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By in News & Updates Comments Off on Change is Exhausting

Change is Exhausting

This was a recent post I wrote for the Valley Torah Blog focused on change, our trip to High Tech High funded by the I.D.E.A. Schools Network and a behind the scenes look at the change process one of the founding schools is going through. 


This has been wonderful week of learning. Not just for the students, but for the staff as well. We began the week with a staff development day focused on Leader In Me. We spent most of our time on our current mission and vision of VTHS and where we are headed in regard to bringing in this framework of leadership for our students and staff. Later in the week, Mr. Joseph, Mr. Rodgers, Rabbi Semmel and I went down to High Tech High in San Diego to see project-based learning in action. This was our second staff trip. Rabbi Felt, Mr. Paradzik, Rabbi Samuels and I went last time. This trip was organized by theI.D.E.A. Schools Network of which Valley Torah is a founding school and is generously funded by a grant from the Joshua Venture Group. We spent time with the C.E.O. Larry Rosenstock, met students and teachers, saw amazing classes and engaged in discussions with representatives from YULA, Shalhevet, Kohelet and Yeshiva Lab who were in attendance. A special thank you to my co-founder of the network, Tikvah Wiener, who made this trip happen. In both of these learning experiences culture was a prominent theme. Specifically, a culture that promotes growth, change and innovation is critical to success. However, to support this culture you must focus on, as Dr. Todd Whitaker says, the people not the programs.

In 1998, psychologist Dr. Roy Baumeister produced groundbreaking research in the area of self control. Basically, two groups of participants were placed in a room with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in one bowl and radishes in the other. One group was told they can eat the cookies but could not eat the radishes, and the other group was told they could eat the radishes but not the cookies. As we might expect, the radish eating participants were not happy and their self control was truly tested. However, this was not the end of the study. Both groups were given an unsolvable puzzle to solve after the cookie/radish test and that is where the study took shape. You see the radish eating group made fewer attempts and spent less than half the time trying to solve the puzzle than the cookie eating group. Why? Simply put, the radish group had used up more energy resisting the cookies than the other group so that when it came to pushing themselves to solve the puzzle they were exhausted.

This was a study that I opened our staff professional development with on Monday. Valley Torah is commitment to continued growth, innovation and change to ensure our students continue to always get the best learning experience possible. However, change is not easy and it can be exhausting for the team supporting it. At the same time, this exhaustion often gets confused for laziness which could not be further from the truth. As Dan Heath, best selling author and lecturer, states “that what looks like laziness is often exhaustion. Change wears people out—even well-intentioned people will simply run out of fuel.” Why?

To create change and make it stick requires a deep and consistent focus on the new task you are learning, while, often at the same time, remaining focused with expected excellence at the current way you are doing things. Plus, this exhaustion is only exacerbated when the call for change is different every other week. So what are the solutions? There are things teachers can do to help support a change process, but for now I would like to focus on what the administrators can do as I am currently working hard together with the VTHS administration to do them.

The first thing is to recognize that your teachers are the most important cog in the wheel of this mechanism called school. At our training we had each teacher share why they went into education and “inspiring” would be an understatement to what I heard. Second, as we see from the study above, we must recognize that resistance to change is not laziness. It is often exhaustion or in some cases fear, lack of confidence or a deep sense of loss for models of teaching and learning they truly believe in and, in their skilled hands, works. When we call for change without taking into account the emotional impact of our teachers we have completely sidelined those who are in the best position to affect change. Third, we must work together with our teachers to define the change needed. They are likely to have better insights into how new ideas can actually be integrated into the current culture than you could have ever had. Also, if you choose not to do it with them, you are giving a strong message that you do not value their opinion. What impact do you think that could have? Fourth, whatever change happens, make sure there is a clear path to its fruition so everyone can see where we are headed. That does not mean that path won’t change, but if new ideas are just thrown out every other day without fully thinking it through, you will likely see teachers who learn to ignore you. Fifth, realize that no matter how well you work with your staff on change there will be mistakes that tire them out. So, be sure to plan some ways to rejuvenate your staff and celebrate the things that are working. Organize staff get togethers, give gifts, point out what they are doing right or simple say thank you. Lastly, make sure to support your teachers with any of the changes. That includes professional development for new tools, models, etc., time to work on new ideas, mentors and coaches if possible and a sensitive ear when things get challenging.

