Thursday, July 02, 2009

Frisch Integration

The end of the school year has been very busy, as Frisch's Educational Technology Director Tzvi Pittinsky and I met with most of the departments in the school to prepare for next year's wikis. This past year's wiki, which was for the ninth grade and integrated under the theme of identity, is going to be repeated for the incoming ninth grade. We're going to create a new wiki with basically the same pages, fine tuning what we didn't like and building on what we did. In addition, because Judaic Studies rotates its curriculum yearly, we have to plug the theme into the new sefarim being taught. Tzvi and I met with the head of Tanakh at Frisch as well as with head of Talmud and a Chumash teacher to discuss where the theme could be applicable in the curricula for Tanakh and Talmud.

We also created the new tenth grade wiki and are integrating the tenth grade year under the theme of exploration. Since the ninth graders looked inside themselves, in the tenth grade we're going to look at the outside world. That's not to say that we aren't also focusing on self-development. The quest, for example, a genre of exploration, turns out really to be about what one learns about himself.

In any case, as we did last year, we've made pages with ideas pertaining to the theme, rather than pages that are subject-specific. In this way, students see and learn the integration model and begin to copy it themselves. So far, our pages include Visions, Rules of Engagement, Traveling Through Time and Space, the Enlightenment, Getting to God, Exploring Diverse Cultures, and Cause and Effect.

The subjects students are learning that pertain to these ideas are American History I, European and non-Western Literature, Chemistry, Foreign Language and Culture, Masekhta Berakhot, Melakhim Bet with parts of Yeshayahu, Amos and Hoshea, and Devarim.

To illustrate how we've integrated so far: The Rules of Engagement was born from the Devarim curriculum, which is going to include an analysis of wars of choice vs. wars of obligation. We then posted an article by William Safire about the idea as it pertained to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Safire references Devarim as well as Rambam's views of war in the article. We also posted the Geneva Conventions. Chumash will probably tackle this entire unit. However, American History also posted the Declaration of Independence, the colonists' reasons for engaging in war. We posted both the final and rough drafts on the page for history students to contemplate. I teach English and realized the page can be used for any type of etiquette needed to "engage" with something. For example, grammar is the rules we use to engage with language. I'll be posting grammar on that page. I already posted information about a work I teach, The Importance of Being Earnest, a comedy of manners which is all about how we get engaged, the "rules of engagement."

Another page is Visions. We have a lot of visions for this page. In Nach, Melakhim Bet teachers will begin with the vision of an ideal monarchy that is set up in Devarim coincidentally, so Chumash and Nach will link there. Then the students will see how that vision failed as absolute power corrupts absolutely. American history will explore the same idea as students consider how America was set up to counter the corrupt systems of government in Europe. Yeshayahu will explore the eschatological utopian visions of the prophet, while American history will again show how America was set up as a new Eden, Jerusalem, a "shining city on a hill." Students will explore the utopia theme in literature as well, with works such as Candide, Out of the Silent Planet and even The Merchant of Venice, which contrasts the dirty, money-tainted city of Venice with ideal Belmont.

Traveling Through Time and Space was suggested by the head of Talmud as a way of looking at Berakhot, since many of the laws apply in certain zemanim. However, Chemistry jumped right on the page with atomic models, and we have posted different timelines for the year, one for American history and one by fellow AVICHAI grant recipient, Joseph Sonnenblick, on Jewish history. We also have a great YouTube moving map of Israel. English is on the page as well, as the quest is obviously a great genre to explore for the theme of exploration. We've put up our first quest book, The Canterbury Tales, and will contrast its satirical style with Shrek's.

The above are some of the ideas we've started with. There are already many more, and we're looking forward to adding even more. We're much further ahead this year than we were last year at this point, because we've already done a wiki, and the administration is completely supportive, giving me and Tzvi the time to meet with the various faculty members, who are also on board and getting on board.

Another new idea Frisch is implementing to deepen the wiki/integrated theme experience is seminars. The ninth and tenth grades will meet as a grade at different points in the year to have supplemental seminars on topics connected to the grade's themes. For example, in the ninth grade, one category of identity we're going to draw out is what it means to be a modern Orthodox Jew. The summer reading for the ninth graders is The Chosen and The Color of Water. The grade will meet to launch the theme and we'll discuss the books. Then we'll give the students a letter by Rabbi Broyde with his definition of modern Orthodoxy. The students will respond to the letter on a wiki discussion post and then be gathered again for a grade-wide discussion about it. One of the characteristics of modern Orthodoxy that Rabbi Broyde mentions is adherence to Torah u'Maadah, so the students will comment on that and then through the year be given the Torah u'Maadah model. After they learn evolutionary theory, they will get a seminar in Jewish thought and Darwinism. After they learn genetics, they'll learn about eugenics, watch Gattaca as a grade-wide activity, and then be given a presentation on the halakhic positions on IVF/PGD.

For the tenth grade theme of exploration, we're going to give grade-wide seminars on Comparative Religion. Students will explore the basic tenets of Christianity and Islam -- and even Judaism. We'll deal with how moderate Islam should look at jihad and at the end of the year, integrate with Yeshayahu, and explain how Christians use the book in their theology.

If anyone wants to see the wikis, feel free to contact me at The wikis are password-protected for students' safety.

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