Supporting Our Philosophy on Math Teaching & Learning

by Jen Levy, Math Instructional Leader

Bernard Zell’s balanced math program provides the combination of factual/procedural fluency, conceptual depth, and problem solving skills that allows our students to succeed at high levels in school and beyond. We believe factual/procedural fluency (facts and skills) should stem from conceptual understanding rather than rote memorization. In the 21st century, it is important for our students to develop number sense and be thinkers and problem solvers not just memorizers and human calculators. Please read my other blog posts to gain a fuller picture of our philosophy and how we enact it. For more information and research to support our math philosophy, please see the following articles:

Posted on: 2/10/2017 9:18 AM Comments (0)

A Focus on Expeditionary Learning

by Meghan Breyer, 2nd Grade Teacher and Expeditionary Learning Coach

“We can’t first build the students’ self-esteem and THEN focus on their work. It is through their own work that their self-esteem will grow.” --Ron Berger, An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship
It was this quote from Ron Berger that first caught my attention as an educator and led me to immerse myself in every piece of literature and resource I could find about Expeditionary Learning, a teaching mode that falls under the umbrella of project-based learning. What is project-based learning? Quite simply it is a mode of teaching in which students acquire academic and life-worthy skills while investigating an important topic, problem, or question over an extended period of time. Expeditionary Learning is one form of this type of teaching. It distinguishes itself from other versions of PBL with its focus on student-driven learning and an emphasis on producing high quality work for an authentic audience, one that extends beyond the school walls. Rushton Hurley, the founder and executive direction of succinctly states, “If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good. If they’re just sharing it with you, they want it to be good enough.” It is this knowledge that their work will be shared with a real world audience that fosters in students a vested interest in their work that drives them to produce work that exceeds their preconceived notion of their own potential.
Additionally, Expeditionary Learning nourishes collaboration among peers, encouraging students to work together toward a common goal and problem solve through the good struggles they encounter along the way. Students’ varying ability levels are taken into account consistently throughout each expedition, while still pushing students to create high quality work of which they are proud. Opportunities for this peer collaboration include critiquing each other’s work in an established safe and respectful environment, working together to identify criteria of high quality work in order to assess their own progress, and delegating responsibilities to ensure that each piece of the puzzle is completed and completed well.
Last year was my first formal foray into the Expeditionary Learning teaching model, and I saw firsthand how it energized our 2nd-grade classrooms. By giving students more autonomy and responsibility, I watched in amazement as they rose to and eventually surpassed my expectations. My fourteen hardworking 2nd graders produced podcasts about animals in the cat family that were eventually aired on a local radio show. Students worked for four months, researching, writing, revising at least ten or eleven times, rehearsing endlessly and even working with an actor to polish their on-air personalities. They used technology in authentic ways to record their podcasts, acting as editors of their own recordings similar to how employees at a radio station would edit commercial sound bytes.
The biggest takeaway for me circles back to Berger’s quote that I cited at the beginning of this post: my students left 2nd grade with not only an understanding of 21st century skills, but also a degree of confidence that was truly astonishing. Expeditionary Learning promotes student engagement and creates learners who possess the ability to think critically, communicate effectively, and create high quality work that contributes to the betterment of their community.

Posted on: 12/16/2016 12:14 PM Comments (0)

