Thursday, December 19, 2013

Coding - Part 2

This past Thursday, students submitted their work from Khanacademy's Hour of Code. Below captures both their accomplishments and my reflection on the process:

Hello my ASCII 8th graders (ASCII is type of coding, FYI),

         Congrats! You guys were offered a taste of coding and many of you took to its liking! Below you'll see several of your classmates' works (if you didn't share it with me, yet, please do so ASAP and I will send out a 2nd email with yours!) and you can see how each one represents a unique individual. Here is a link to a couple of pics of you coding!

          Now, let's reflect for a bit. You were told that we would be exploring the world of coding. So, for 2 class periods (and some work at home), you learned a new concept (the language of coding to produce images) and a skill (how to code). And you created a digital card!

Now, it will take a wee bit more training in coding to create something more complex, like a video game or a website, but all the cool apps, games, sites... anything that is composed of digital media requires coding... and the coders all started where you did. 

And, you did it ON YOUR OWN!!!! 

Do you understand what that means? Do you get the power that you have? You were able to learn a totally new concept and skill without a teacher or expert telling you what to do and how to do it! That's right! I, know very little about coding. I took some classes in coding, but it never really stuck for me. Yet, I do know a little bit about learning - and as I told you in the beginning of the year, you are able to learn anything you put your mind to.

 The work we have been doing in class - not so much the topics on chemistry - rather, the skills you have been learning: (1) understanding how you learn (2) designing a path to accomplish your academic goals (3) reflecting on the process (4) being persistent in your pursuit (5) experimenting with new methods and technologies (6) working interdependently (7) searching for answers that make sense to YOU - all these skills allowed you to learn how to code ON YOUR OWN!

 I promised you by the end of the year, you would be masters of your own learning and this small project on coding demonstrates how each of you is on that path to becoming that master learner. And that, my students, is the most awesome power for it means no matter what class you take, what teacher you have, what subject you study - you will have the power to learn and be successful. Seeing that come true in each of you (as I am seeing it develop in each of you now) is what fuels me and is why I don't tell people that my job is teaching - I tell them I am following my passion and dreams because I do God's holy work in guiding students (i.e., you all)  how to learn and become contributors to our society.

Well done, my students! I am very proud of you!

- Mr. M.

David's - https://www.khanacademy.org/cs/spin-off-of-project-greeting-card/6685419412389888

Leora's - http://www.khanacademy.org/cs/spin-off-of-project-greeting-card/4558172308111360






For me, the biggest take away was that I was "teaching content" I knew ONLY a little about but because I gave my students the SKILLS they needed to learn, I did not have to be "the sage on stage," but rather the guide on the side. I was on the same learning journey as my students. And guess what? They didn't question or say, "Hey! How could he possibly teach us this stuff?" Instead, we learned together. It was an awesome experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat! Thanks Khanacademy for the opportunity!

How to Flip a Classroom - Inside and Out

I had the pleasure of working with this very talented Physics teacher, Jon Thomas Palmer, who has an amazing personality and is both passionate and creative about teaching physics and the flipped classroom model. Below is the video that he created for teachers interested in flipping. Unlike most videos on flipping, which discuss how to make a video, the uniqueness of this video is that Jon talks about how to (a) use what is out there already (I plan to use his physics videos for my physics units!) and (b) what can teachers do in the class (which is the biggest question teachers are left with when they first flip).

Take a bit of time to check it out! (You might also recognize someone when you get to 15:00min!).

Thanks Jon for putting this video together!




This video

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Coding - part 1 of 2

   This week is Computer Science Education Week. Over 5 million students worldwide are participating in a type of coding class. Now, my 23 8th graders are part of that 5 million!

        Thanks to Rachel Dayanim (a parent in the class) who gave me the head's up about this wonderful opportunity provided by Khanacademy, my students are trying out coding for an hour. The Khanacademy learning module "Hour of Code" gives a taste to anyone who is interested in coding.

