Thursday, May 07, 2009

Frisch wiki

The students have begun working on their group projects, and Tzvi Pittinsky, Director of Educational Technology, and I are really pleased so far with the way the students are working. They're so interested in their work that when the bell rings they don't get up; I have to make an announcement that they should shut down their computers and go to the next class.

I mentioned that one group is basing their page around four cultures they're going to explore. Students today came up with more exciting ideas. One group is entitling their page, "Have We Really Changed?" and is looking at the topic of "evolution" in biology, obviously, but then in most of their other subjects, seeing how different subjects have evolved over time: how Talmudic law has evolved, how history and literature have developed, etc. Another group, working off of the idea of damages as seen in Bava Kama, is going to explore the idea of how lack of civic responsibility ends in disaster for civilization. The group is going to use the gemara as a jumping off point and then discuss the civil feud in Romeo and Juliet as well as the arguments and discord in Bamidbar. Another interesting discussion of the topic is going to be biology and how we can see harmony in nature by looking at symbiotic relationships. I'm really excited about what the students are doing so far and can't wait to see how their projects come out on the wiki.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Frisch Wiki

For the second semester wiki/integrated curriculum that I've been working on with my class, I had the students do two major projects. One was to write an essay explaining what they thought in the curriculum impacted their identity the most. The students had to choose two subjects/topics from Judaic studies and two from secular studies and could discuss tefillah under Judaic studies gym, lunch and extra-curricular activities under the secular studies. Students handed in their essays before the Pesach break. Here is a small summary of the findings:

1) A good number of students found very compelling one rabbi's question about whether to send a child to an ultra-Orthodox school or a Horace Mann type school if a modern Orthodox school like Frisch didn’t exist. Most students admitted that their knee-jerk response was to send to a Horace Mann school, but the question and their answers made them rethink who they were and what was important to them. The question was part of the Greek influence integration week.
2) A large number of students’ identities were affected by a Hebrew Language poem about every person’s having a name. The poem states that a person is known in many ways – by his name, by his family, by his reputation, etc. Students revealed that the poem made them think more deeply about who they are and how their actions make others look at them.
3) The unit on genetics in Biology also made a deep impression on many students. It forced them to consider how much of themselves is from their parents and how their genes affect their behavior.
4) A great number of students found history affecting, particularly the election journal. Hearing others’ opinions on the election was interesting to the students and helped shape their political views. Students also liked the integration of history with Nach and found the study of the two aspects of the Persian Empire – the world one and the Jewish one -- fascinating and thought-provoking.
5) A lot of students drew many lessons from the Nach curriculum, Shivat Zion, the return to Zion. The students learned that the Jews during the Persian Empire faced the same problems Jews today and earlier in the century face and faced when resettling Israel.
6) Rabbi Michael Broyde’s article about modern Orthodoxy also affected the students. They said they hadn’t considered defining who they are as Orthodox Jews, and they found the letter helpful in doing so.
7) Many students found tefillah a time that is meaningful for them, a time to connect with God and who they are as individuals. One student wrote that seeing some friends’ cavalier attitudes towards prayer surprised and disappointed him and made him all the more committed to his principles.
8) Students also mentioned individual teachers they found inspiring and so enthusiastic about their subjects that the students were also turned on to them.

I thought this information was really interesting and helpful in enabling Frisch to give the students an even more solid sense of self than we are doing. I also think the students are learning how to think in an integrated way because of the wiki/identity theme. One student who recently took a Romeo and Juliet reading quiz wrote that he didn’t think Friar Laurence was responsible for Romeo’s and Juliet’s deaths, because Bava Kama teaches that if one is not directly responsible for damage, he is not held liable for it!

The essay was obviously not technologically based, but the second project is. Today I divided the class into groups of three's and four's and am having them create their own wiki pages. They again have to take two topics from their Judaic classes and two topics from their secular studies ones and present on the wiki how those topics affected them. Thus, the students now have to contribute individually to a group's sense of identity.

The assignment requires students to summarize their idea on their wiki page and include on the page images; headings; and widgets such as scribd documents, PowerPoints, videos, podcasts and Photosynths. I'll grade the students on the complexity and meaningfulness of their selections as well as on originality, creativity and oral presentation to the class.

I'm already excited by what the students are coming up with. One group decided to choose four cultures to present and are going to look at three they learned about already -- Israeli, Hispanic and Greek -- and one they're going to study on their own and present to the class, such as African culture. I love the idea and am impressed that the students not only can think critically about what they've learned but are willing to explore topics they haven't!

Frisch Integration

I've finalized with the assistant principal the subjects of my integration units for the next school year. In Chumash, the students will be studying Devarim, and in Nach the students will be doing Melachim Bet and parts of Hosea, Amos and Yeshayahu.

For Devarim, the integration presentations will be:

1) Avoda Zara in Devarim: a study of the the worship of celestial bodies, which was so common in the ancient world, and a look then at how the sun, moon and stars are viewed in Devarim. The presentation will also include other forms of avoda zara mentioned in the sefer, including the cult of Asherah, child sacrifice and the Golden Calf.

2) Laws of Devarim: a look at the arrangement of the laws in the sefer and a comparison of the laws in Devarim with laws from other ancient societies. We'll accomplish the latter by highlighting key and interesting laws mentioned in Devarim that have counterparts in the ancient world.

3) Perceptions of God in Devarim: we'll study how Devarim asks us to perceive God, as warrior and as suzerain, and we'll then analyze how those perceptions are analagous to the way the ancients viewed their kings. We'll see that Israel is asked to transfer those perceptions to God. This last presentation will also tie in with Nach, as the idea of God as Israel's bridegroom will also be presented, and the groom/bride relationship is an important one in Navi.

For Nach, I'll put Sefer Melachim Bet and the accompanying books of the prophets who prophesied during the time of the late/split monarchy into the context of the larger world, which was dominated then by the Assyrian empire. We'll take a look in one (perhaps two) presentations at the many Assyrian kings who ruled and the kind of empire they established. We'll also study the important ancient cities of the time and see what Samaria looked like.

In another presentation, I'll continue to explore a topic that I began this year, the types of prophecy that existed in the ancient world and the kinds of prophets there were in Israel. I'll obviously emphasize the prophets the students will be studying, Amos, Hoshea, and Yeshayahu, but I'll also discuss Eliyahu and Elisha.

Next year, the seniors will be taking electives during what would be their Nach period. Some of the electives will allow me to present my last presentation, which I'll also give to the entire 11th grade. The presentation will be Women in the Ancient World. We'll start by looking at Atalia and discuss how it was possible for a woman to get to a position of power in such a patriarchal world. We'll analyze the reigns of Hatshepsut and Theodora to see other powerful female monarchs and may also consider some Christian medieval saints and Queen Elizabeth.

Finally, I'm going to have my AP Art History students prepare towards the end of the year a presentaion on Isaiah in Christian art. The prophet makes many appearances in Christian art, and by the end of the school year, my AP students should be able to convey the formal differences among the ways Isaiah is shown. The Frisch administration and I thought the presentation could be a springboard for a comparative religion lesson that shows students the differences between Judaism and Christianity. In the past, when the school studied the Five Megillot for the Nach curriculum, I had students prepare a lesson on the influence of nature in art, with Shir ha-Shirim as a springboard for the lesson. I thought the exercise was a valuable one as preparation for the AP exam and as a way of having the students do integration on their own.

Obviously, as I do research and any of the above ideas become non-feasible for some reason or another, I'll reassess and do something else, but for now, I'm looking forward to a busy summer preparing the topics I just outlined.