This is the latest segment of the weekly video series from Rabbi Stulberger – You’ve Been Called to the Dean’s Office. It’s a short (four minute) message on a timely Torah topic. This week’s message was taped in Rabbi Stulberger’s Catskills Retreat.
This school year has been quite unique as students have been given the opportunity to explore their interests, investigate societal issues and encouraged to think locally and globally to discover new passions in finding creative solutions to help others. Staff has kept busy also, with trips to innovative schools like High Tech High in San Diego and professional development where we explored, learned and experimented with a model of teaching that applies learning to the world. This model, called Project-Based Learning, is “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge. (bie.org)” It is a model that research has shown increases content acquisition, retention and, above all, connection and applicability to the real world. As a founding school of the i.d.e.a. schools network, an organization focused on developing and supporting innovative school, Valley Torah is committed to sourcing more ways for our students to excel academically while also applying their learning directly to their lives and the world around them. This has been a very strategic and daring process, but on June 7th our efforts truly paid off.
Last Sunday, Valley Torah held its first Project-Based Learning Exhibition and Siyum. The day was devoted to celebrating the students work on the Principal Project, Gemach Project and in their Gemmara study. To say the event met my expectations would be an understatement. Honestly, the whole thing was a risk; we had never had such an event. However, the students really stepped up and with great enthusiasm represented themselves and the school well.
For the Principal Project 9th grade students presented the professions they chose and researched all year. 10th graders presented their research on Universities they aspire to attend. 11th and 12th graders prepared online presentations of solutions to problems facing the world today. For the Gemmach (a free loan program for items needed in the community) project, students in Rabbi Gramas and Rabbi Samuels shiur, who were learning the eighth perek in Bava Metzia, developed a prototype gemach for the school. It was based on a school community need that the students researched and discovered with the rules of accessing it being based on the Halachos of borrowing discussed in the gemara. Each student in both the Principal Project and Gemach Project displayed a visual presentation of their work and gave an oral presentation of their idea, research and final project. All of this was also enhanced by a Siyum on Meseches Megillah which is a beautiful culminated celebration for finishing a tractate of Gemara.
Guests were simply amazed by the Freshman who presented about Architecture, Game Design, Photography, Oncology, Real Estate and more. Parents and teachers were made proud by the Sophomores’ knowledge of UCLA, USC, Harvard, University of Chicago, Yeshiva University and other top schools. Juniors and Seniors inspired hope for the future with solutions to third world poverty, pollution, racism in the Jewish community and other impactful issues we face. The Gemachs were another source of pride as students presented programs to help the school community with attaining a Kippah, phone charger, pens and pencils, bicycles and more. However, the final projects, while impressive, were a representation of a much deeper and meaningful process the students went through this year.
For example, when I asked Freshman Moshe Levine if he chose architecture because it was something that interested him, he replied “No, I just chose something at random, but now I am interested in it!” That sums up the purpose of the Principal Project, and Project-Based Learning in general, as it is meant to support students in finding their interests, pursuing them and gaining a deeper understanding of them. They learn by doing and that learning sticks with them throughout high school and beyond.
We must be pushed out of comfort zones in order to grow and discover ourselves. This is exactly what the Principal Project, the Gemach Project and the Exhibition achieved for everyone involved; students, teachers and administration alike. Students were pushed to go beyond the familiar and look deeply into new possibilities. Teachers transformed the way they think about and practice their craft and the administration chartered a new course for meaningful education. As a school activity, this was an entirely new event that taught me that the right attitude and a little proactivity, any obstacle can be overcome. We dared greatly this year, learned from what failed and what succeeded and with confidence I can say we were victorious as a school.
I leave you with a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt that I opened my speech with at the Exhibition.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
This Semester we experimented with doing a Project Based Learning (PBL) module in select Gemora classes. The Culmination was an exhibition (this past Sunday where we also celebrated a Siyum On Meseches Megillah as well as the Principals project) where different groups got to display their projects. The Gemora the boys were learning is in the eighth Perek in Bava Metziah. The topic in the beginning of the Perek discusses the parameters of a Shoel (a borrower) as well the Halachos of the borrower’s responsibilities. The boys were able to translate those Halachos into a Gmach (short for Gemilass Chasadim) project thereby taking their learning, making it into something practical as well as relevant. A special thank you goes to Rabbi’s Grama and Samuels for taking the initiative and bringing in twenty first century pedagogy into their classrooms.
