experiments, instruments & measurement book

Cultivating a Desired Culture for Learning and Innovation


By Suri Jacknis

Here is a blogpost that I found of interest for educators in thinking about how to build a positive culture of learning within their educational models, whether this is the traditional classroom or a new model of powerful learning.  The author advocates using backwards design to create a desired communal culture of joys, positive routines and collaboration:

New Teachers: Building Strong Class Culture All Year Long

Click on Image! New Teachers: Building Strong Class Culture All Year Long







I think we can also use this  as a guideline for creating a positive culture of innovation in our congregations.  What does “a positive culture of innovation” look like?  I might suggest characteristics such as a culture that supports creative imagining of what is possible, encourages ongoing experimentation, accepts failure as an opportunity to learn and grow, cultivates circles of leadership and collaboration, creates partnerships between professionals and lay leaders in support of innovation, uses boosters such as communication, data, social connector conversations to encourage a cycle of continuous improvement.

And once we have a description of our desired culture of innovation, how can we take action each and every month in order to achieve the positive culture that we desire?

The Classroomless Class


By Cyd Weissman

This week, TIME magazine featured the Paperless Classroom. Students equipped with iPads don’t need paper to write, or books to read. Just a click and a stylus makes learning magical. As much as I appreciate the trees that will be saved from this innovation, it is an innovation barking up the wrong tree. Paperless is not the answer. What we need is a Classlessroom Class.

I recently visited a progressive elementary school. Every 20 minutes the children had another assignment. I left thinking if I had to spend seven hours per day following the rules and confined to schedules, I’d run away from home. What was the difference between the regiment the students were experiencing and the prison on Orange is the New Black? That confining feeling of someone watching your every move, trying to sneak a chat  and always following orders, or be punished is cringe worthy.

empty classroom

I am recommending we forbid learning within the walls of the classroom. No more children staring at cinder block walls. Hard, cold chairs in rows or even placed in circles are to be banned. Pealing posters and florescent lighting should be x’ed out. The schedule and the rules of every 20 minutes, listen and now do this activity sheet should be quarantined.

In my work in NY we’ve created learning to spur teacher’s skills and imagination. The most successful experiences have been:
1. In a shopping mall – what does Jewish tradition say about buying?
2. In a restaurant – Torah learning and values go hand in hand with a meal.
3. At the NYC High Line – blessings said and understood when seeing true wonder.
4. At the art museum – where color and text and soul enliven.

We could have done any of these lessons in a classroom. Dance, music and drawing could have trumped the pen and pencil. But no amount of dance or storytelling, no amount of apps and programs could have made the lessons more memorable.

Jewish learning that is memorable and happens in real life, it is not meant for a classroom – as Dr. Jeff Kress says, “Judaism is not a subject to be learned ABOUT.” Living Jewish resulting from learning Jewish takes place in malls, restaurants, the garden path and museums… When we wake, when we walk and when go to bed at night. I have this idea on very high authority.

The iPad, TIME’s paperless paper would enable text, reflection to accompany and enrich the learning, but not define it.

What would it take for us to foster Jewish learning for children and  families that takes place where they are and not with the cinder blocks? I asked my students at H.U.C. while sitting on the roof of the building and  smelling limes to awaken the soul (Jewish teaching says smell is for the soul – whereas food is for the body) to write down the questions they have been pondering since the holidays. They said things like: How can I be authentic while living up to people’s expectations? How do I show love when I’m stressed during my days?

These are the kinds of questions our learners hold. And they can’t be addressed within cinder block walls if we want to penetrate the amount of “stuff” that comes to learners.

The Classlessroom Class speaks to the real life questions people are wondering about— and in the spaces that amplify not diminish learning.

What are the tools of the Classlessroom Class?
*Really knowing the learner – their interests and needs
*Family desire
*Apps at the ready
*Personal follow-up beyond what an iPad can do
*A chevra – no kid can believe she or he is alone on an island
*Some mentoring


What do you think? Could you imagine the Classlessroom Class?
I think this could happen anywhere just like a tree that grows in Brooklyn… Manhattan, Westchester, Long Island and wherever our learners walk.


The Lemon Story & Why It Matters


By Susie Tessel

People feel disconnected. But a community is only built with lots of connections.

