I was thinking…about authentic learning

Picture this:  You walk into a classroom and see a room scattered with desks. Two kids are facing each other across each desk, snacking on pretzels or Israeli chocolate as they chat with each other in Hebrew.  At the sound of a buzzer, they switch to a different desk with a different partner, a new conversation, and more snacks!  Like “speed dating”—without the dating!

Another quick picture: You walk into Pita Grille, the Kosher Israeli restaurant here in Sandy Springs. You see a whole GHA safa class that is out of the school building in the middle of the day! What’s this all about?  Well, as an assessment concluding their unit on food and restaurants, these students were required to introduce themselves at the counter and order their lunch in Hebrew.  They were then allowed to speak only Hebrew as they chatted to each other over an Israeli lunch at the restaurant.

Many of us are proficient at memorizing vocabulary, grammar, math facts, algorithms, and the like.  But how are we able to apply those skills in real-life situations?  At GHA, that is the goal and challenge of teaching; making learning meaningful and relevant.  We want learning to be useful in our lives, and not just empty knowledge that is pushed away to the far recesses of our minds.

This is authentic learning at its best!

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I was thinking…about resilience

The recent weather events that challenged so many of us got me thinking about resilience. So many of our parents and teachers had their patience, comfort, and well-being challenged when they were forced to spend 6-24 hours travelling to get home.  Some of us bunked down at strangers' homes, some of us were stuck at stores or restaurants, and some of us even spent the night in our cars.  But somehow, thank God, we managed to get through all this to see that our hardships could be met and handled with fortitude and dignity.   I was awed by the presence of mind demonstrated by so many in the GHA family, and I couldn't help but think that this would ultimately be a great lesson for all our children.

I remember when my daughter was in middle school and found herself the target of some horrible bullying, both on-line and face to face.  I was so hurt for her, and desperately wanted to fix her problem for her.   At one point, I suggested that maybe she should change schools to get a fresh beginning.   My daughter responded, "No, Ema, I just have to get through this, and I know I will be better off for it."   I was humbled.  My thirteen year old daughter knew intuitively that her success as a human being had more to do with learning how to deal with challenges than having her problems  easily resolved.  She didn't want to be rescued.  She wanted to grow. 

I read a New York Times Magazine issue called, "What if the Secret to Success is Failure?"  The authors of the articles maintained that “our kids' success—and happiness—may depend less on perfect performance than on learning to deal with failure."  One headmaster of a New York private school lamented that the kids "don't put up with a lot of suffering.  When they (the kids) do get uncomfortable, we hear from the parents."  How is that teaching our children to deal with challenge and adversity that is inevitable in our lives?  How is that helping our children develop the resilience to deal with life's trials and tribulations?

I was so worried about our children, parents, and teachers during the recent ice events. But I know that we all learned that we could handle discomfort and difficulty and move on.  This lesson is just as important as math and reading.

"Wouldn't it be cool, if each student graduated from school with not only a G.P.A., but also a C.P.A., for character-point average?"  I wonder…

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I was thinking…learning is everywhere!

One of the tenets of the Reggio Emilia approach that inspires our Early Childhood program is that we must consider "the environment as the third teacher."  In other words, the classrooms and other spaces in the school must be created very deliberately, because the environment provides the tools for the child's discovery of the world. Both outside and inside spaces must be utilized with forethought to allow for exploration and learning.

Here at GHA, we take this idea a step farther, recognizing that learning takes place beyond the traditional four walls of the school—beyond textbooks and worksheets, beyond desks and chairs.  How the environment in school is developed matters, but the way we use the opportunities outside of the school environment matters just as much. I was struck by this thought as I observed the learning that took place in our Middle School last week.   

Last Wednesday, our eighth grade spent the morning at the MLK Center with a number of other middle schools.  They toured the center and met with Dr. King's family, who spoke about the Civil Rights Movement.  We were the only day school in attendance, and learning about the devastating effects of discrimination helped them to appreciate their afternoon visit to the Anne Frank Museum.  (They are now starting to study WWII and the Holocaust, and they will gain firsthand experience with a survivor on Sunday night at the Am Yisrael Chai event here at GHA.) 

Last Thursday, thirty of our Middle School students met with thirty students from St. Jude's Catholic School in an "Acceptance Summit."  They learned about each other's lives and religions, and found that even though we don't have to agree, we can certainly respect each other's right to live differently. 

Finally, last Friday, the entire Middle School participated in Mitzvah Day, volunteering for community service projects both in and out of the Jewish community.  It is crucial that students at this age think beyond themselves and their own needs. 

While I know that reading, writing, and arithmetic are important school subjects, I also believe that the hands-on experiences in authentic situations are ultimately what will stay in our children's memories.   

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I was thinking...

Part of GHA's mission is our commitment to building community.  We have some clear community-builders in place for the children; Morning Meetings and Lunch Bunches in the Lower School and CPR (Circle of Power and Respect) and Kesher, our Advisory Groups, in the Middle School.  But it just occurred to me that we build community among the adults in our family as well with grade events sponsored and orchestrated by our PTSA as well as Melton and Kohelet study groups.  These events have brought GHA parents and friends together in the most interesting and exciting ways. 

The upcoming events in the next month are wonderful opportunities for adults to share, learn, and enjoy some grown-up time together.

  • On Jan. 25, we have a wonderful evening planned for music lovers.  Join us for some smooth jazz, drinks, and snacks in a café environment. We all know Emile Worthy from his wonderful work with our children, but I'll bet you didn't know that he is also a talented performer who has been singing professionally for 40 years! 

  • On Feb. 5, we have our second annual celebration of Black History Month. This year, the musical duo Amandla! will present a trip through African American History via song.

  • Last, but certainly not least, we have the honor of hosting Ron Prosor, Israel's Ambassador to the UN, right here at GHA on Feb. 11.  He'll speak about Israel and how it is perceived by the world. 

I am awed at the variety of activities and presentations that we are promoting.  There really is something for everybody…

GHA is a happening place!   I hope we see you at these events so that we can spend some informal quality time together. 

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