April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

“If you didn’t have a value for the y-intercept but you had a point, could you still generate the equation of the function?” (Seventh-grade student anticipating the next lesson)

“How could I prove that two sides of a rectangle are parallel?” (Third-grade student, advanced group)

“What happens when you try to divide by zero?” (Third-grade student)

“Revising is another way to say rewriting. What words can I change in this sentence to make my idea clearer?” (Seventh-grade student)

“I wonder why my plant grew straighter and taller than others. What changes must I have done to my variables that made my plant more successful?” (Fifth grader)

Questions create the thrum of genuine learning in school. Every day, as I perambulate the halls and classrooms of RPRY, I hear teachers and students asking great questions. The primary cognitive tools that teachers use to create mediated learning experiences are process questioning and the bridging of learning from multiple domains.

Asking questions is central to developing lifelong learners who thirst for knowledge and strive to develop the tools for independent learning. Education is much more than absorbing facts; it’s formulating questions, analyzing and synthesizing information, researching and problem solving. This ability to generate questions is a crucial element of metacognition, which in turn is the center of our educational model.

RPRY is in the process of a major cultural paradigm shift in order to provide our students with a unique yeshiva experience through the prism of a metacognitive lens. Metacognition encompasses the ability to harness self-awareness to improve learning outcomes. Metacognition can be learned when it is taught explicitly and systematically and practiced across all content and social areas. Through ongoing professional development, coaching and professional learning communities, teachers are learning to promote a universal language for student self-planning, self-monitoring and self-evaluating across the grades and content areas. These ideas are applicable to early childhood, general studies, Judaic studies, social skills development, emotional regulation and intrinsic motivation.

Encouragement of cognition and metacognition is woven into our classrooms in a myriad of engaging ways. Many of our embedded enrichment opportunities are open-ended and allow for student exploration. This is particularly apparent in our math and science modules, which emphasize slow, deep thinking and value the process of investigation. Greatness is not equivalent to speed. Students explore problems, make mistakes and try alternative methods. They are asked to be reflective about how to plan for different types of problems and then how to return and revise. Students notice what methods best clarify learning for themselves. Students learn not to be afraid of failure and that mistakes are opportunities for growth. Children should feel the exultation of struggle in learning followed by progress. This fuels feelings of genuine success and builds a platform for future successful endeavor.

For example, some of the fascinating math and science modules thus far this year included:

  • Euclidean geometry—Lower school students were introduced to Euclid’s Elements, an ancient math textbook that takes an axiomatic approach to geometry. It is also famous for allowing only the use of a straight edge and a compass in its 13 volumes. The unit engaged students with its very-hands-on and visual components.
  • Number theory, logic and probability—In separate modules, lower school and middle school students explored whole numbers. The number theory unit explored modular arithmetic (like the way a clock functions) and prime number activities. Pursuits included explorations of Euclid’s Proof of the Infinitude of Primes, the Goldbach conjecture and Hilbert’s Hotel. They also had a little bit of an introduction to infinities and their limits. Exciting and fun puzzle problems are used to model the different mathematical ideas.
  • Problem-solving and unsolved/unsolvable problems—Students across the school investigate a wide variety of problems, both in math and science, both solvable and unsolvable. Unsolvable problems are particularly useful for encouraging creative thinking and reducing students’ fear of making mistakes.
  • Engineering and design—Students in the middle school participated in the Fluor science challenge. Together, they planned and built models of the Banaue Rice Terraces.
  • Robotics—Students in lower school collaborated using cubelets to create robots that each performed a different task. Since each cubelet performs a different function, how the group planned and structured the robot shifted its performance.

Great teaching begins with teachers modeling in-depth questions. When the students generate high-level questions that inform their learning process, this demonstrates genuine growth. As students become more aware of their own learning styles and use self-questioning, the level of student engagement and motivation rises. RPRY provides opportunities for all learners based on demonstrated skills, interests or aptitudes in various interest areas. We seek to broaden the experiences of all students. There is no greater joy than the palpable excitement for learning that permeates the halls and classrooms and laces the students’ conversations.

By Chana Luchins

 Mrs. Chana Luchins is the assistant principal of general studies at the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva (RPRY) in Edison.

 

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