Reinforced concrete has steel running through it. This reinforcement distributes any load placed on it throughout the adjoining steel and concrete members. The result is greater strength, because burdens are shared by the whole.

So it is with a community. By communicating frequently with personal and pointed observations, we can reinforce our connections to share the burdens of community members and thereby create lasting relationships. The importance of reinforcing these connections cannot be overstated. Many important steps are required, but all include the slow and methodical intermediate steps.

The most important of those steps is taking the time to share an insight, vignette or observation personally observed.

One of the best examples I knpen-blank-paperow of this was when I was teaching a sixth grade class. It was the beginning of the academic year, and the Jewish holidays fell similarly to the way they do this year. I wondered how to frame the idea of the etrog and lulav, and their meaning. What do they represent? To introduce this concept, I asked my class “If you were a fruit, what fruit would you be?” and “If the Jewish people were a fruit what fruit would we be?” One of the most impulsive students in my class was David. To control him better and to have better access to him, I put him near me. When I asked this question he started waving his hands wildly in the air and calling out “Pick me! Pick me!” Because he was waving his hand right in my face, I was distracted and inadvertently called on him. David answered, “If the Jewish people were a fruit, they would be a lemon.” My heart sunk. Making light conversation, I asked him “Why do you say that?” He answered, “Everyone knows that by itself, a lemon is really sour, but if you add a little sugar and water you get lemonade – and that’s really something special. That’s like the Jewish people. Without God we are nothing, but with God’s help we are really something special.” I was floored. It was so brilliant and beautiful. So I sent his parents a “Nachus Note” in the mail in which I described the assignment, and what David had said.

The impact it had on their family was unbelievable. His mother actually came to class at the beginning of the next session. She ran into the class, hugged me, as she said, “Oh my gosh I can’t believe my son said this,” waving the “Nachas Note” in her hand. “I’ve never heard such nice things about him before in Hebrew school. Thank you so much… ” She did not stop talking, thanking and making the most effusive comments about me and my class!

And, from that moment onward, everything was so much easier, and so much more enjoyable both with her family and with her son.

You too can send “Nachus Notes”! A nachus note is a postcard sent to the home of each of the  students in class several times during the year.  The content begins, this nachus note is sent to share with you… extolling and describing a commendable action or contribution the child made to our class. Look around look for nice things that you see people doing. Prolong these incredible but fleeting moments- they are all too rare. Take advantage of these opportunities. When you see something commendable, share it! This makes it more permanent than a phone call that a distracted parent may not focus on at that particular moment, but can savor when things are quiet. That is why I sent the “Nachus Note” via snail mail – but an email may have worked just as well.

Communicate the good, share insights and observations and connect and reconnect. You will forge friendships that foster growth and learning, and help create a community with lasting bonds.


Walking Through a Mezzuzah


By Rabbi Michael Mellen

Text tells us to: “Write these words upon the doorposts of your house.” The words, not just a scroll confined to a small box upon a doorpost, but words scrolling over doorposts, visible as you walk through from room to room or from inside to outside.


Walking Through a Mezzuzah

Imagine the words of the mezuzah scroll,
lovingly written on the doorposts of your house.
Words visible, scrolling like vines over the entryways into each room,
words like trees come to life, creating a pathway, brief as it may be,
through holy words as you move from room to room,
from inside your home, your space,
into the rumble of the world
and back again,
words reminding
and welcoming.

interwoven with the words of the mezuzah,
sit those teachings,
those texts and memories and loves and power
that carry you in life, that remind you
of who you are
of what you hope to be in the world…
tattoos of powerful, necessary memory.

Imagine walking through your values,
your dreams,
and the fire of v’ahavta,
of loving the spirit of the world,
of all your strength and might, walking through the quiet of LISTEN,
Shema, your ears attuned to God’s love and whispering, God’s spirit
mirchefet al p’nai tahom, hovering over the depths,
waiting patiently for your voice to find its way in the world,
to find it’s way in your home,
your voice in relationship with God, with work, with the mundane of life
and the holy.