2016 Bernard Zell Day of Service: Living the Value of Tikkun Olam

by By Rachael Gray-Raff, Director Lower School Jewish Studies

Engaging in service learning is a core element of our school’s goal of developing empathic, caring and thoughtful graduates. Our annual Day of Service is a day when our community comes together and lives this value to the fullest. That is why on Monday, November 21, 2016 every student and staff member took action in gemilut chasadim, acts of loving kindness, to serve a variety of different agencies and organizations in Chicago and around the world. The Bernard Zell Day of Service was created in 2014 in memory of former Head of School Dr. Alyson Horwitz's late husband, Judd Horwitz as a tribute to the many acts of loving kindness he performed throughout his lifetime.
Leading up to the day, teachers spoke with students about the importance of their classroom projects and how they connected to the Jewish values of tikkun olam and tzedakah. In order for the students to make sense of what they were doing, both teachers and representatives from various organizations around Chicago met with the students to help them fully understand the impact their efforts would have on members of the community.
The Day of Service kicked off with alumni Griffen Saul ‘14 and Elizabeth Goldblatt ‘14, sharing stories of how they started their own non-profit organizations to help others and how their experience at Bernard Zell helped shape them to become agents of change. Griffen and Elizabeth were joined by former Head of School Dr. Alyson Horwitz and Khiry Johnson from the WE organization to inspire our students before their day of giving back and sharing with the community. Students then returned to their classrooms or boarded buses to outside organizations and were ready to get to work.
Every student was engaged in a meaningful activity to serve others, from our youngest students in Nursery to our 8th graders. Eighth graders assisted in classrooms and on service projects to support the younger students in their efforts. In the afternoon, the 8th graders participated in their own service projects throughout the community. Senior Kindergarten students collected toiletry items and organized more than 90 children’s hygiene kits for Share Our Spare. Nursery and Junior Kindergarten students decorated and planted flower pots which 5th graders then delivered to seniors at the SelfHelp Home. Nursery Teacher Jenny Levine reflected, “The students responded positively--they really enjoyed working with their 8th-grade buddies and making something for people in need. They especially liked knowing they were doing something to put a smile on someone else's face.”
Thirteen different community organizations and agencies were touched by the efforts of our students during the Day of Service. First graders sorted books at Open Books, 2nd graders shopped at local markets using tzedakah money collected since last year to purchase food items for the Lakeview Pantry. Our 3rd graders took on responsibility for our school’s Lost and Found, which they intend to continue throughout the school year. Connecting to their social studies theme of immigration, 4th graders designed and created “stained glass” windows for the Uptown Cafe to serve as screens to protect the privacy of the Cafe’s clients. The 5th-grade service learning theme was והדרת פני זקן v’hadarta pney zakeyn -- caring for the elderly, which the students enacted by visiting the SelfHelp Home and preparing gifts for Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly. In preparation for the Day of Service, 6th-grade students studied the text and themes of birkat hamazon and how it connected to their service learning theme of food injustice. During the day, they continued their learning while preparing sandwiches and no-bake cookies to share with those in need. Khiry Johnson, the motivational speaker from WE organization, facilitated a workshop with the 7th grade to plan how they can be agents of change after they spent the morning out in the community assisting four different community organizations.
No matter the size of a particular project or the needs of its recipients, through this experience, our students walked away feeling that their engagement was meaningful and purposeful. We want them to feel good that they have helped others and to empathize with the struggles of those in need.

Posted on: 12/2/2016 3:10 PM Comments (0)

Middle School Lives Jewish Values and Builds Community

by Motoko L. Maegawa, Head of Middle School

You belong here. You are valued. Your voice, your experience, your truth, is an important part of our community.
You have the right to be you.
Recently our Bernard Zell Middle School community witnessed a historic event as we watched votes being counted to decide who would be our next President of the United States. As that map filled in with reds and blues, the one word that reporters continually fell upon was “divided.” Media outlets throughout this week have followed the results with questions about why as a nation we are divided, who is on which side of the division and so on. This line of questioning is fitting for media which seeks categorization and putting people and ideas into boxes.
I am grateful for the fact that within the walls of Bernard Zell, we actively seek to break through and even dismantle barriers that might otherwise separate or divide us. As an inquiry-based, human-centered space, our Middle School commits to community building through recognition of the power of allowing and valuing a diversity of perspectives and opinions. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the opening hours of our school day on the morning after the election. I was fortunate to have observed all of the following:
  • 5th graders gathered around their morning message board and drew pictures in response to the morning question, “Who is in your family?” which brought a smile to my heart.
  • 6th graders circled up with each other after sharing their responses to the morning question, “How are you feeling this morning?” This helped me remember to always seek ways to meet students where they are when they enter our classrooms.
  • 7th graders reflected upon the morning question, “What does it take to be a leader?” which gave space to both seriousness and levity in light of the important decision our country had just made.
  • 8th graders used the protocol of a serial testimony circle to give voice to what was on their minds - thoughts, feelings and questions that they wanted others to know about, which became personally moving as I joined in one circle and observed another.
What I saw and heard being passed along to our students, both explicitly and implicitly, were messages such as:
  • You belong here. You are valued. Your voice, your experience, your truth, is an important part of our community. You have the right to be you.
  • Your teachers are here for you. We support you in your questioning, we celebrate in your accomplishments, we hold you in your tears, we share in your exploration of what it means to be a part of the Jewish American community.
  • As both children and adults in our Middle School, we will be seen for the wholeness of who each of us are and be allowed to express our experiences within structures which encourage respectful speaking and active listening.
There is indeed a mix of emotions, differences of opinions, and an array of questions being expressed throughout our Middle School this week. And binding all of these together is the security of our unwavering Jewish values, which are lived each day by our incredible educators. I always take immense pride in the ability of our Middle School teachers to keep their teaching focused on building empathy and compassion. This week, in particular, they have been doing just this as they support our students not only as academic learners, but also as citizens of the world. We do not center our curriculum on providing answers in conversation. Rather we rely on the Jewish values that are core to our school’s mission to guide us in how to invite productive conversation, freely express emotions, and thoughtfully pose questions. The strength of this commitment to respectful engagement has shone brighter in these last couple of weeks than ever before.
On Wednesday morning, I participated in one of those 8th-grade conversations in which each student and teacher expressed their thoughts and feelings. One student shared their appreciation for having a heartfelt, truthful and peaceful dialogue. She expressed gratitude for our respectfulness especially because much of what students see in the media is adults yelling at each other. At the close of our shared time together, I commended the group on this exact point: during a time in which we are being told people are more divided than ever, it is our youth who are finding the means to engage in passionate AND peaceful dialogue. And, what makes me proud and gives me hope is that these same students are the ones who will next bring this commitment to productive dialogue to their next classroom, outside the doors of this school, and beyond the boundaries of Chicago. Through what I witness in the actions and words of our Middle School community every day, I see great reason for optimism in how we as a community can and will face whatever historic event affects our community.

