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Insights from the Intersection of Childhood and Education

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Life Cycle of a Snowman


The snow is melting here in Chicago today, and so the Kindergarten's recent science experiment on figuring out what happens to a snowman when the temperature changes is quite timely.

The children learned about solids, liquids and gases. Before they began, they wrote down their predictions (hypotheses); while pretty much everyone expected the snowman would melt if it was inside the classroom, some expected that to take 24 hours, while others believed it would take just a couple of hours.

The class began the experiment with three frozen snow balls that were connected with salt to create a snowman. Of course the children dressed him up and gave him a name: Green Frosty Snowy. Every two hours the class measured the liquid as it melted off the snowman. The kids noticed that the snowman became smaller and smaller. This turned out to be a two-day experiment because it took the snowman 12 whole hours to melt!

Once Green Frosty Snowy had melted, the water was poured into a skillet and the children watched as it transformed into steam, i.e. gas. It took 1 hour and 12 minutes for the liquid water to be gone.

Throughout the experiment, each child kept an experiment book to record his/her hypothesis and observations on what Green Frosty Snowy looked like as a solid, liquid and gas, and what she/he learned from this experiment. Surely, these kids will be well prepared when it comes to running Science Fair experiments in 3rd/4th grade!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Chanukah! Happy Thanksgiving!

Menurkeys (=Turkey Menorahs) created by the Parent/Tot class

This year's unique convergence of Chanukah and Thanksgiving resulted in some pretty ingenious art and craft in the Preschool.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

Chanukah Books for Young Readers

From our librarian, Thea Crook, two recommendations for Chanukah books for young readers:

Without overtly combining Thanksgiving and Chanukah, Gracie's Night by Lynn Taylor Gordon is about being grateful and thus works for both holidays. Most beautifully, it is written in verse. When I read this two our first graders, halfway into the book a boy said, "This book rhymes!" That, to me, is a sign that it is very well done because the language isn't repetitious and belabored. The children were riveted.

In One Candle by Eve Bunting, a family develops its very own ritual for Chanukah to remember a relative who died in the Holocaust.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Messy Art

Making rain sticks is a whole lot of messy fun!

Obviously, making a mess is fun. And so is creating something beautiful, like these rain sticks the 3rd and 4th graders were recently made in Art class.

So what is there to messy art except the mess? "Messy art," says Art teacher Debbie Lekousis, "makes art a sensual experience. You're in it with your whole being. There's the joy of the tactile experience, getting your hands full of paint. There's the squishiness, the feeling of the gooey paint between the fingers, the sliding up and down in the wet mush." The smell of the paint climbs up your nose, and with rain sticks, there's also the pleasant tinkling and popping sound of the beads inside the tube.

In addition, in this case, messy art is also a communal experience as kids got into the fray together. With this kind of messy project, art has a physical impact as well as an emotional one. Thankfully for the parents, the mess stays at school with most of the splattering caught by smocks, and only the pretty rain sticks come home.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Puppet Show

After learning about Noah's Ark the four-year-olds in Akiba-Schechter's Blue Room became very interested in animals, and each child created an animal puppet. Then, in groups of two and three, they made up stories featuring their puppets and put on puppet shows.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Self Portraits: Studying Yourself

Self portraits are a tried and true artistic tradition, and every year our students do a self portrait to "see" themselves. Here, they study their likeness in hand mirrors before working with cray-pas pastels on paper.

Truly mirror images, right? 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Favorite Children's Book for Simchat Torah

by Mindy Schiller, Marketing Director & Middle School History & English Teacher

I love children’s books as a rule, but I especially love those that explore the relationship between a child and a grandparent, because there really is nothing as beautiful as that.

Set on the Lower East side of Manhattan in the 1930s, When Zaydeh Danced on Eldridge Street is just such a book. Written by Elsa Okon Rael and illustrated lovingly by Marjorie Priceman, this story traces a little girl’s first taste of Torah, mirrored by the unlikely blossoming of a relationship with her grandfather. Zeesie (“sweet” in Yiddish) is about to become a big sister, so she is carted off to Bubby and Zaydeh’s apartment while Mama and Papa rush to the hospital. Zeesie doesn’t mind, because Bubby and Zaydeh’s home is full of fascinating curiosities—Yiddish letters from cousins in Europe, Tangee lipstick, Mama’s old library card from when she was Zeesie’s age. Still, Zeesie is worried about Zaydeh, a stern old man who seems distant with Zeesie and who always expects her to know more and behave more maturely than she does.

When Zaydeh asks Zeesie what day it is, she desperately guesses that it’s a holiday—Simchat Torah, she reasons, since last week was Sukkot—but she stands tongue-tied, heart thumping when he asks her what the holiday commemorates:

“Zaydeh shook his head sadly at his granddaughter’s ignorance,” writes Rael, and we see Zeesie’s long red tresses nearly covering her face as Zaydeh, covered in a gray suit and top hat, motions to the heavens. But Zaydeh does explain the reason for Simchat Torah—the completion and subsequent beginning of the reading of the Torah—and asks Zeesie to accompany him to synagogue that night. Zeesie is reluctant.

