Right now, some parts of the country sit under a blanket of snow several feet deep, while in other places students stare out classroom windows at grey skies or rain-soaked streets. And even in warmer locales across the United States, it’s still February, it’s still winter, and everyone—teachers and students alike—is getting a little stir crazy.
“Being outdoors is really important, in terms of learning research,” offers Rabbi Owen Gottlieb, Founder and Director of ConverJent, an organization that develops Jewish games for learning, Assistant Professor of Interactive Games and Media at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a faculty affiliate at the RIT Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction, and Creativity (MAGIC). “When you’re outdoors, and moving your body around, the level of student engagement is tremendously high.” In this case, Gottlieb is speaking specifically about the benefits of engaging students via a mobile GPS game—one that he’s created—as they explore a city and learn about Jewish history. “Part of what a mobile GPS-based game allows for,” he clarifies, “is to literally use motion and movement and bodies as part of learning.”
Motion, movement, bodies, iPhones and iPads, to be exact. Jewish Time Jump: New York is a location-based, mobile GPS game created with the help of a Covenant Foundation Signature grant in 2011, and intended for use on specifically those same devices that students today are glued to, for better or for worse. “This game uses tool sets that our young people are already attached to,” Gottlieb acknowledges, and we’ve seen how using the game has really helped students pay attention.”
And pay attention they undoubtedly will, for unlike the sedentary classroom environment, when students play the game they are immersed—on foot—into the fantastically rich history of Jews and other immigrants who came to New York in the early 20thcentury by taking them on a tour through parts of New York City where the story of Jewish immigration and activism unfolds.
“But right now, it’s winter,” Gottlieb continues, “and the game is focused on New York City, where there’s snow on the ground, making it a challenge for students to play this [outdoor] game.” So instead, for the time being, Gottlieb and his partners at the Jewish Women’s Archive have been focused on the release of a curriculum they’ve developed to accompany the game. A second Covenant Grant awarded to ConverJent in 2013 supported the creation of the curriculum, as well as a teacher training workshops last summer. The lesson plans are all currently available on the JWA website.
A commitment to acts of social justice has always been at the heart of the work of the Jewish Women’s Archive, which is why this partnership was particularly well-designed. “It’s clear that issues of social justice and activism offer a real opportunity for kids who need an entry point but might not otherwise have a Jewish framework for that connection,” explains Judith Rosenbaum, Executive Director of JWA. “What was really great about this partnership with ConverJent,” she adds, “is that we know the best way for material to get out there into educational settings is for it to be woven into the kinds of experiences that young people are having today—like using mobile devices and digital games to learn. Although we have a really rich and exciting collection of resources on our website,” she continues, “we need partners to help us get this material out into the community.”
Rosenbaum adds that at JWA, history is an essential part of any contemporary Jewish communal story, and whenever JWA sees an opportunity to make connections and find partners willing to weave the historical piece into what they’re doing, the endeavor becomes a fruitful opportunity for everyone involved. “We’re all working towards the same goals and visions for the Jewish community,” she says. “A partnership like this is mutually supportive, and strengthens all of our work.”
What’s more, the partnership yielded a robust curriculum, complete with four modular lesson plans as well as a parent’s guide. Aimed at students in grades 5-7, the lessons focus on Jewish workers, employers and labor activists in the early 20th century, and directly complements the game but may also be used without the game component. Supplementary materials include traditional Jewish texts as well as stories about contemporary labor issues.
“The lesson plans are incredibly deep and are meant to support educators as they dive into the content,” explains Etta King, Education Programs Manager at JWA and a lead author of the curriculum. “We aren’t just looking at who these people were, but also, what was at stake for them, and what the connection was between the Jewish textual tradition that they might have encountered in their synagogues at the time, on a Saturday, versus what their lives looked like when they went back to work in the factories on a Monday.”