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Posted on: 11/16/2016 2:25 PM Comments (0)

Reflections On Our Founder Rabbi Solomon Goldman

by Natalie Rosenbaum, Class of 2017

Rabbi Goldman strongly believed in the integration of Jewish and general studies. If he were alive today, I think Rabbi Goldman would be thrilled to see that his vision -- for a non-Orthodox day school dedicated to the very best instruction in both Jewish and General Studies -- is thriving at Bernard Zell. As a member of the current eighth grade class, I am proud to say that I have received an education rich in both Jewish and secular studies. I have developed a love for Israel and America. And I have seen how Jewish learning and values are relevant to my everyday life.
As an eighth grader, I am in the midst of a very stressful high school application process. But it’s comforting to know that every year, Bernard Zell students are accepted into some of the best high schools in the city. If that’s not proof of the strength of our general studies program, I don’t know what is. Along with the general studies program, our Jewish Studies program has taught me to value the Hebrew language and Jewish texts. It prepared me for my Bat Mitzvah, helping me to learn how to take apart Jewish texts and find meaning in the Torah.
Most important, though, is the fact that Jewish Studies and General Studies are integrated with one another, starting in the early grades. One of the General Studies texts that we read In fourth grade was a book called “Number the Stars”. It helped improve our reading skills, and served as our introduction to the Holocaust. But, most importantly, it helped us to learn about a major jewish value: the value of helping others. Last year, my science class continued to integrate general and Jewish studies when we worked to create a model of a micro-bot that could cure malaria. Not only were we learning about biology and how the body works, but we were learning about tikkun olam, repairing the world.

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Posted on: 11/11/2016 3:09 PM Comments (0)

A School That Stand for Compassion, Empathy and Justice

by Noah S. Hartman, Head of School

"To defend a country, you need an army. To defend humanity, you need education” —Rabbi
Jonathan Sacks, From Optimism to Hope
“Example isn’t another way to teach. It is the only way to teach.” —Albert Einstein
Seventy years ago, Rabbi Solomon Goldman, the founder of our school, faced a dilemma. As a passionate advocate for the very best progressive general and Jewish education, he couldn’t decide what the school should be called: Anshe Emet Day School, or the Abraham Lincoln School. Goldman was so enamored by the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and what he represented in American society that he even had a bust of the former president in his personal library. So which name would it be?
Of course, today we know the answer, and we are blessed to be part of the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School community. Despite not being named for the president of the United States who led our country through the Civil War and effectively ended slavery, our mission as a school today still very clearly reflects the founding vision. We can debate whether we’re an American Jewish institution or a Jewish American one, but one thing remains constant: the education of our children is based on a value system that we hold dear. This system is facing an unknown and unnerving challenge today. Will the vitriol and mudslinging of this presidential campaign carry over into the presidency itself?
Will the values that came under fire during the campaign, and that are antithetical to our core beliefs as a community, somehow become more normalized? As the head of a school that stands for compassion, empathy, and justice—and as a father of three young children—I am concerned. But our role as parents and educators isn’t to wait and see what happens or to let social or traditional media tell our children how to feel. Our role is to double down on our values and to become more engaged in our community and in what we believe. It is now more than ever that we need Bernard Zell.

