Creativity is truly the gateway to so many possibilities, and at Beth Hillel Day School (where Tami teaches Jewish Studies) her students are encouraged on a daily basis to show their creativity in many ways. We have included a speech that Tami put together to introduce some amazing projects at last week’s Open House and Technology Fair. Please enjoy!
 
 
Written by: Tami
 
As you visit our virtual museum tonight you will be told many stories in many different ways. You will be introduced to the story of the Ancient Israelites (our prophets), our synagogue and the Jewish community, celebrating Shabbat with our families, the ways Tu B’Shevat helps to make a difference in the world around us, stories of animals living in their natural environment and what happens when outside factors such as pollution are introduced, and the story of two middle school age girls researching their heritage and how they identify as Jews. These stories although rich in content get even more vibrant when told through art, technology, the writing process in both English and Hebrew, and theater. 
 
 
 
 
4th and 5th grade integrated project – Totems were made to represent the Jewish value of Bal Tashchit (guarding the Earth) and the way Native Americans value the Earth. Students wrote pamphlets from the research they did on four different ecosystems; forest, rainforest, ocean, and arctic and the current issues found in those environments.
 
Tonight, allow me to be your first story teller as I let you in on what has been going on here at Beth Hillel Day School to prepare our students for the journey they are about to take you on. It all started with a question. What if we were to integrate as many subject areas as we can into one cohesive project? How could we deepen our students’ knowledge and understanding of the content they learn? Which turned into several more … What would that look like? Would the teachers be able to find connections through their very different curricula to make this work? Would the students buy in? Would our specialists be able to support us in making this happen? So the questions and this idea of a cohesive integrated project was brought to a staff meeting. Each team of teachers sat down together to collaborate. The teachers were committed. In one of the meetings, the upper grade teachers, our conversation began to breathe a life of its own. We somehow started weaving together a rich tapestry of the nonfiction essay writing they would do in language arts with their social studies unit on Native Americans and the Jewish value of Bal Tashchit (or guarding the Earth). I think anyone listening in on this conversation would have probably thought we were crazy! How could we possibly connect these very different topics? How would we even begin to think of a project that represented learning and research in all of these areas? … and I’m even more certain that the next day when I discussed the idea with our art integration specialist of making a structure out of recycled materials to represent an ecosystem, current issues within that environment, and all while representing the values Native Americans live on as well as the ones we get from the Torah, she thought we were absolutely nuts! However, that is truly what is so fabulous about the teachers at this school. They trust each other (sometimes with reckless abandon), when we believe we have an idea that will transform student learning.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1st grade integrated project – The Jewish community was taught alongside a Social Studies unit on community helpers. Synagogues were built with all of the important factors that go into making it complete; the Torah, Rabbi, Ner Tamid (Eternal Light), etc.
 
Now, would the students buy in? Well, I can tell you that from the very first day the first grade team started discussing our synagogue project with the students, their excitement was infectious! It rubbed off on everyone … Our 1st grade teacher as she planned a writing piece with our writing coach, Our Rabbi as the students interviewed her as a community helper and integral part of our synagogue, and even the first grade parents as they took the opportunity to learn and create right beside their children. The students would come into their classroom day after day, week after week to find myself and our art integration specialist set up for a new creation … the Aron Hakodesh made out of a cardboard box, clear plastic sleeves turned stained glass windows, and a yad made from a simple golf pencil. These ordinary objects may have started out that way, but truly ended up as one child-designed and created masterpiece after another. The excitement never left the room and was still there yesterday when the first graders arrived for art and asked, “Can we do something else to make our synagogues beautiful?” Of course by that point, they were all finished and ready to be displayed, but that question alone demonstrates that the students had been invested all along.
 
 
ECE (Preschool) integrated project – Learning about trees cross curricular for Tu B’Shevat (the birthday of the trees).
 
 
TK and Kindergarten integrated project – Creating Shabbat boxes that include ritual items for celebrating this weekly holiday and writing about the “best part”.
 
 
2nd and 3rd grade integrated project – Each student wrote a biography of a prophet as well as acted as them (in costume) during Open House night.
 
Did the students buy in? I would say yes across the board. Our ECE teachers taught about Tu B’Shevat through all areas of the curriculum, Students had opportunities to experience this holiday through research on animals that live in trees, tasting fruit, making comparisons, graphing, reading books, and even discovering symmetry while making butterflies. Our TK and Kindergarten classes created Shabbat boxes full of all of the things they need to bring Shabbat into their homes including step by step directions. Our TK teacher challenged them to add to what they already do during Shabbat in their homes, encouraging students to try out new traditions and rituals. And our 2nd and 3rd grade students have taken on a huge role tonight. Their research has enabled them to write a biography independently on a chosen prophet. Their engagement in every aspect of the learning process created individuals who know the content so well that they should (cross fingers) be able to stay in character as their prophet throughout your entire virtual museum experience.
 
 
As parents walked around they were able to access videos created by the students (and their teachers) through an app called Aurasma. The Genius Bar was a place for parents to check out iPads
and get tech help from qualified teachers.
 
Throughout this process, students researched areas of Jewish Studies and Social Studies, created beautiful pieces of art that followed very strict rubrics, wrote essays and biographies, and created videos to share the process behind the product you will see tonight. You might not believe me when I say that we had 4th and 5th graders who would choose to stay in during their lunch period (without being asked) in order to have more time to research, plan, and add details to their totems. It’s true. In just a few minutes, the next story tellers (our students) will take over. They have prepared their tushies off for this moment. Allow them to tell their stories as you walk around. Ask them questions about what they know, engage in conversation with a living prophet, take a tour through the synagogues with our architects, and use your Smartphone or iPad to watch videos they prepared to give you even more insight into the process. Don’t worry, if you have technical difficulties or if you aren’t comfortable with the interactive museum; our Genius Bar is prepared to help you out.
 
 

Reflecting back on last week’s Open House, Tami is so proud of the work that her students created and shared with all who attended. She will continue to encourage her students to express their creativity through art, writing, technology, and of course Jewish values and know that the staff at her school will do the same. Thank you Beth Hillel Day School for being a place where students can “learn a lot, have fun, and do a mitzvah!”

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