“With you?” she asks.

“Of course with me. Who else?” replies Zaydeh matter-of-factly.

So Zeesie follows Zaydeh across the street to the Eldridge Street Synagogue, now a national landmark, and Zeesie is enthralled by the dancing lights of the stained glass windows, the shiny red apples, and the way children run freely about. “For once, children were not being told to behave.”
But the finest moment is yet to come.

As she accompanies Zaydeh to the Bimah and gets a closer look at the sacred scrolls, Zeesie asks, “Can you tell me, Zaydeh, what is Torah?”

Silence reigns for a moment and Zeesie worries that she has said the wrong thing. But Zaydeh is overwhelmed with pride, crowing to his friend Beryl about his aynikle’s (grandchild's) brilliance.

“Would you like to know what I think?” he asks Zeesie, pulling her close.

Zeesie tingles with curiosity and stands in awe of her Zaydeh, until now an unapproachable enigma. He kisses the top of her head and tells her the Torah is a kiss from God to show His love. “A kiss from God! To Zeesie, these words were a warm embrace, not only from God, but from Zaydeh Avrum.”

And therein lies the magic of this book, because for Zeesie, Simchat Torah marks the discovery of her grandfather’s love.

When I was a little girl, my Zaydeh used to push me around the block in a stroller and sing to me the lyrics of a Yiddish lullaby, Rozhinkes mit Mandlen. To this day, I find it difficult to hear this song without bursting into tears, because it so embodies my grandfather. It’s odd that this earliest memory of my grandparents is of my Zaydeh, because it was my grandmother who was more approachable. She was younger, more “with it,” and could speak English with my friends when I brought them home. She could also cook to kill. (By the way, the book also features Bubbeh Shayndel's apple cake recipe that I've successfully made with my niece.)

But it’s my Zaydeh I think of as we celebrate this parade of fall holidays, because it’s his lips I see moving when I open up a Machzor (High Holiday prayer book), his hands I see holding the Etrog (special lemon-like citrus fruit for Sukkot) to breathe in its scent, his silhouette I see draped in the Tallit (prayer shawl) as he prays.

My Zaydeh wasn’t stern and unapproachable like Zeesie's. Still, when these holidays come around, they make me pause and remember how wonderful he was—and how lucky I was to have him. Just like Zeesie.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Benefits of the Multi-age Classroom

Science class at Akiba-Schechter:
Students of different ages learn
At Akiba-Schechter, we've had multi-age classroom for many, many years. This excellent article, Breaking the Age Barrier, by our very own Mindy Schiller, Marketing Director as well as Middle School English and History teacher, just published in HaYidion, explains why.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Favorite Children's Book for Rosh Hashana

 by Annette Gendler (mom and occasional blogger at Akiba-Schechter)

It's hard to believe that Rosh Hashana is around the corner, beginning on September 4th! For years, just before the High Holidays, I'd get the Rosh Hashana books down from the shelf where I keep the special holiday books, pile the books on the couch in the kids' room, and every evening the kids and I would read a different one. Sometimes we would read the same book over and over, especially Gershon's Monster by Eric Kimmel. One sad aspect of having older kids, all teenagers now, is that I don't get to read picture books with them anymore, so sharing my favorite one here as a small consolation.

With its luminous illustrations, Gershon's Monster is a bit scary as Gershon's sins, which for many, many years he swept into the sea, eventually return to threaten him and his precious children in the form a sea monster.

However, I always found that scariness fitting for the Days of Awe when Jews are reckoning with how they have conducted themselves over the past year. We're supposed to be a little in awe, a little scared, right? Plus this book has the quality of a fairy tale, and fairy tales are good at any age.

See our previous blog post for more suggestions on books for the High Holidays.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Students Review the School Year

Color War during Lag B'Omer

Before we dive into preparing for the new school year, let's take a moment to look back on the old one. Every year, we give our students a questionnaire to get their honest opinion about the school year. It is interesting to see that out-of-the classroom activities are most often mentioned when they were asked,

What were the best things about this school year?

1. Laser Tag
2. Color War
3. Friends
4. Buddies

This isn't surprising since, after all, most fun is had in those kinds of activities. But, thankfully, some classroom projects were mentioned as well, such as baking Challah in Jewish Thought class or the Poetry Project in English class.

History Fair project on the Chicago Fire

Perhaps it is no surprise then that some of the things students listed as the worst things about this school year were the most academically challenging:

1. History Fair
2. Rube Goldberg Project

Of course answers like these warrant some reflection on the part of teachers and administration, which is why we hand out those questionnaires in the first place.