       As I told the 8th graders on Monday, coding is now part of many school's regular academic components (along with the "three Rs"). Given how technologically connected and dependent we are, and that many "inventions" today are designed by or involve coding, it is clear why learning how to code is an essential skill (even if it is not one's interests, understanding and playing with it will give much insight into the world of technology).  The truth is that many students have already experienced coding with games such as Minecraft, Scratch, and Tynker. This mini coding course will expose my students to the language of coding. For those who become hooked, I will be giving them additional opportunities to explore and learn the world of coding. 
      
      Students started their journeys yesterday, during our Monday PrimeTime class. They will finish up their projects the following Mondays.

     Stay tuned for next week - I can't wait to see what my students create! I am also gaining insight into how they have developed the skills of student-driven learning - a goal of mine since September!!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Thanksgiving & Hanukkah message


This is a letter I shared with my 8th graders and their families the week of Thanksgiving.
Hello my "fowl"-loving 8th Graders,

Today, we all learned from Professor Randy Pausch (z"l) on what we should try to achieve and what life really means. While watching the truncated lecture he gave on the Oprah show with you all and then discussing it with you, I started to remember my last week before my Bar-Mitvzah. It was Thanksgiving Weekend. Needless to say my family and I were running around like turkeys with our heads cut off. Yet, I was unbelieavbly stressed; I was the first grandchild of my family to be reading the entire Torah portion (all 148 lines), the entire Haftorah, and to be giving 2 Divrei Torah. And as I grew up learning not to disappoint, I worked darn hard to make sure everything was perfect. I remember stressing so much that I barely slept let alone ate much. And, when Thanksgiving arrived, I joined the family for only a little bit as I felt I had to prepare. Instead of being with my parents, grandparents, uncle and aunt, I chose to focus on making sure everything was perfect.  I took that philosophy of rigor with me to high-school and college - every free moment in school, I spent studying or doing homework. I skipped out on playing with my friends. I missed many fun events and parties. I missed out on visiting my grandparents during vacations. 

And in the end, what did it get me? 

The same result as Professor Pausch - 16 letters of rejection from Medical School. And a feeling of tremendous loss that I did not spend as much time with my grandparents when I was older than I could have. Yet, what kept me going after the rejection letters and losing my grandparents was my faith - that if it wasn't meant to be and wasn't in God's plans for me to become a doctor then I had another purpose on this Earth, and I just had to find it. And eventually I did... serving those who will serve... that is, teaching. Teaching has been at the very core and soul of my life (both my parents were teachers so it is in my blood) because you - my students - fuel me. And it is through my teaching and in you, my students, that my grandparents live for I relay the lessons they taught me (including to laugh a lot - now you know why I laugh so much!). 

Reflecting on that stressful Thanksgiving week of my Bar-Mitzvah, I wished I had watched Professor Pausch's lecture to realize that in the end, while the Bar-Mitzvah prep was important, they were not the be all and end all. Life has so much more to offer. Live each day; rejections and failures are experiences from which to learn; treasure people not objects; apologize and mean it; treat others as you would want to be treated. These lessons Dr. Pausch taught and left humanity are good ones. As you sit around your Thanksgiving and Hanukkah table, share what you learned with your loved ones and friends. Life is not all about assignments, tests, work, and preparation; they are an important part of your lives right now and in the near future, but they are not THE ONLY aspect of your lives. Try to remember that. 

May you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving and Hanukkah!

Sincerely,

Mr. M.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Branching out

I have debated taking this blog to a new level where I don't just put the letters I write to my students. I have been finding since my PLN has been growing, my experiences using edtech has increased, my coaching skills have are being tapped to the max, my desire to explore new ways to personalize and individualize my students' learning experiences, and now that I will be teaching a college graduate course (in which I exude both a "Wahoo!" and  "Oy vey!"), I have so much that I want to share and up until now, I have felt I played the role of Edith Bunker and "stifled it." So, I will continue to include my letters to my students but I also will start to blog about my journey as a teacher! Come join me!

Friday, October 18, 2013

"Put yourself in someone else's shoes."