The goal is that everyone should be in the change process together. This is not simple, but critical lest we exhaust all are amazing educators to the point where they won’t have the energy to do what they do best; educate.

Click here if you would like to read the study

By in News & Updates 2

The Maker Movement in Jewish Education



September 21 saw a group of Jewish educators — and students — attend the NYC Maker Faire. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Maker Movement, here’s a good definition from techopedia.com:

Definition – What does Maker Movement mean?

The maker movement is a trend in which individuals or groups of individuals create and market products that are recreated and assembled using unused, discarded or broken electronic, plastic, silicon or virtually any raw material and/or product from a computer-related device.

The maker movement has led to the creation of a number of technology products and solutions by typical individuals working without supportive infrastructure. This is facilitated by the increasing amount of information available to individuals and the decreasing cost of electronic components.

Techopedia explains Maker Movement

The maker movement is primarily the name given to the increasing number of people employing do-it-yourself (DIY) and do-it-with-others ( DIWO) techniques and processes to develop unique technology products. Generally, DIY and DIWO enables individuals to create sophisticated devices and gadgets, such as printers, robotics and electronic devices, using diagrammed, textual and or video demonstration. With all the resources now available over the Internet, virtually anyone can create simple devices, which in some cases are widely adopted by users. For example, MintyBoost, a popular DIY USB charger kit built using an Altoids tin, batteries and a few connectors, can easily be created using instructions online, or purchased from other makers who sell their devices.

Most of the products created under the maker movement are open source, as anyone can access and create them using available documentation and manuals.

However, the maker movement also incorporates creations and inventions that never existed before and were developed by individuals in their homes, garages or a place with limited manufacturing resources.

And here’s founder of Make magazine and Maker Faire Dale Dougherty explaining his vision for the Maker Movement in education (think Maker Spaces merging with libraries!):


Since Project-Based Learning (PBL) emphasizes student interests and passions and because Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) is such a focus in schools now, it’s no wonder that the do-it-yourself joy of making is seeping into schools.

A lot of times. though, we’ve seen the rush in education to play with the latest gadget (OK, pun slightly intended) without an initial, thoughtfully laid-out plan about how to use our new toys. Of course, at the very essence of the Maker Movement is a kind of spontaneous tinkering, but because class time is so precious, educators want to know how the Maker Movement contributes to a school’s — and in the case of Jewish education — to a Jewish school’s primary goals and concerns.

Jewish educators who attended the Maker Faire asked themselves just those questions, but it wasn’t just Jewish educators who got to voice their opinions. Students as well contributed to the discussion:

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I had a great time at the Maker Faire with Oren Mendelow, video and tech whiz of Kushner Academy; Ari Mendelow, a Rutger’s engineering student; and Ronit Langer, a Frisch School senior interested in a career in STEM. Amitai Cohen, another Frisch senior who has been a techie for years, joined us later in the day

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We bumped into Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky (@TechRav), Frisch’s Director of Educational Technology, at the Maker Faire!

What Did We See?

What exactly happens at a Maker Faire? Well, you get to see a lot of cool gadgetry; think Inspector Gadget meets LEGO meets 3-D printing meets the Green Movement:

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Yes, that's a crocodile being pedaled by humans!

Yes, that’s a crocodile being pedaled by humans!

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This eco-friendly sculpture is made from recycled plastic bottles and bottlecaps and is something Mrs. Ahuva Mantell, Frisch’s art teacher who attended the Maker Faire and who runs the school’s Environmental Club, no doubt enjoyed seeing

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The bottle sculpture was next to a stand discussing the drink of the future, a mood-altering beverage that sounded as if it were something right out of The Jetsons — or Brave New World

Other highlights from the Maker Faire were 3-D printing demos — here, there, and everywhere — , arduino boards and Raspberry Pis up the wazoo, lifestyle cars, and all things LEGO. Check out this Apple store made out of the legendary building blocks. The “store” was next to a booth about E-nabling the Future, a network that uses cheap 3-D printing materials to create prosthetics for children who cannot afford expensive ones. Especially because children are always growing, they need prosthetics they can easily replace.