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Posted on: 11/11/2016 12:59 PM Comments (0)

A Focus on Puberty Education

by Deanna McBeath, Middle School Science Teacher and Middle School Advisory Coordinator

Earlier this month, I was honored to represent Bernard Zell at the Association of Middle Level Education (AMLE)’s national conference, presenting the sessions Interdisciplinary Design Thinking: Engaging Young Agents of Change and Puberty Education in the 21st Century. (For more on our 5th grade design thinking challenges from last year, read Barbara Applebaum’s excellent post.) In my work over the last several years on the fifth grade human growth and development program here at BZ, I’ve delved into recent research and emerging best practices in the field, identifying four major trends.

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Posted on: 10/28/2016 10:39 AM Comments (0)

Reflections in Memory of Shimon Peres: A Hero for Israel and the Jewish People

by Tzivia Garfinkel, Director of Jewish Life and Learning

When Shimon Peres passed away this week, many people had a sense of personal loss. After all, he had been in our lives continuously through all the years of Israel’s existence.  He was there from its earliest pre-statehood days, followed by both wars and peaceful times. He was a witness to everyday life filled with decades of development that brought Israel from 1948 to today. I personally remember winning an essay contest when I was in sixth grade called, “Israel Faces the Future”, in which I tried to imagine what Israel would look like when it turned 20, 30, 40, and 50.  And, of course, Shimon Peres was there through it all. 

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Posted on: 9/29/2016 4:52 PM Comments (0)

Celebrating 70 Years of Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School

By Noah S. Hartman, Head of School

On September 16, 1946, Rabbi Solomon Goldman entrusted our community with a gift of immeasurable value, a gift that is now 70 years old: the creation of Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School. For the past 70 years, Bernard Zell has inspired students with academic purpose – the discipline to unlock the possibilities of life. We teach students to ask the tough questions, the ones that are often uncomfortable to answer. And we encourage them to collaborate, because harnessing the energy of others will take them further than they ever imagined. 
Throughout our history, our students have been immersed in a powerful educational experience inspired by Jewish culture, heritage, language, and spirit. We are and always will be a warm, inclusive community that welcomes families to become engaged partners in the lifelong education of their children and the larger community. 

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Posted on: 9/19/2016 1:46 PM Comments (0)

Honoring Elie Wiesel’s Legacy of Tikkun Olam

by Tzivia Garfinkel, Director of Jewish Life and Learning

I feel like this article should begin with “once upon a time”, because it starts many years ago. It starts in the 1970’s when I first heard Elie Wiesel z’l (of blessed memory) speak at the University of Michigan. If you ever had the honor of listening to him in person, you will probably remember that simply hearing him speak was a challenge. I remember having to strain my ears, lean forward in my seat, and concentrate fiercely in order not to miss a word. He spoke that evening, as he often did, by weaving stories together. Stories of Chassidic masters. Stories from the world of “Night” that he had published and that I had already read several times. Listening to him so long ago, I remember wondering - what will happen when his voice is stilled, and we will not have him to remind us of all that we need to remember? And so, as a young university student, I lingered after his talk and waited to speak to him. I asked him a simple, direct question: Mr. Wiesel, what will happen when we no longer have survivors to tell us their stories?  He had kind yet piercing eyes. And I remember that he linked his eyes with mine and said: then you must tell their story! 

I took these words very seriously. For years I immersed myself in learning about the Shoah, the Holocaust. I studied the history and read the novels set in that time and in those places. I viewed the films and attended lectures. And as time went on, I realized that “telling the story” had to be more than simply telling the story of the Shoah. I understood that what he instructed me to do was more than that. It was to teach the importance of never permitting myself or others to be indifferent or apathetic to evil in its many forms. It was about teaching the value of Tikkun Olam, truly attempting to repair the world. It was about guiding teachers and students to avoid apathy and cynicism in looking at the world. It ultimately became an imperative to commit to an all encompassing Jewish educational approach that emphasized not only the learning of language and texts, but the acting out of what is learned. As a Rabbinic saying goes:  Lo Ha-midrash ha-ikar, elah ha-ma-aseh. It is not the learning that is the essence -- it is the doing.  

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Posted on: 7/14/2016 12:35 PM Comments (3)
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