Hello my empathetic 8th Graders,

        During our weekly Homeroom time together (which is so special), we tackled the question, "What does it mean 'to put oneself in another person's shoes and how does one do it?" As I shared with you, Mrs. Cohen, the founding Head of our beloved school, taught me the phrase "put yourself in his/her shoes" and used it regularly when she ran 8th Grade Chavurah (she still says it!). 
        As a class we struggled with the question. Some of you felt that it was easy to relate to the another whereas others of you said that there is no way to truly feel what the other person is going through; that, even if you experienced a similar event (be it achieving a milestone or experiencing a loss), there is no real way to know what the other is thinking and feeling without asking the person - "that you can't read the bubble above the person's head" - as Mr. Waldman aptly put it to us. 
      We then saw a very powerful video on empathy (I encourage you to watch it with your parents and non-KSA friends). Two observations came from it: that feeling empathy toward another is not just for sad times, but for all occasions (the birth of a child, for example); and, that when watching the video, in spite of not knowing any of the people in the video, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU said that you "felt" something toward one or more of the people. That's putting yourself in someone else's shoes, be it just a twinge, just a moment of emotion. That's what Mrs. Cohen, Mr. Waldman, the rest of your teachers, and your parents, believe in. That unique human quality of "feeling toward others" and that characteristic that God gave to Adam & Eve and thus to every human on this planet is in each of you. Yet, what truly makes us empathetic is that the adults in your world teach you from day 1 to feel for others. This is what it means to be created in God's image, for He truly feels for us (He may not show it in an obvious way, but I do believe that God does care for us and we are to emulate that trait with our fellow human beings). 

As we move forward this year, please keep this lesson in mind. When you see a friend, classmate, a Kehillah member, another KSA student smiling or upset or worried - stop for a moment and ask yourself, "If I were feeling like he/she is, how would I want to be treated? Would I want to receive a smile? Would I want to be asked how I was or if something was wrong or why was I so excited?" In doing so, you connect with your fellow human beings and demonstrate the gift of empathy that God gave us and that your parents and teachers help you enhance. And that, is worth more than all the gold in the world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Mr. M.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The last 60 seconds - a note to my 8th Graders

Hello my charming 8th Graders,

        Hope you are enjoying the 3 day weekend!

        On Sunday, my family and I hung out with two other families and we did something for the first time - we cooked together. We occasionally watch the Pats together and we decided to watch yesterday's game and try something new! 

        Now, mind you, we are 6 adults from various backgrounds - a chef who owns his own catering company, 3 teachers (I am in this group in case you didn't know), and 2 lawyers. We each took on different roles - two of us designed the menu, two went food shopping and provided the use of their kitchen, one brought his new cooking tools (a mandolin and a frialator), one took the role of dishwasher, etc. We all took turns cooking. And guess what? We created a rockin good meal - fried chicken, vegetable tempura, roasted potatoes, chocolate chip cookies and apple crisp - ALL FROM SCRATCH AND WITH NO RECIPES. How did we do this? Well, those of us who cook regularly used the skills and information we learned from school and experiences and we TAUGHT one another. For example, I learned from my friend the chef how to make a roux - a French cooking skill to help thicken sauces and soups. But, I didn't learn just the steps; I learned how and why it works - and it wasn't all from him telling me; in addition to my previous knowledge, I also looked up information: a roux - consisting of just two ingredients - butter and flour - requires that the butter be hot enough to cook the flour to break down the proteins glutenin and gliadin yet not too hot that the water evaporates and causes the fatty acids to break apart. 

Why do I share this story with you? For two reasons: 

one is that just like my friends, each of you comes with different strengths - your academic achievements, your out of school experiences, the gifts that you obtained from your parents, and your learning styles. And each of you has something to contribute - whether it's to your own individual assignment in class or a group project. You can learn from one another and compliment one another.

My second reason for bringing it up is that at any point in time and space, you have the ability to learn something new... to become more proficient, more passionate about any subject as it pertains to you. You are exposed to the information and then choose how to apply it and learn more to become more advanced. Just as my friend showed me how to make and the purpose of the roux, I applied my passions of chemistry to it and using my research skills and learning style, I found out how and why it worked. Did it take time? Yes. But with patience and persistence, I succeeded.  Could I have just asked my friend to explain it all to me. Absolutely. But, using my strengths and passions, I learned to become proficient in understanding the concept of a roux and passionate about it through my love of science. 

