April 14, 2024
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The Science of Shmittah at RYNJ

As the new Lower School General Studies Principal at RYNJ, one of my first initiatives has been to continue to strengthen the already special relationship that exists between the General and Judaic Studies programs at the yeshiva. Since this is a shmittah year, RYNJ has a unique opportunity to expose our students to just how much we believe being bnei Torah infuses every aspect of a child’s educational experience. The best way to do this is to immerse students in the active learning that incorporates the manifestation of Judaism in general studies. This enables us to further advance our students’ knowledge of both science and shmittah engrossing them in the nexus that exists. Rabbi Horn, the Principal of Judaic Studies, states, “This will give our children a greater insight and appreciation as to how science can be used to exemplify our timeless Torah principles.”

This year, RYNJ has chosen to create an innovative interdisciplinary experience for students revolving around the shmittah year. Committees of teachers, the science coordinator for elementary school, Penina Richman, 8th grade Morah, Leah Silver, the Principal of Judaic Studies, Rabbi Horn, and I have been meeting intensely to craft this project for all grades first through fifth. We have created a project that involves scientific inquiry, laboratory writing, and the halachot of shmittah. Our discovery centers have been crafted as inquiry based projects that encompass scientific learning labs. Each science project culminates in a written laboratory report that is scaffolded for increasing levels of complexity that help students learn to write non-fiction.

Each grade will be conducting experiments, learning to write complex laboratory reports, and engaging in meaningful activities around the concepts of shmittah. For example, first grade students will be conducting an experiment involving two plots of land. One plot will symbolize Eretz Yisrael and one will be Chutz la’eretz. They will be researching the effects of having land lay fallow and measuring outcomes. Rachel Burg, a first grade teacher, remarks, “It is a chance for students to see shmittah and science come alive!” They will begin to understand the basic elements of any scientific experiment while also learning about what can and cannot be done during shmittah.

In second grade, they will be recycling the use of etrogim from sukkot to be used for a variety of projects on states of matter and weather.

In third grade, coinciding with their science unit on force and motion, the students will conduct experiments on the force and motion of tractors, machines for farming and mechanisms, and what is allowed and not during shmittah. They will be writing laboratory reports on their findings and present them to engineers, Israeli farm children, and RYNJ rebbeim.

In fourth grade, when exploring plant life, students will conduct experiments regarding hydroponics and twin with other Israeli students from agricultural communities to discuss its implications in the shmittah year.

In fifth grade, students will explore notions of nutrition and conduct experiments comparing and contrasting packaged foods and raw unprocessed foods.

Through practical, hands-on, 21st century learning, students are actively learning how Shmittah is impacting everyday life both here and in the land of Israel. Rabbi Price, the Head of School, remarks, “Despite the distance between New Jersey and Eretz Yisrael we are always looking for ways to directly connect our students to life in Eretz Yisrael. What better way to experience the beauty of shmittah then to learn and literally see the outcomes of its observance in our Judaic Studies and science classes.”

Our teachers are excited to be working across disciplines and departments to facilitate experiments that enable students to use multiple lenses of discovery. Peninah Richman, the science coordinator, commented, “It is always amazing when our students see our general studies teachers, rebbeim and morot working in tandem, learning from each other, and carrying what they learn in one class with them into the activities of the next class. It is a wonderful opportunity to show our students how their general studies can enhance their Torah studies and how their Torah studies are incredibly relevant to modern day life.”

We hope this becomes the first of many potential projects between the departments in years to come. The opportunities are endless and our faculty is motivated. Our students love the connections and we anticipate many projects to come!

Jenni Levy is the Lower School General Studies Principal at RYNJ. She has a Masters degree from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a law degree from Fordham University. She has been in the field of education for over 10 years. You can contact her at [email protected] and follow her blog at: jennilevyesq.blogspot.com

By Jenni Levy

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