King adds that the lesson plans provide “scaffolding” for teachers, so that they may adapt the material as it fits their educational goals. “I think that teachers who are doing a project-based learning unit about immigration or social justice projects with their students will find a plethora of resources here,” she asserts. King adds that the audience for this material is “everywhere.” Since it’s all online, people from all over the world can find their way to these resources and put them to use in their educational settings.
“I don’t know if students will experience one of these lesson plans and then decide to become a union organizer,” King adds, “but I do think that an encounter with this material helps them become critical thinkers, build a relationship with the idea of justice activism, and gives them a framework for understanding labor issues today.”
Labor issues, citizen journalism, issues-based advocacy, the tango between power and organization—these timely topics are all explored through Jewish Time Jump and its related curriculum, and the pedagogy is inquiry-based learning at its best.
As Rabbi Gottlieb attests, the overarching goal of Jewish Time Jump is an attempt to build good leaders for the Jewish community of the future. “This game is at the heart of the intersection between tikkun olam and democracy, he offers, “and it’s about our commitment as Jews to acts of social justice and to what it means to be a good citizen.”
But perhaps most importantly, playing Jewish Time Jump and then exploring the related texts and stories gives kids a chance to reach a hand back through the dusty annals of time to try and touch some of their history, if only once they’ve lifted their heads from the screen and engaged in a conversation about what they’ve just learned. Perhaps they’ll be prompted to ask questions about their great-grandparents, who might have owned a shop, or at some point, been members of a union. And then, perhaps, they’ll take that very immediate connection to their own family history, and through twin lenses of compassion and multiple perspectives, begin to consider and reconsider the world around them, and their place in it.
“Families that share stories about parents and grandparents, about triumphs and failures, provide powerful models for children. Children understand who they are in the world not only through their individual experience, but through the filters of family stories that provide a sense of identity through historical time...Through sharing the past, families recreate themselves in the present, and project themselves into the future.”
—“Do You Know…” The power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being
Read more about Dr. Marshall Duke and his work, here.
“There are people out there who are educating their hearts as we speak. They’re getting on with the work, they’re loving their kids, they’re loving their students, they’re loving their communities. We must retrain our vision toward those people—we must develop eyes to see and ears to hear where that love is already happening—that is worth our energy and our care and our time, to tend that love, to show that love ourselves.”
—Krista Tippett, Founder and CEO, The On Being Project
“There are just two outcomes that really matter: First, that students feel Judaism is the fertile ground in which they get nurtured to grow, and second, that they find Judaism joyful.” Rabbi Joy Levitt, Executive Director, JCC Manhattan
"Civil discourse requires us to listen generously and to act as though—and to really believe—we could be open to persuasion. We each may think: 'I did not cause this situation, I am not to blame.' Yet we each have the capacity to help society turn the corner, if we honestly ask what went wrong and what we can do about it."
- Martha Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University and Joseph William Singer, Bussey Professor of Law, Harvard University
The Wow Metric of Success: Jewish Life in Bloom on the Farm: Spring has arrived, and the Jewish community is busy planting with purpose. In Vaughan, Ontario, the yellow coltsfoot and purple-blue scilla are just starting to flower at the Kavanah Garden, a half acre community garden that’s part of Shoresh, the Canadian-based Jewish environmental organization that includes the Kavanah Garden and Bela Farm. Last Sunday, on “Yom Manual Labor” volunteers gathered to turn the soil, plant seeds, paint outdoor tables and participate in construction projects with the Shoresh team, preparing the garden for growing season.
“Our Jewish community is only as strong as its ability to include all members in the fabric of Jewish life. Doing so helps each of us recognize the unique strengths we all bring to the Jewish community, and that community cannot possibly be complete until we actively and intentionally welcome each other.”
-Meredith Englander Polsky, 2017 Covenant Award Recipient, Director of Institutes and Training, Matan, and Developmental Support Coordinator, Temple Beth Ami Nursery School
“From all of my teachers, I have grown wise.” Psalms 119:99. Framing Jewish Education, a project of The Jewish Lens and supported by The Covenant Foundation, was created to engage teachers, students, and families in conversation about the value of Jewish education and to illustrate the power of great teaching and learning via a curriculum based on visual literacy and text.