This is the philosophy I embrace and wish to effervesce into the class. It's ok if it takes you longer to understand a concept. It's fine if you spend time learning a new software. Find it easier to work with someone? Do it! Prefer to learn alone? Fine. Want to apply a concept to something not listed on your IPOA? Fantastic! As long as you are patient, persistent, and passionate - you can do anything! 

See you all tomorrow

Oh... yay Sox and Pats!



MrM.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Text, Tweet, and Post - Smartly - a note to my 8th Graders

Hello my capable 8th Graders,

        During homeroom today, we focused on internet safety specifically around sending messages (be it texts, images, or videos). The choose your own video  seemed a bit silly, yet at the end, a bit creepy. In addition, my sharing with you of the different "sharing" sites (Pheed, OoVoo, etc.)  {and that despite what the sites say, whatever you post (a) never goes away (b) can be copied and (c) is considered admissible evidence in court} was not to scare you or result in you not texting or posting or snapchatting. Rather, it was to help you use them responsibly. 

      Being responsible means knowing what is posted out there about you.  I told you that I periodically "Google" you guys to see what is out there about you, which surprised some of you as I appear to be "snooping" or "spying" on you. Yet, as I made it clear to you, I am doing these searches NOT to get you in trouble. Yes, I told you that your parents or teachers might be upset or disappointed by what you post. Yes, I told you that high-schools, colleges, and your future bosses do an electronic search and if there is questionable material out there, it can hurt your chances of being accepted or hired.  But the most important reason why I check is to protect you. There are people out there in the world who want to hurt children - boys and girls; younger and older. It's an unfortunate truth. And like your parents, I want to make sure you are safe. As I shared with you, next to my own two children, I see you as my own. I encourage you (and your parents) to Google yourselves and see what you find. If you see something that you don't like, go to the site and remove it. If you can't, ask your parents or me or another teacher for help. 

      Should you post or tweet or text or snap? Absolutely! It's how the world communicates (though it doesn't hurt to actually CALL someone and SPEAK to them directly). But, post, text, and tweet smartly.  The next time before you text or post a pic, ask yourself if you (and others, if you are posting their pictures or words) are comfortable with it being out there for the entire world to see. And if you see a friend posting something that they shouldn't or share with others, tell them to stop. You would want someone to do the same for you.



     See you tomorrow.

     - Mr. M.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Circle of Friends - a note to my 8th graders

Hello my brave 8th graders,

         During homeroom today, we did a difficult activity to help realize that your "circle of friends" is not static... that is, relationships change. This is especially true as next year your circle will drastically change as you will attend a new school. Even if you go to the same high school with a good friend, the relationship most likely will change because the environment is changing. That's a scary thought. 
        As Mrs. Cohen, the founding Head of School, would say, "Put yourself in the other person's shoes." Think about what it will be like to be the new kid, who has to build his/her circle again. Several of you in the room today experienced that very act as you joined your class at KSA in a later grade (4th, 6th, 7th, and 8th). If you were a new kid, how would you want to be treated and build your circle?

     The activity we did was hard for many reasons. It was beautiful to see you struggle with it... because it shows you have more friends than you realize. It was heartwarming to hear you say that the task was difficult because you had tremendous empathy for everyone.

       But most importantly, were the results of doing the challenging activity... you looked at one another and realized, "I want to enlarge my circle NOW. I want to bring more people into my inner circles TODAY." And that is a special thing.  As this is your 8th grade year, you want own it and make it the best possible year yet. A big part of that is growing your relationships with one another. 

       Now you have the time to enlarge your circles of friends here at KSA. There is nothing stopping you. So, take the risk, and reach out to someone. You may just find another close friend! And that, is one of the best gifts you can give to each other this year and will make your 8th grade year that much more sweet!

See you in the morning!

Fondly,

Mr. M. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

A lesson before Yom Kippur

Each year before Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), I share with my homeroom students the following story. Here is the letter I wrote to them (and their parents):


Today, I shared a personal story with you that I share with my homeroom each Erev Yom Kippur. And I am SO thankful that I was able to share it with you today. 