At the end of this weeks Parsha is the Parsha of Tzizis. Using PBL is a great way for students to learn the Halachos of Tzizis. PBL supplies the road markings for the journey of learning with a destination of having made their own pair of Tzizis. This hopefully would provide the relevancy that would inspire them to wear the Tzizis they created.
Upon further reflection the actual Mitzvah itself integrates many components of PBL. The goal of wearing Tzizs Chazal tell us is to inspire Yiras Shomayim. When a person in enveloped in a Mitzvah which has a visual component to it – he is able as the Sefornu explains receive the protection that the Mitzvah of Tzizis provides by evoking the connection we have with HKBH.
PBL doesn’t have to be something that is only done at school. I think that parents who want their child to acquire certain knowledge, experiences or character traits can all use the PBL approach to help their children achieve those goals. It may need some creativity but it is all doable as long as we are ready to work together with our children in completing the task.
An example can be where we want our children to appreciate the value of family. The project can center around the driving question “What does it mean to be a family?”. The project can be creating a visual family tree and attaching meaningful quotes (the research) from each member on that tree. With a culmination of presenting it to the Patriach or Matriach of the family at a Simcha where the entire family is gathered.
This is the latest segment of the weekly video series from Rabbi Stulberger – You’ve Been Called to the Dean’s Office. It’s a short (four minute) message on a timely Torah topic.
This has been an exciting year for the VTHS Boys Division. Simchas Beis Hashoaivah, pool party, snow Shabbaton, Purim and much more. Please watch the highlights:
Valley Torah students who sold at least five tickets for their production of Annie Jr. were awarded a fantastic trip to Magic Mountain.
There is a very interesting commentary on this weeks Parsha that highlights the degree to which parental influence extends and the source for it. After the Bnei Yisroel’s complaints and dissatisfaction with the Manna the Torah tells us that Moshe questioned his ability to continue leading them on his own. The HaEmek Davar explains that Moshe was hoping that Hashem would appoint a body of elders to assist him. Moshe’s wish says the Sefornu was that by appointing men selected from across all the twelve tribes of Israel every member of Klal Yisroel would feel that he had an advocate in the form of a relative who would care for him. This Moshe hoped would moderate their need to complain.
The Sefornu articulating this line of reasoning explains that the same way a child trusts his farther and listens to him even though he may not agree with him or he may not feel that his father understands him so too Klal Yisroel would listen to their leaders if they trusted them. Moshe was emphatic that this happen to the point that he was willing to give up his leadership if this was not to be.
My Rebbi, Rabbi Hehnoch Liebowitz points out that Moshe’s analysis was that it would be more productive to have a leader Bnei Yisroel could trust knowing that he cared for them even if it meant giving up on a leader the caliber of Moshe Rabbeinu. I believe my Rebbi was saying that Moshe’s analysis was correct even if it is only in the perception of the recipient. The reality was that no one cared for the Bnei Yisroel more than Moshe. We are all familiar with how much Moshe gave up personally for them and to what lengths Moshe went to help them. Yet he was ready to transfer his leadership to others that Bnei Yisroel they believed cared more about them because ultimately Moshe felt they would be more successful because Bnei Yisroel trusted them.
Trust is the cord that binds us. When children trust that their parents care about them, they can have differences in opinions, differences in worldview or differences in character but it won’t inhibit the influence parents have on them. Recognizing the value of trust will hopefully translate in how we shape our relationship with others and especially with our children.
Trust is a two way street however the width of the street is different for parents and children. For parents it is a narrow street, we don’t have too much room to veer off the single lane that defines the path we take to raise our children. As parents we always need to be consistent and we have to stay true to our beliefs. There is also not much room for error; children are not as forgiving as we would like them to be.
For children the street is much wider. There is more room to change lanes and to get on the shoulder lane when having difficulty. There is also room for a rescue vehicle to come with assistance. Let us help our children as they travel on the journey of life with the knowledge that the engine of their vehicle is the trust they have in us that we love them.