“For me, study is a divine and daily imperative; I study a page of Talmud daily so that I am not only teaching. My teaching is constantly being fed by my learning.” —Erica Brown Associate Professor, George Washington School of Education and Human Development. Director, Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, 2009 Covenant Award Recipient
The Covenant Classroom means something different to every educator but common goals are to motivate, engage and be inclusive of all learners. In this volume, we’ve collected an array of Teachings on Inspiration and Motivation in all areas of Education.
#ThankATeacher It has been twenty-five years since The Covenant Foundation first opened its doors, and we continue to be humbled by extraordinary Jewish educators from across North America and across the spectrum of Jewish life who have devoted their careers and considerable talents to the field of Jewish education. Now, in celebration of a quarter-century-old tradition of honoring Jewish education and educators, and to kick off a year of public engagement around great teaching, we’re proud to share The Covenant Foundation voices app with you: a new digital way to give and share your gratitude.
“What would it look like if we bet on Jewish early childhood education for the long-term, as our tradition instructs? The task might seem large, but the reward, we know, is great (Pirkei Avot 2:15).”
“Countless leaders have been inspired by the story of the Jewish people leaving bondage in Egypt – those whose names we know, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and those whose names we never will know, whose every-day acts of kindness and resistance fuel social change. This story, our story, has become a cornerstone of modern social justice work.”
—Abby Levine, Director of The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
This is how I see a “Covenant Classroom”: a place where challenging topics are passionately discussed; a place where complex ancient texts are grappled with; a place in which self- esteem grows, and motivation to learn increases exponentially because of it. An environment in which each Jewish soul is given the confidence to continue the eternal search for meaning.”
—Dr. Sandra Ostrowicz Lilienthal, Curriculum Developer and Instructor at The Rose and Jack Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education of Broward County and 2015 Covenant Award Recipient
“When powerful, new approaches to learning are introduced through digital tools, meaningful disruptions occur along the way… When this happens, new approaches which previously seemed inaccessible, are suddenly within reach.”
—Barry Joseph, Associate Director for Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives, American Museum of Natural History
“The future of Jewish teen engagement can in fact be found in 3D printers, and in text-people, and in service, and outdoor education, and in anything that brings teens into contact with authentic learning experiences and passionate, caring, knowledgeable educators.”
—Charlie Schwartz, Senior Jewish Educator, Director, BIMA & Genesis, Brandeis High School Programs
Portal seems like a particularly apt metaphor for entry points into Jewish life and learning because ultimately we want those experiences to be deeply experiential and transformative. We also want them to be accessible. A portal has no toll; passage is free. At the same time, a portal is particularistic, not a generic entrance. It conveys a sense of magic, ritual, and power. Similarly, we want to convey that Jewish life is rich, layered, and meaningful beyond what is immediately apparent. We want the encounter with Jewish life to take you on a journey that is profound and surprising. And, given that each of us may enter through the same portal but have a completely different experience of what is on the other "side," the possibilities are endless.
— Judith Rosenbaum, Executive Director, The Jewish Women’s Archive
"We need a new kind of creativity in the classroom that’s going to reach Jewish kids… If a teacher is imaginative, he or she is going to connect to students’ hearts and souls.”
—Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary, Board Member, The Covenant Foundation.
"There are four types of students... The sponge absorbs everything. The funnel brings in on one side lets it out the other. The strainer lets out the wine and retains the lees. The sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour." —Pirkei Avot 5:15
"There’s a misconception that a venture must depend on large grants from big donors. It makes more sense and it’s more sustainable to test out an idea, and see whether it has the opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives."
— Ariel Beery, founder, PresenTense
I think [creating new Jewish texts] is a really good description of what we’re trying to do. These days we’re increasingly creating products that are intended to be shared on the web. We’ve felt and continue to feel that this medium, and virtual communication as a whole, is being under-tapped for its possibilities for making art.
— Reflections from Sam Ball on the New Jewish Filmmaker Project