Below is the story. Why am I sharing it again? For two reasons: as your parents are bcc'd and this way, they are part of the sharing and so that if you wish, you may keep it to help remind you of the request I asked of you. It is long and I apologize for the length. 

Growing up, I had a close friend, named Aaron Hoffman. He and I attended the Newton Schechter since Kindergarten. He was one of the "cool popular" kids as he played sports, did well in school, and was friends with everyone. He had red hair which he styled with a soup-bowl haircut and freckles like me. It was always a treat to play with him; be it Star Wars reenactments, playing catch, or playing Pong (ask your parents what this is), telling jokes or pulling pranks on the other, time stood still. And, I always felt that the school year was extra special if we were placed in the same section.

Our third grade year was super as our classroom was in a modular classroom trailer outside. We controlled our own heat and A/C, had our own water cooler, and could go out for Hafsekah to play. One time, as we were running back to the classroom, I decided to play a trick on him. He was right on my tail and I slammed the door closed before he could enter and I heard a "thud" reminiscent of the one heard when Wiley Coyote makes when he runs into a wall. I then opened the door causing him to fall back. We kept this up (both of us laughing) until the laughing was interrupted by Aaron's yelp. I opened the door and saw him on the ground, crying as he held his ankle; when I pushed the door open,  I sliced his ankle and the cartilage was showing. 

I felt horrible the rest of the day and at night. I was scared... scared that I would be in so much trouble (and fearful that his dad, who was 6'4" built man, and a lawyer, would not only take me out but also could easily take my dad). I didn't say anything to my parents because I was afraid.  I remember not sleeping well that night and tried my best not to go to school the next day. 

The next day, Aaron came back to class with crutches and stitches. It was awkward at first but then we just got back into our routines and pranks as though nothing had happened. We continued to be friends through 8th grade graduation. 

That summer, he developed cancer in the same leg. 

I visited him the hospital and thinking "Did I cause this?" I never asked or brought it up; neither did he.  Throughout our high-school years we got together several times and even attended Brandeis our first semester of our freshman year... but the cancer overtook his body and he died in January. 

At his funeral a classmate of ours read an excerpt from his journal. He recounted his first chemo treatment and how weird it was to be in a hospital for the only other time he was in a hospital was back in 3rd grade when he needed stitches for his ankle from a sporting accident. Sitting in the shul, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I KNEW exactly why he was in the hospital in 3rd grade and yet even in his journal he didn't mention what happened. I couldn't figure it out. And it made the pain of losing him even more because I didn't have the courage to speak to him about it. 

At the shiva house, I confessed to his parents what had happened that day in 3rd grade, how I was too scared to speak up, and how sorry I was for not only hurting him but also for not admitting to it. They were very forgiving and said that Aaron must have not wanted me to worry about it and didn't want me to give it a second thought which is why he never brought it up, even in his journal. 

A bit of time passed, and I had my first dream about Aaron. There he was, with his soup-bowl haircut, and we were just talking or playing tag. He looked so healthy. Before the dream ended, Aaron turned to me and said, "I need to go," and I woke up crying. I would dream about him 1-2 times a year always with the dream ending the same way, with his stating he needs to leave. Two years ago, the dream was different. After he said, "I need to go," I told him I was sorry for hurting him in 3rd grade. He answered, "It's ok. It's not your fault. You didn't cause the cancer." We then hugged and I woke up. 

I contacted Aaron's parents and told them my dream. They were glad that I was connecting with Aaron's spirit and they affirmed what he had said - the cancer was not caused by the injury. 

In many ways, I feel connected to Aaron and look forward to my next dream when I can hug him again. I told Aaron's parents that I share this story each year with my students so that Aaron's memory lives on along with the lesson he taught me. 

I share this story with you, my homeroom students, as I share it with my homeroom students each year, for this one reason: don't lose the opportunity to say sorry. Especially this time of year, when we reflect on our actions (and inactions), it is important to take that deep breath, and step on the right path to ask for forgiveness. I share this with you so that you take that step to say sorry to a family member, friend, or classmate... and to do it now so as not to have the weight I carry with me and will do so until this very day. This is the lesson, my homeroom students, I wish to convey to you. 

