In my new role as director of curriculum of General Studies of the Boys Junior High division at Hebrew Academy of Cleveland, teaching and overseeing General Studies, I am still using the same basic approach as I used before when I taught Jewish studies at Fuchs Mizrachi. The goal that I have is for students to make meaning of the material they are learning through creating their own expressions of the material.

While Hebrew Academy of Cleveland clearly emphasizes the centrality of Torah, the school’s mission is very clear about the importance of preparing their students for any endeavor that they might wish to pursue in their life –including the option of going to a secular college. In order to get the students excited about our learning, I told the students when I first began at HAC that instead of tests, we would be having an exhibit where their work would be put on display at an “Evening of Discovery” which was inspired by a museum exhibit.

We showcased this exhibit in December of 2019. Overall the students produced many impressive “artifacts” that we displayed at our exhibit. I was most proud of one of my students who redid his colony project three times, because he didn’t feel like his first two versions expressed “his potential.”

Some examples of student “artifacts” that were produced for this exhibit include the following:

  • Ships which had to include accurate information about different explorers
  • Journal entries written in the voice of an explorer or a Native American which had the pertinent information we had learned about this topic
  • An advertising campaign for a colony to attract new immigrants to move to that colony
  • colonies
  • Expressionist masks to represent Christopher Columbus and Native Americans
  • masks

    Here are pictures of the exhibit being set up and a few pictures from the exhibit itself.

    The final proof that I had that this approach to teaching was very successful is based on the following video of a student reflecting on the deep learning that he engaged in throughout the learning process of creating the “colony project.”

    In addition to the more traditional classes that were taught, when I began at HAC we introduced an electives program where students are placed in a variety of mini- courses for one trimester. Below is some of the work that was produced in the art and woodworking courses which were integrated into the Humanities curriculum. The art instructor had students design maps inspired by the ancient explorer maps, he also had students create clay figures of explorers. The woodworking instructor had students very engaged in creating bookshelves designed from the era of the early Colonial era in America.

    Although the spring semester of 2020 really challenged us to rethink everything we knew about education, when we went to zoom I decided that we would still have a virtual exhibit. Below is the video of our virtual exhibit. I assigned creative work that would engage students in heart and mind and once again, and the students rose to the occasion. Students created raps and songs based on the knowledge they learned about President Andrew Jackson, they wrote a book about a great Jewish leader - "gadol" -that lived during the historical eras that we learned about, and we completed their art project which was thematically connected to their research about a gadol.

    Here is a picture of the final gadol project which is now hanging in the main entrance hallway of our school.


    Here is a picture of one of the pages of a student’s gadol book that he researched and wrote.


    In summary, we have received tremendously positive feedback from the students and the parents about the project based learning that is happening. We hope to see it continue to grow so that more students will have the opportunity to learn in a more meaningful and lasting way.