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!

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