May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

G'Mar Tov,

Mr. M.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Two days and counting

A letter to my homeroom students:

Before I begin, I want to personally thank Annie Fox who permitted me to quote and cite her blog entry.

My amused homeroom students,

Two days and counting... it's hard to believe! I am sure that many of you are prepping for school - be it buying supplies, finishing up summer homework, and taking the last precious moments of summer to enjoy, relax, and refresh. 
         Many of you have been here since Kindergarten whereas some of you are brand new to KSA. But, this year, you all are new... in the sense of being in a homeroom together. As my previous email to you mentioned, we are a community and our homeroom represents it - in that, you are not just 7th graders or 8th graders, you are a member of Halutzim. 
         With that said, I want to share with you some thoughts on what it is like to be a new student at a school. I connected with another educator, Annie Fox, who wrote a fantastic piece about being a new student along with some suggestions on how to make the transition easier. She has graciously allowed me to share her blog entry. Below her wise words are my additions to the suggestions. Please take a moment (or two) to read through it for I bet at one point in your life (be it now, or before), you were "the new kid"... and as I wrote above, we are all new this year. 


What if you’re the New Kid at school?

August 14, 2013

For many girls and guys the start of this school year means starting over in a new community. That may include leaving behind good friends and a town you loved. Even if you didn’t love everything about your old school, you may not have wanted to move. In the middle of dealing with those emotions, you now have to get used to living in a new place. Once you locate the new school (Thank you, GPS!) you’ve got to get used to new teachers and a new schedule without getting totally lost on your way to class. On top of all this is the major challenge of figuring out where you fit in with hundreds of kids you don’t know.
If you are the New Kid in school, this blog is for you. (It’s part of my upcoming Girls’ Friendship Q&A Book, illustrated by the infinitely talented Erica DeChavez ) If you’re not the New Kid, read on anyway. Then, hopefully you’ll be on the look-out for anyone at school (new or old) who needs a friend.

Yikes! I don't know anybody here.
Q: My family just moved to a new state. I had to leave all of my friends. Now I’m at a new school. How do I make new friends?
A: Welcome to your new school! You’re probably excited and a little sad because you left some friends behind when you moved. Being in a new school without friends is like watching a movie without popcorn. Making new friends will help you feel more at home in your new home. But how do you make friends? Here are some tips:
1. Be friendly. That means act like someone who wants friends. Smile. Say, “Hi, I’m ____. What’s your name?” That lets kids know what a nice girl you are.
2. Be a good listener. Ask kids what your new school is like and listen to what they say. When people ask you questions, don’t brag (“I was the most popular girl at my old school.”) or make stuff up (“My old school had flying unicorns the students could ride on.”)
3. Ask to be included. This takes courage, so you may need some slow deep breaths before you say, “Hi. Can I play?”
4. Find a buddy. Be on the lookout for at least one girl who seems like she could become a good friend for you. Then follow the directions for #1.
Good luck and have a great school year!
In friendship,
Annie
PS If you want a couple more “sneak peeks” of The Girls’ Friendship Q&A Book you’ll find them here and here.
- See more at: http://blog.anniefox.com/2013/08/14/what-if-youre-the-new-kid-at-school/#sthash.6pTrj2dc.dpuf




Here are my additions to Annie Fox's great list! 

5. Join in activities and clubs - it's a great way to meet kids with similar interests in a smaller setting.

6. Connect with adults in the building - not just the teachers but also the secretaries, custodians, lunch service people - most have been around for a while and know the ins and outs of the school's culture. It's also worthwhile to make the connection with your guidance counselor.

7. Don't hold your feelings in - it's ok and normal to feel anxious,  hesitant, and sad (especially if you switched schools or moved to a new town). Talk to your parents, guidance counselor, teachers, support staff (see #6) older relatives and friends. At one point, they were all in your shoes, which leads to the next one:

8. You are not alone - you are not the only new student in the building (most likely). Keep reminding yourself that. And in no time, you won't be the "new kid" anymore...

9. After a year, and you see a "new kid" remember what it was like for you and put yourself in his/her shoes. Reach out to that person just as you wanted people to reach out and welcome you. Some of the best friendships are made that way.

