Behrman House Blog
Jump Right In: Teaching Jewish Values via Project Based Learning
You know that feeling when you want to swim, but the water’s cold? Sometimes it’s easier just to plunge right in.
Project Based Learning has made a splash in the secular education world, and it can be a powerful tool for Jewish classrooms, too. In fact, project based learning can be a dynamic technique for teaching a wide range of Judaic topics, especially Jewish values. Why? Because we want students to live Jewish values, not just study them, and PBL is all about learning in the context of real life: Project based learning is hands-on, student-driven, and involves projects designed around real-world activities. Students build life skills while researching and tackling issues that are meaningful to them, resulting in learning that can be deeper and more lasting.
How to plan your own PBL lesson:
Last week, Mark Levine offered a provocative rationale for using PBL in the Jewish classroom, and Aviva Werner shared some great resources for bringing PBL to your classroom. Now your challenge is to jump right in—to craft a PBL lesson and try it out. Here are the basic steps to do that, along with a Jewish Values lesson filled in step-by-step, as an example.
Identify the topic and goal
For example: Students will learn about Jewish values, and find connections with their own lives.
Craft the driving question, to help focus and clarify the goal
“What does our Jewish tradition teach us about ethical behavior, and how can we apply these teachings to our own lives today?”
Brainstorm a list of fun, creative group project ideas.
- Create a comic strip about a Jewish value.
- Create a video slideshow about the value, perhaps using Flixtime.
- Interview a friend or relative about the value, record or publish the interview.
- Plan and run an event to raise awareness of an issue related to the value.
Choose projects that work well for your topic.
(Be flexible if students want to modify the parameters of the project. As much as possible, give them choices, and let them take the lead.) I’ve chosen the comic strip and video slideshow for this example, because these are fun, entertaining forms of expression for kids, and because the simple yet malleable formats are well-suited to the limited resources and time constraints of the supplementary school classroom.
Write the project summary for students.
“Over the next 4 class periods, you will take the lead as we study Jewish values. In small groups, you will choose a value to study, research what Jewish sources have to say about it, and identify an issue or problem that can be addressed by applying this value. You will then create a comic strip or video slideshow to inform and educate the community on the issue.”
Complete the project, step by step, scheduling it into the number of class sessions available.
The example provided here is designed to take four class sessions, but you can adapt it based on how much time you allow for each step, and whether you assign some of the work as homework. Plan the timing of each step in advance, to keep the project on track.
- Session 1: Students form small groups. (You may want to establish these groups ahead of time, so as not to use up valuable class time getting organized.) Individuals identify the names and meanings of four Jewish values they might want to study, perhaps using Living Jewish Values or Jewish Heroes, Jewish Values as a resource. (such as: tzedakah, sh’lom bayit, tikkun olam) Each group then chooses one Jewish value to study together, and brainstorms 3 examples of the value, to share with the class. The class is encouraged to ask questions, and give positive and constructive feedback.
- Session 2: In small groups, students look through Jewish texts (such as the books named above and stories from Tanach), and complete a worksheet to demonstrate knowledge learned and prompt their thinking about the content of their project. The teacher provides quick feedback. Student groups choose a real-world issue that can be addressed by applying that value (such donating gently-used clothing, avoiding disputes with siblings, or not littering) and report their choices to the teacher, who gives immediate feedback if possible. Students research how the issue they chose affects their community.
- Session 3: In their small groups, students review several comic strips and video slideshows, choose their preferred format for their presentation, and review a how-to video or article such as: how to use Flixtime, or how to make a comic strip. Students plan the broad outlines of a comic strip or video slideshow that will inform and educate the community about the issue, through the lens of the Jewish value. Students outline their project’s goals, the steps they’ll take, and group members’ roles, then present their project plan to the teacher for review.
- Session 4 and wrap-up: Students complete the project in class and/or at home. The teacher collects finished projects and shares them with the school community via a physical or online gallery, and invites comments. Afterwards, the teacher leads the class in a discussion about the process: what was easier or harder than expected, what they learned about the Jewish value and the issue they explored, what they learned about making a comic, and about working together.
Remember that with project based learning, the work is student-directed, and so your role as teacher may be different than you’re used to. You’ll need to structure the project, check in regularly with individuals and small groups to provide feedback and guidance, assess their progress frequently to be sure they understand the materials and tasks, and be available to help students solve problems. Try out these organizational tools to help keep the students, and the project, on track. And don’t forget you can find more information on planning a lesson on pbl-online.org, or get an overview or refresher about PBL in short videos from edutopia.org and bie.org.
Take the plunge. It may not look easy at first, but in doing so, you will provide an authentic learning experience for your students and a new set of pedagogical skills for yourself.
About Behrman House's Project Based Learning Essay Series
This fall Behrman House Editorial Staff members wrote about ways to introduce this dynamic approach to learning into your own school, and provided an array of resources to get you started. Learn more and follow the PBL series here.