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One of the things that’s fun about the Maker Faire is the juxtaposition of the very serious and socially responsible with the whimsical and weird. In fact, here are some products that would enable both, wood shop “printers” and home builders:

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You don’t need serious tools or expensive shop-bots to build, though. Simply take apart old electronic devices and see what you can create. Mrs. Mantell taught me that a couple of years ago; she’s been re-purposing all sorts of materials for years!

Another thing I liked about the Maker Faire was the opportunity it offered girls interested in STEM. From 3-D printed dolls and dresses to wearable technologies that caused clothing to change color when the weather altered, the displays and demonstrations showed me, Ronit Langer, and Magen David faculty member Naomi Weiss what was possible for girls who had gender-traditional interests as well as a technological bent:

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A 3-D printed dress

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A demonstration on wearable technologies

Post-Maker Faire Party

After the Maker Faire, Ronit Langer, Naomi Weiss, and I headed to the Solomon Schechter School of Queens, which hosted dinner for anyone interested in discussing what we had seen during the day. Thanks to Head of School Shira Leibowitz and Director of Educational Technology Rebecca Penina Simon for helping me plan the event and for graciously letting us have it at SSSQ. Rebecca is running the school’s Maker Space, so I was especially eager to hear what she had taken away from the day. We were joined by Janine Lalander, SSSQ lower school Science teacher, Yavneh Academy’s Director of Technology Chani Lichtiger,Technology Coach Claire Hirschhorn, and fifth-grade teacher Sharon Sherman, as well as Montessori School advocate Daniel Petter-Lipstein and his daughter Liora.

Over a delicious dinner from Carlos and Gabby’s, we discussed:

Where to fit a Maker Space into a curriculum:

Rebecca and Shira shared how they did it: they created 8th-grade electives, and those students interested in Making signed up for Rebecca’s class. Rebecca used her Twitter PLN and training and guidance from Maker State to prepare for the course, which you can read more about in her informative and exciting blog post.

SSSQ’s Maker Space is filled with self-selected students, so we also asked ourselves what we might gain from introducing all kids to Making at a young age, giving them exposure to it in the same way we give them exposure to the arts and a wide range of disciplines.

Why have a Maker Space:

Though a Maker Space is obviously a great way to teach students STEM, we all concluded that an equally important by-product of Making is that it produces joyful, active learning and promotes creativity. It also shows students that they can have a self-generated idea that they can bring to fruition.

In addition, our group discussed the pro’s and con’s of keeping a Maker Space separate from course curriculum, keeping Making in its own discrete space, or, alternatively, combining it with course content. What if students were to learn about dinosaur fossils and then have to 3-D print them? Or study urban design and then light up a model city?

Or how would Magen David Talmud teacher Rabbi Joseph Esses — who also attended the Maker Faire — change his Sukkah-building project if he had ShopBot?

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Though we didn’t come to any set conclusions over our meal, we all agreed that the Maker Movement was something we wanted our students to be a part of, and we left feeling committed not only to ensuring that happened but to helping each other along the way.

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The Maker Faire post-party helped us sort out our thoughts on Making and Tinkering! Consensus: we’re in!

By in News & Updates Comments Off on Getting Started with PBL and Creativity

Getting Started with PBL and Creativity

Creativity and Professional Development

One of the hardest things to do for a school is keep the momentum of professional development (PD) going. At Magen David Yeshivah High School (MDY), the administrators worked throughout August to prepare three opening days of PD that connected to the ways in which the school wants to grow.