I hope these tools will be helpful to you. Can't wait to see you all!

Fondly,

Mr. M.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Learning from a mistake

I sent my letter out to my homeroom students two weeks ago (it is my 2nd posting on this blog). The first round of responses were these questions, "Umm... Mr. M., why are we with 7th graders?" "Why is our grade split up when we there are 13 students in our 7th grade?" and "How are we going to bond as a class if we are with kids who are not in our grade?"

My first thought was... oops!

With all the planning and designing by the teachers and administrators, a communication glitch occurred; the students were not told ahead of time that this was going to happen. Yes, the teachers were told and yes, the parents were informed and bought into it. But, a "head's up" to a (if not the) very important stakeholder group - the kids - never happened.

My next thought was... ok, how should this be fixed? I first had to ask myself, "Well, why are the grades mixed?"

Below is what I shared with them (and their parents and the teachers):

Erev tov (good evening) my ambitious homeroom students,

       I am enjoying reading your responses to the journal assignments I asked you to do for the first day of school. A common question that I have seen is, "Why are the 7th and 8th graders mixed into two homerooms instead of being separate by grade?"

      My first response to you is this: I am sorry for not giving you a head's up about it before school let out. This idea was formed in the Spring, and presented to both the teachers and your parents. Yet, it was never brought to you guys - and this impacts you! Duh!  I have learned as a teacher, former principal, father, and husband to say when I make a mistake, "You are right. I am sorry. Please let me help fix it," (I learned these lines from Professor Randy Pausch, whom I will share more of his teachings with you later this year).

     Now, to answer your question. Part of the school's mission and vision is to help foster a sense of a kehillah (community) in our Kehillat Halutzim. Why? To help enlarge our circle of friends and classmates. To concretize our sense of what it means to be part of a larger group and how each individual is valued. To learn from one another (the 8th graders have a lot of wisdom and experience to pass on to the 7th graders, and the 7th graders will see what is in store for 8th grade directly and have a voice as to how they want their 8th grade to be). Some of you already have connections with kids in the other grade, but not everyone does. For those of you who do, have you ever thought about how it impacts you to have friends in the other grade? For those of you who do not, have you thought about what you might be missing? (In a separate note, I will share a blog response from a new colleague who talks about what it means to be "a new student" for in a sense each of you is now a new student because you are in a mixed grade homeroom).

       In years' past, the only time we were physically together were: lunch, recess, and tifillot (prayer) twice a week. That's it. The rest of the time, we were separate by grade and for those of you who were in 7th grade last year, we were separate by sections (think about it... how many times were you together as a grade let alone as a Kehillah compared to a section?). But, to be blunt, we didn't meet our goal last year. So, we're trying this.

What exactly does it mean and what will it look like? Structurally, we will have a short homeroom period each day. Additionally, we will have a Kehillah period once a week. But, what we do will depend on you all. We will play games, have some discussions, and have the opportunity to learn from one another. The hope and dream is that we are more connected in June and that we are able to value each individuals' contributions to the group.

At the same time, we value each grade's individuality and know that there are unique concerns for each grade (e.g., 8th grade spends a lot of time preparing for the transition to high-school and for the Israel trip and 7th grade spends time talking about bnei-mitzvah and bonding as a class). So, once a week, in addition to classes, there will be opportunity for each grade to meet as a whole to discuss those and other issues, in addition to playing grade-building games. Additionally, the privileges associated with each grade will remain as they have been.

Before I end, I want to say the following two things: I promise to work very hard WITH YOU to make this year the best year ever for you guys. And I promise to do a better job communicating with you. As I believe, we are all learners (teachers and students, adults and kids) and it is through our mistakes that we learn best!

If you have any questions, please email me.

