A few blogposts ago, I was swooning (and admittedly probably bragging a bit) about our Skype call during Preplanning Week with Heidi Hayes Jacobs, editor of Curriculum 21. I am pleased that with her permission and with a lot of time and effort from our 21st Century Learning Teacher, Silvia Tolisano, we are able to share with you here an edited version from that call. I encourage you – whoever you are who may be reading this – to watch it (it is just under 20 minutes). If you are a parent, student, or supporter of our school, this will be a wonderful peek in behind the curtain of all the “Curriculum 21″ and “21st Century Learning Technology” activities we have been so proud to advertise and talk about here. This is why we believe we are changing the paradigm of what a Jewish Day School should and can be. These are our hopes and dreams for our children. This is why we are convinced our graduates will be eminently prepared for their next schools of choice. This is why we invested in the physical and human resources necessary make it all come alive. And boy is it alive – but don’t let the blogosphere and twitterati overwhelm the essential point.
That point, of course, is that what this really is about is teaching and learning – what good schools have always been focused on. So I encourage anyone who is passionate about education and schooling to watch as well. Schools who are invested in this movement do so not to promote themselves through social media (though we do); we do it because we believe it is how children need and deserve to be educated in a global 21st century world if they are going reach to their maximum potentials. But enough of me, let Heidi tell you herself…
If you have stuck around this long, you are probably ready for a break, but I did want to pick up the thread of one “a-ha moment” I picked up from the call. In it she went out of her way to describe how in other cultures (Singapore for example) Math is taught as a “second language”. This is why those students are often more easily able to articulate critical mathematical thinking skills rather than simply demonstrate computational mastery. They have been taught how to speak “Math” as a second language and have become literate in “Math”. Amazing.
She next drew the analogy to “Music,” but my “a-ha” moment was to imagine opening up every subject to this approach. What if we had to teach each subject in our schools as second languages? Our students would become as fluent in Math as they were in English; equally as capable of being a patron of the Arts as of the Sciences. They would speak History, write Music, and think Engineering. What other metaphor so aptly describes our goal of inculcating in our students the ability to think in the disciplines we value?
In many schools, of course, a second language is being taught and for a Jewish Day School that language is Hebrew. Here it is not just metaphor – Hebrew is being taught as an actual second language. But the larger goal is not for them to be merely fluent Hebrew speakers. In the same way we might describe the ability to read music as a prerequisite to musical literacy, the ability to read (and write and speak) Hebrew is for the Jewish Day School a prerequisite to speak Jewish. It is not “Hebrew as a second language,” but “Judaism as a second language”. Viewing our Jewish Studies in the same lens we view General Studies, with equal rigor of both academic expectations and teacher preparations, is part of what it means to be an integrated Jewish Day School. It is why we have “Jewish Studies” and not “Hebrew”. The difference is not mere semantics.
I could go on…and I probably will. But not for here and not for now. If any of this sparks anything in you (even healthy dissent), please don’t be shy. I invite you into discussion on this or any of my blogposts. I enjoy writing them and they are definitely a valuable reflective tool, but I enjoy dialogue about education even more. If you are presently engaged in this type of work or know of examples, I would love to know. So feel free and jump in!