On the first day of PD, faculty got to unleash their creativity with an opening icebreaker. Faculty were divided into ten groups and went to sit at tables with different fruits, art supplies, props, costumes, and sport-related objects (a kite, paddle ball, plastic ball):

creativity tables

For five minutes, each table brainstormed an answer to the question, “What if Jewish education were more like . . . ?” JEDLAB and participants of the Summer Sandbox had tackled that question over the summer, giving rise to answers such as a gym, a candy shop, and an outdoor adventure. Magen David faculty came up with the following answers, which they posted to the poster below: 1) a survival hike, 2) an orchard, 3) a fitness center, 4) a desert oasis, 5) a do-it-yourself theme park, 6) Disney World!, 7) K _ _ _ _ _ _ _, 8) an English fantasy football league, 9) a tour, and 10) freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

RealSchool-er Ari Mendelow created the poster on which we posted the faculty's answers!

RealSchool-er Ari Mendelow created the poster on which we posted the faculty’s answers!

Faculty then had to create visual representations of their ideas. Here’s one table of teachers and administrators bringing to life their vision for Jewish education — in 15 minutes!

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This group saw Magen David as a Do-It-Yourself Theme Park, where students could go on a “BOLD-er Coaster,” that is, take blended learning classes, and climb the to college rock wall (the notched nerf ball)

In the High Tech schools in San Diego, CA, all the teachers have to complete the projects they assign, so they feel what it’s like to undertake their own assignments. Not only do the teachers gain empathy, experiencing school from a student’s point of view, but they can also troubleshoot before the project is even assigned. Magen David felt it was important for teachers to experience the power of making and being creative, if the school was going to stress its importance throughout the coming year.

PBL in Professional Development

Later on the first day of PD, we had a workshop focused solely on PBL, with the goal being that each department would formulate a driving question based on the content of a course in their subject area. Here are the teachers’ driving questions, some of which tackle a real-world problem and some of which focus on the social, emotional, and religious development of the students, something that as a yeshivah, we are particularly concerned with.

MDY Driving Questions:


How did Post-Impressionists change the course of modern art?


How does human population growth affect Earth’s ecosystem?


How does multi-cultural literature help us learn about ourselves?

Halakha [Jewish Law]: 

How can condo vacationers make their kitchens kosher?

Hebrew Language:

How is Israel related to my identity?


Can an international community exist, and can that community solve international crises?


How do we use linear and quadratic equations to help describe the real world?

Navi (Prophets):

How are events and ideas in Navi related to us today?

Physical Education:

How does physical education affect various aspects of your life?


What makes a lulav kosher?

Unlocking the Block

One of the ways Magen David has shown a serious commitment to employing PBL is by using block scheduling for its core secular studies classes. A double period allows learners to engage fully and deeply in a project that involves longer periods of planning and execution time. On the third day of PD, secular studies teachers were given time to model block scheduling lessons. Roxanne Maleh, an English teacher at MDY, prepared this dynamic and fun lesson that not only taught how to employ PBL but how to infuse the classroom with play and games:

Block Schedule Lesson for PD Day

Another way MDY has shown its commitment to PBL is by creating a project-based learning schedule for the school year. Each month, a Judaic Studies subject and a secular studies one have committed to using PBL, so on the PD days, you could hear departments hashing out what content in which courses they wanted to use for a project-based learning unit. Here’s Magen David’s PBL schedule for the year, and note that not every grade in a particular subject is employing PBL. We want to make starting with the pedagogy as manageable and feasible as possible:

Magen David HS PBL Schedule for 2014 to 15 School Year (1)

 Keeping the Momentum Going

As we said, starting a PD initiative may be hard, but keeping it going is even harder. MDY has committed time and resources to making sure teachers have what they need to implement PBL and generate creativity in their classrooms. Faculty are part of the I.D.E.A. Schools Network; have a coaching and mentoring system with experts in PBL and student-centered learning; and an office where they can easily access art supplies and other tools they can use for creative learning.

How’s it going so far? Here’s a gallery of some of the things the MDY faculty is doing already:


Next Steps

We’ll keep you posted about how PBL progresses at Magen David. Adopting the pedagogy requires commitment and planning, but the rewards are well worth it: students become engaged, active learners who are proud of their work and are able to think deeply about what they study. As Naomi Weiss, MDY’s instructional coach, says, “Learning becomes about uncovering content, not about covering it.”

Cross-posted on welovemagendavidhs.blogspot.com.