Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Assessing Outcomes

We often say that one of the problems in Jewish education is that we can't assess outcomes until many years after the end of the programs we are attempting to evaluate.

This article, Generation Z appears in the on-line magazine Tablet. It describes the college years of several people whose names are familiar to us now, and I believe it also raises some interesting questions for us as educators:
  • What was it about their college experiences that led to the ongoing involvement of these people in the Jewish world, and in Israel particularly?
  • Beit Ephraim still exists, and has a website at which you can learn more about it. What do you think are its strengths? What might be its challenges?
  • In your opinion, what kind of student might be attracted to a place like Beit Ephraim?
  • What kind of prior Jewish educational experiences do you imagine might lead a college student to be interested in such a program?
  • In what way are the curricula and programs of our Jewish educational systems geared toward building the kind of youth who are looking for serious Jewish involvement in their college years?
  • How can we do our job better?
I'd love to hear your ideas about this.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Parshat B'Reisheet

Here's the challenge -
  • how do we make the 'old' story of creation 'new' in the eyes of our students?
  • How can we transform a narrative that our learners have been reading and hearing forever into something they find important?
  • How can we get from "What was created on the first/second/third/etc. day to some really big thinking about what the point is in studying Torah?
  • How can we help our students answer the fundamental question I think all learners should be able to answer, "What did you learn today/this week/this month that is important?"

Big Ideas:
  • Words matter.
  • Science and religion are about different things
  • Jewish wisdom is a source of important ideas that guide our lives

Essential Questions:
  • Why does each act of creation begin with the words: וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים - And God said?
  • Explain why you think there are two different stories of creation.
  • Who are you - what is your primary identity?
  • How can we make sense of the story of the creation of the world in the Torah when we also learn the Big Bang Theory of how the universe came into being?
  • What does learning Torah have to do with my "real life"?
Learning Activities:
  • Read The Creative Power of Words, by Rabbi Evan Moffic at the link. What do his thoughts mean to you?
  • This article about bullying illustrates a Jewish way of looking at this universal problem. How do you think it connects to this Torah portion?
  • William Safire recently died. The following is a quotation from an article about him and his work in the October 11, 2009 Sunday Times Magazine: “At a certain point,” he conceded, “what people mean when they use a word becomes its meaning.” Does this statement affect the way you understand what is written in Torah?
  • Rabbi Gail Labovitz writes about the two stories of creation that are side-by-side in the Torah. How does she understand the difference these two stories make in how we define ourselves? Which story are you more familiar with? Which do you generally teach to your students? Can you make an argument for teaching the one you usually ignore? For teaching both?
  • On October 7th I wrote about the new head of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins. Go back to that post and re-read the article at about him at the link there. How does he explain his understanding of religion and science?
  • Create a poster that illustrates how you understand the relationship between the Biblical stories of creation and the scientific explanations.
  • Write a short essay that explains who you are, using the ideas that Rabbi Labovitz suggests in her D'var Torah.
  • Formulate a policy on the use of words that uses the ideas you have learned from this parasha and the commentaries you have read.