Fondly,

Mr. M.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Preparing for the School Year - a letter to my new students




My Dear 7th and 8th Graders,
It’s already the end of July! Are you psyched about school coming? Ok, Ok, I know the answer you’d give, but I also know that if you just stop for a second and reflect, you are probably excited about seeing your classmates and friends and starting what is going to be your best year ever here at Schechter!
As your homeroom teacher and advisor, I want to give you a head’s up as to what to expect on the first day and ask each of you to do a tiny bit of work before that special day. So, please take just a few minutes to read this letter and feel free to ask me any questions.  
Our theme for the year is Builders of the World. Our texts come from the Talmud and… Jefferson Starship. (Please click on the links and they will take you to the webpages where you will see to what I am referring). With the interpretation of Isaiah 54:13 by  Rabbi Elazar that “All of your children be students of God”  should be read as “All of your builders be students of God,” and the lyrics from the 1987 #1 hit “And we can build this thing together, stand in stone forever, nothing’s gonna stop us now” we are going to build together what will be an amazing experience for you this year. Each day is a blessing from God – from the moment we wake up until our eyelids shut for the night. Each day brings new experiences, adventures, and the potential to improve oneself and the world around us. Through building opportunities – communal, social, academic, and spiritual – we will push ourselves to grow and improve upon ourselves. We each have the opportunity to leave our positive mark here at Schechter.  
Every day is precious. Let’s take the experiences and meet the challenges of each day.  I am not just talking about academic achievements, though those are important, too. But, I am referring to each of you as individuals who together make up a community, a family (after all, during the school year, we are together for more hours than with our own families).  And let’s take every opportunity that God gives us to build upon what is already here and go from good to great! As a community, we have an opportunity to make a difference and leave our mark. And we can do it together by supporting one another. We will do it together.
And it begins now.
On Wednesday, August 28, when you walk into your new classroom, you may be a bit surprised to see the room not completely set up: the desks and chairs will be in a pile; the bulletin boards and whiteboards will be blank; the walls will be bare. You see, this is your classroom, so you should have a say and a hand in designing what it should look, sound and feel like. We’ll work together to do just that.  But, I need each of you to do the following before school starts:
  1. Please select one personal item that represents who you are to bring into our classroom. It should be something that you are willing to have others see and to share with others why it is meaningful to you. We will then keep it in the classroom so that our classroom has a personal item from each of us. It can be something that can be hung up like a poster or placed on a shelf. Please choose wisely (don’t bring in something that is delicate or that you wouldn’t want to see broken). Also, please bring in something that is tasteful and respectful (i.e., posters of celebrities not appropriately dressed are not allowed). If you are not sure if what you want to bring in is ok, please email me or ask your parents for advice. Oh, and a good rule of thumb is: if you think that I or your parents would say no, then it’s probably a good idea to choose something else.
  2. Create  a google doc titled, (Your Name)’s Homeroom Journal, please write down your thoughts and feelings to the following questions. Please share them with me prior to August 28. We will be discussing them on our 1st day together:
  1. Complete the following statement and include an explanation - Pretend it is the night of graduation. As you are listening to your classmates speak, you say to yourself, “I am so glad that I did ____________ before today.” (8th Grade Only)
  2. What is something that you are hoping to have happen this year? (Both 7th and 8th)
  3. What is a concern or a question you have about this year? (Both 7th and 8th)
Ok, that’s it. I am really looking forward to seeing what each of you brings in and what you write. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me (amargolis@ksa-ne.org). Enjoy the rest of the summer and I will see you all soon.


With much anticipation, I am

Mr. M.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The night of Graduation

Good afternoon my magnificent 8th graders, 

Hope you and your family are having a nice Sunday/Father's Day!

Tomorrow is a big day for each of you! It's hard to believe that it has arrived. All your hard work in preparation for the day will so be worth it. I have shared with you the order for tifillot tomorrow via your KSA emails. Take a minute to review it, please. 

When we were at Friendly's on Friday, I took a few moments to look around at each of you and admired just how much you have grown. Yes, it is true that there is a huge transformation the summer before 8th grade, and there is also tremendous growth during the year. Each of you has grown physically, emotionally, and intellectually. You are ready to move on, despite your feelings (of various degrees) of not wanting to leave and my feelings of not wanting you to go. And you will be fine.

So what should you do tonight? Read your speeches out loud 1-2 times. Make sure you have your outfits picked out for both the morning and evening. Review with your parents when you need to be at school for both the morning and evening. And, if you have any questions, I'm just an email away.

Remember, you are ready. Tomorrow is going to be awesome!!!

Love,

MrM.