Both History Fair and the Rube Goldberg Project were undertaken for the first time, and figuring out deadlines and requirements for History Fair was especially challenging, even for teachers. A learning curve takes its toll on everyone, but all that knowledge gained on what to do and how to run History Fair will pay off big time next time we undertake it. After all, while school should be fun, it is primarily about learning, and that does entail taking on a few challenges.

Friday, June 7, 2013

What Forrest Gump and Moses Have in Common

In 7/8th grade Jewish Thought class, students were tasked to find and discuss manifestations of Jewish values in contemporary media. Each student chose a media clip (from TV, movies, or songs) and then found a Jewish value to showcase using the clip. The class learned about never giving up from Derrek Rose, taking a positive look at anger from Dr. Who, and following, about how Forrest Gump might just be a modern day Moses.

Excerpt from the presentation of a 7th grader:

Scene chosen: After a month of roaming around Vietnam in the rain, Forrest Gump, his best friend Bubba, and their platoon get ambushed by the Viet Cong. They are told to run. But Forrest, being Forrest, runs as far and as fast as he can. Eventually he realizes that he has gone too far. So he turns around and runs back to get his best friend, Bubba.
While running back, Forrest finds an injured soldier and realizes that he can’t leave him there, so he picks the soldier up and brings him to a nearby river bank that is out of the general combat area. Then he runs back to save Bubba. But on his way, he finds another injured soldier and carries him to the river bank. This happens three times. On his fifth way back to get Bubba, Forrest finds his injured Lieutenant  giving the order, via radio, to Napalm-strike the area, which will barbeque the whole jungle. Forrest picks up Lieutenant Dan even though he tells Forrest to leave him there. This time, Forrest gets shot and falls down on his way back with Dan. But he just gets back up and brings Dan to the river bank. Then he turns around to get Bubba even though Dan tells him not to. Forrest finally finds Bubba with a bullet in his chest. He picks him up and brings Bubba to the river bank and misses getting hit by the Napalm by only a few feet. Sadly, despite Forrest’s efforts, Bubba dies in his arms by the river bank.

Forrest Gump and Moses: During the Exodus story, Moses runs away from Egypt because he has killed an Egyptian; this would be like the Viet Cong trying to kill Forrest while Forrest runs away. Forrest is like Moses; he has gotten away from the enemy and he is safe.
When Forrest runs too far, it is like Moses running away to Midyan. When Forrest runs back into the jungle to get Bubba, it is like Moses going back to Egypt to get the Jewish people out. When Forrest finds four injured soldiers on four runs into the jungle, he picks them up and brings them to a nearby river bank that is out of the main battle area. This is similar to when Moses takes the Jews out of Egypt, meaning that the soldiers represent the Jews and the river bank represents the Sinai Desert.
On Forrest’s fifth run into the jungle, he finds injured Lieutenant Dan and picks him up and starts running despite Dan telling him to leave him there. That part represents Moses bringing out the Jews who do not want to leave. When Forrest runs back into the jungle for the sixth time and finally finds Bubba, though Bubba is on the verge of death, Forrest picks Bubba up and brings him to the river bank while fire and Napalm close in on him. This represents the last of the Jews making it out of Egypt when the Egyptians are in close pursuit. When Bubba dies at the river bank, Bubba represents the Jews who don’t survive leaving Egypt.

The Jewish value: This scene from Forrest Gump shows the Jewish value of life. Unlike other religions, which place a value in death and the afterlife, Judaism places the most value on life itself. Judaism also places a great value on the survival of the group and the community. Moses goes back into Egypt to save his people, to save their lives but also to save them as a group. We can find the same value for life and community in Forrest Gump, who runs back into the jungle six times to save his fellow soldiers. He shows that we can risk our own lives to save our people.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Chicago Architecture Study

Chicago Water Tower - model built
by a 4th grader

Living in a city famous for its architecture, our 3rd/4th graders have been immersed in a study of Chicago architecture. In addition to class lessons guided by the Chicago Architecture Foundation curriculum covering everything from skyscrapers to bungalows, each student independently studied a specific Chicago building of his or her choosing.


The 333 N. Wacker building which, as this
student so cleverly noted, always reflects
the sky.

They researched their buildings online, in books and in person; they created PowerPoints using their research and some photos; and built models using all sorts of creative materials.



One student's fantastic model of the
Chicago Tribune Tower using
Chicago Tribune newspaper

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Building -
all lit up to support the Chicago
White Sox. The student cut out
the requisite windows and
placed a lantern inside the model.

The Chicago Board of Trade made
of sugar cubes.

The Robie House built from Legos.

To wrap up the Chicago architecture study, the 3rd/4th graders embarked on a building docent field trip, visiting all "their" buildings in small groups. Each student was a "docent" for his or her building and lead a tour for the others. They were proud to show off their expert knowledge!

Student docents in front of the Civic
Opera House.

A model of the Civic Opera House
made from Rice Krispie treats; the Sears
(i.e. Willis) Tower is in the back-
ground, made out of fired clay.