May 18, 2024
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Transforming Education: Learning in the 21st Century

We’re now living in a world that requires a radically different approach to schooling than the one we had in the 20th century. Today we see the importance of people who can collaborate successfully, and employees who can think creatively and solve complex problems. The I.D.E.A. Schools Network transforms Jewish day schools into ones that not only prepare students for today’s world but do so by igniting their passions, so they become authentically connected to their learning—both Judaic and general—and see its relevance in the world. I co-founded and run the Network with Dr. Eliezer Jones, General Studies Principal at Valley Torah High School in Valley Village, CA. I myself am Chief Academic Officer at Magen David Yeshivah High School, in Brooklyn, NY, though I live here in Bergen County.

In the 2014-15 school year, the Network began its work with the Founding I.D.E.A. Schools, Magen David and Valley Torah High Schools. These schools repeatedly sent educators on site visits that made them familiar and comfortable with project-based learning (PBL), a pedagogy that teaches students how to think divergently and work in a team to produce events or projects that have value in the real world. Educators at Magen David and Valley Torah HS made numerous visits to the High Tech Schools, a series of charter schools in San Diego, CA that were featured in the documentary Most Likely to Succeed. This film explores exactly why the field of education must change and provides examples of schools that have already altered our concept of what learning should look like. Furthermore, Magen David piloted PBL this year in subjects such as Biology, Chemistry, English, Hebrew Language, History, Jewish History, Jewish Philosophy, Spanish, Talmud, and Torah.

This summer, the I.D.E.A. Schools Network is running what we call our Summer Sandbox. The Sandbox is an opportunity for educators to experience what project-based learning is all about and to plan PBL units for their classrooms. The Network will be running two Sandboxes: one on the West Coast, July 27-29 at ADAT Ari El, in Valley Village, CA, and one on the East Coast, August 3-5, at Yeshivat Noam, in Paramus, NJ. The Network will launch each Sandbox with a welcome barbecue for participants and then a showing of the documentary Most Likely to Succeed, for the entire community. The opening night will be followed by two days of hands-on, learning-by-doing workshops that cover all aspects of PBL, from how to calendar and structure a PBL unit to how to integrate the arts and digital literacy into it.

For the 2015-16 school year, two additional schools have joined the Network: ADAT Ari El in Valley Village, CA, and Yavneh Academy in Paramus, NJ. Cohorts of administrators and teachers from both schools will be undergoing training in project-based learning and in creating a school culture that strongly supports it. The PBL training program will be spearheaded by Matt Williams, a Ph.D. candidate from Stanford University who has joined the Network as Director of Research and Development. Williams’ role in the Network will also be to evaluate PBL as a pedagogy and provide case studies and efficacy research for the field. The Network will also be accepting individual teachers into its PBL training program.

Education has been one of the last fields to be disrupted by the new world order in which we find ourselves, but that disruption is now taking place. In October 2013, I was part of a group of Jewish educators who had the privilege of meeting Frank Moss, former director of the MIT Media Lab. The Media Lab has a strong making-as-learning philosophy: teams of people from different fields get together and come up with ideas about how to use technology to better the world. Mr. Moss urged us as Jewish educators to lead the charge in changing the way education is done. That is exactly what the I.D.E.A. Schools Network wants to do.

For more information about the I.D.E.A. Schools Network and the Summer Sandboxes, please email [email protected].

Tikvah Wiener is Chief Academic Officer at Magen David Yeshivah High School in Brooklyn, NY and is Chairman of the Board of Education at Yavneh Academy in Paramus, NJ. She is co-Founder and Director of the I.D.E.A. Schools Network

By Tikvah Wiener

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