and grapple with the kind of Zionists they want to be.

Classification: This page includes many subjects, because the idea of classification is a popular one in many areas. It furthers the theme of identity because a step in discovering who we are in the world and as people is learning to classify all objects and people to see where they belong and why.

Math: Geometry: Characteristics of different shapes. Why is it important to understand the limits of each shape?
Science: Biology: Characteristics of life and classification of different life forms.

The goals of math and science is to discover how -- how is the world made?

English: Genres. How is the understanding of different genres helpful in analyzing literature? Special attention is paid to the genre of tragedy, one of the most important genres in literature. Students in the ninth grade learn Antigone as an example of Greek tragedy.

The goal of classification in literature is to better analyze a work and what it can teach us about humanity.

Chumash: The whole school will be learning BaMidbar next year: Classification of Israel into tribes. Classification of Israel into priest, Levite and Israelite. Differentiation between pure and impure, holy and profane and the constant reinforcement of those differentiations throughout the sefer.

Gemara: The entire school will be learning Bava Kama next year. Classification of different laws of the Gemara.

The purpose of Tanakh and our halakhic system is to create a separation between holy and profane, pure and impure.

Leadership: Cultivating leadership qualities -- the right ones -- is an important part of developing an identity. This page explores the right and wrong types of leadership qualities people and characters have had.

History: Students study throughout the year the famous leaders from different ancient and medieval civilizations and analyze their different positive and negative leadership traits.

Nach: Ezra was a leader in Eretz Yisrael. Nechemia often led from the Persian court. The year will contain a discussion and comparison of these two types of leadership and the advantages and disadvantages of both.

Chumash: Moshe's passing on the leadership role to Yehoshua is an important part of Sefer BaMidbar. Additionally, different types of leaders emerge in the sefer: priests and Levites, heads of tribes, and elder wise men. Individuals also come forward as leaders, both good and dangerous and destructive: Korach, Pinchas, Balaam, Balak, B'not Tzelafchad. The year will include discussions of all these types of leaders.

English: Antigone's and Creon's leadership in Antigone; the kind of leaders running Verona into the ground in Romeo and Juliet; and finally, in Lord of the Flies, the leadership that allows a group of boys on an island to become like Nazis.

Another exciting addition will be underway once the school year begins. The head of the Hebrew department, Barbara Gononsky, is going to invite Frisch's sister school in Nahariyah to be part of the wiki. We're going to get their students' thoughts on our wiki page as well!

The teachers haven't decided yet what the end-of-semester projects are going to be, and we're not requiring each teacher to use the wiki in the same way. Some teachers may feel more comfortable lurking more this year and then contributing when they become more familiar with the technology. Some teachers may want to create pages for their own classes and have students use the wiki discussion board to monitor discussion and feedback on an assignment or concept. Some teachers may do that and also use the cross-curricular pages, as well. We want teachers to feel comfortable using the wiki in whatever capacity they want.

The theme for the year is going to be launched at a gradewide assembly a few weeks into school. The video producer in the school, Rabbi David Goldfischer, is working on a video about "Who am I?" that integrates all the classes and ideas of the program. All the students had a mandatory summer reading: The Color of Water. I'll be wrapping up the book and connecting it to the theme of identity. The book is about a black man who looks into his mother's roots. His mother is a Jewish (formerly Orthodox) white woman. I want to speak to the kids about the kind of religion we want them to be exposed to -- a positive, encouraging one (the mother's father was highly abusive) -- and the kind of nurturing environment we aim to create at Frisch so kids feel free to discover who they are -- spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. I want to also explain that who we are comes from understanding our roots and world (the author of The Color of Water could only accept himself as an adult once he understood his mother's past). The students' goal this year as they learn is to better understand who they are through exploration of the roots of civilization in history, of life and its forms in biology, of the Western tradition in literature, of the principles of the physical universe in geometry, of Hebrew and the history of Israel in Hebrew Language, of the cultures and languages of other lands in Foreign Lanaguge, and, of course, of our great religious and halakhic heritage in Tanakh and Gemara.

Tzvi and I are aware that the beginning of the year may begin with excitement about the wiki -- it's a new toy -- that will not be sustained. He and I are gearing up to be year-long cheerleaders for the project so that it doesn't peter out. We'll keep you updated.

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