Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Our Most Important Job

Helping students learn to evaluate available information is more important today than ever before. In the past, we as teachers were in the business of conveying content. We had the 'truth', and we chose the books that had the 'truth.'

In today's world there is more information at our learners' fingertips than there used to be in entire libraries. Unfortunately, much of that information is misleading at best and totally inaccurate at worst.

This article about the Dead Sea Scrolls is an example of how information on the internet can be manipulated by anyone with the desire to do so.

By sharing this article with your students you may help sensitize them to the possibility that what they read must always be read somewhat skeptically - and to introduce them to reliable sources of review, such as and which carefully evaluate content.

A learner who develops critical thinking skills is a learner on the way to life-long learning.

What's Really Important?

We know that people learn what they perceive as important. Our challenge as teachers is to find out what that is for our learners. Here's an example from medicine that may bring a chuckle, but ultimately may help you realize the importance of motivation in learning.

Big Idea:
People learn what is important to them

Essential Question:
What is already important to your learners?
How can we make that which is important to us important to our learners?

Activities teachers can do to support uncovering the Big Idea:
Read what they read, watch what they watch, listen to their music. (I don't suggest you abandon your interests in favor of theirs, but you have a responsibility to be familiar with their cultural context if you are going to craft learning experiences they can relate to)
Provide time in class for students to talk about what they are interested in - to each other and to you.
Listen to your students.

Assessment: How will you know this is working?
Your students make more personal connections to the content of the learning.

Remember - your ultimate goal as a Jewish educator is to help your learners reach a level at which their Jewish knowledge, belief and practice are an important part of their lives and identities; a level at which what they are learning and doing is important not only to you as their teacher, but to them in their lives both within and outside the institution in which they learn.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hayei Sara

We have been reading the parashot this year through the lens of language - the power of words.

Big Idea #1:
  • Stories can change depending on the storyteller and the audience. That there are different versions does not necessarily mean one is true and others are not.

In Nechama Leibowitz' discussion of this parasha she compares the words Avraham uses in talking to his servant with the words the servant (Eliezer) uses in describing the task to the family of Rivka. You can read the commentary here. What are the similarities? What are the differences? What do you think explains why certain words or phrases are different in the two versions?

Essential Questions:
  1. Have you ever told a story more than once?
  2. Does it always sound the same?
  3. What might be the reasons the story changes from one occasion to another?
  4. Is there a person in your family who is the "custodian" of family stories? Who gets to say, "That's not how it happened!"
  5. How does your position in the family affect your "ownership" of the family stories? How are family stories preserved?
Big Idea #2
  • People differ in the way they respond to life experiences.
Essential Questions:
  1. What are some of the experiences Sarah had in her life?
  2. Do you know people who have had the same concrete experiences, either good or bad, but whose response to those experiences is different? How can you explain this?
  3. How can the way one responds to an event affect what comes afterward?
  4. What are some lessons in Torah, in Jewish wisdom and thought, which can help us respond appropriately to life events?
Big Idea #3
  • Not all important ideas or events are broadcast loudly and clearly. Sometimes they are not so obvious at first glance
Essential Questions:
  1. According to the Torah, who buried Avraham?
  2. What, if anything, surprised you about this?
  3. Do you believe this incident symbolizes a reconciliation between the brothers? Explain your opinion.
  4. What are some occasions in family life that might lead to separation? to reconciliation? What are some ideas we can use to encourage shlom bayit, peaceful relationships within a family?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Jewish Music in Popular Cultural Settings

Matisyahu - Jewish/rap/reggae performer - has written and performed the soundtrack for a commercial about the Vancouver Winter Olympics you can see here.

His original song is here.

Great opportunity for compare and contrast:

What is the big idea of the lyrics as used in the commercial? Why do you think the creators of the commercial chose this song? This segment of the song?

What do you think is the big idea of the lyrics in the complete song?

Does the segment reflect the entire song? Explain your answer.