Your voice calling out in silence,
in great gasps,
in even breaths of sorrow or joy,
of snow or sand or peeling thunder,
giving way to the rush of the presence,
of wings sheltering you, and me,
under the pathways of words twined together,
the words of generations and my words, your words,
our words on the doorposts,
speaking of days past
and to come
and today.


What Inspires you?


By Susan Ticker

This summer, I had an unexpected encounter with Poppin’ Fresh (the Pillsbury Doughboy) and was truly inspired. We met at the Mill City Historical Museum located on the historic Mississippi Riverfront. While our meeting was casual and brief, it changed the way I think about my everyday life and about my work as a Jewish educator.


As lifelong learners, we are always growing and stretching – as human beings and as Jews. This summer, my rafting buddies and I traveled to Minneapolis for the wedding of rafting-trip-organizer-extraordinaire, Rabbi Lynn Liberman. This year, instead of the usual rafting, kayaking and singing around a campfire, we danced and sang at Lynn’s wedding to her loving partner, EB.

The day after the wedding, I took a long walk with my colleague and friend Cindy Reich who lives in Minneapolis and consults to our Coalition of Innovating Congregations. Cindy recommended I take a field trip to the Mill City Historical Museum, a place that has taken great care in designing an immersive, learning environment.

Built into the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill, it is a monument to the processing facility that stood there. It is also a place where all ages can learn about how wheat is processed into flour and made into bread products and baked goods. It brings visitors on an encounter with the history of the place and a simulation of the explosion that disrupted its activity. I enjoyed learning that story and appreciated the way Poppin’ Fresh and the rest of the museum staff brought the grand narrative down to the level of individual people, their voices, and stories. We felt the explosion, heard the history, saw the old equipment, and tasted fresh-baked bread.

I was struck by the intricacies of going from wheat to flour to table, and of the sacred task of the farmer, the farm worker, and the baker. It is incumbent on all of us who eat bread to give thanks to all those who had a hand in bringing it to us. I am similarly struck by the awareness that each educator is tasked with the awesome responsibility of taking the grand narrative of the Jewish people and making it accessible to every child, teen, and adult. And I appreciate that the Mill City Museum stands as an inspiring example of how that can be accomplished.

As you reflect on your own summer experience, think about where you went and what you learned. How was your learning supported by the setting and the people in it – both the real people and the mythic ones, like Poppin’ Fresh? How does that inspire you to bring your learners into an encounter with people and places, and how will you design learning that truly inspires?

Israel Timeline


By Barbara Saunders-Adams

Wondering how to make sense of the volatile situation that exists between Israelis and Palestinians today? The Timeline of Modern Israeli History can help you get the facts straight, give voice to your opinions, and become a better advocate for the Jewish Homeland.

Timeline of Modern Israeli History

Barbara is a Jewish educator and writer. She received her Master’s Degree in Jewish Education from JTS. Her area of concentration is Israel education. She currently teaches Kitah Vav (6th grade) at Shaarei Tikvah Religious School in Scarsdale, NY.


Teen Engagement


Video about teen engagement at Temple Sharray Tefila. Thank you to Hope Chernak for sharing!

Reflections, The 5 Essential Conversations – Setting the Table for Israel Learning Webinar


By Shelly Barnathan

photo 1

Temple Beth Sholom Roslyn’s “after webinar” lively interchanges

In planning these webinars, Cyd Weissman and I spent many hours discussing our own feelings about events in Israel. We talked about news media, articles that we had read, as well as discussions that we have had with friends and colleagues. Before we could even begin to frame the webinars for educators, we needed to engage in just the kind of conversations that we would highlight in the webinars – i.e. – conversations about what we think we know based on what we see, read and hear; how our own personal lens shapes the information that we read, see, and hear; and then how we feel about the situation and how we share this with others in a frame of holy speech and then holy listening to the viewpoint of others.

Once Cyd and I engaged in this process, then and only then could we tap into our professional role as educators and shape an educationally sound webinar that could help others. Undertaking this process on a personal level reinforced the idea that these kinds of reflections and conversations are essential before creating curriculum around Israel, particularly at this sensitive and precarious time in the life of our beloved Jewish State.

Educators in the webinar expressed their own personal questions around Israel education as well as questions that exist in their communities and congregations. Educators know that they are supported by each other and by the Jewish Education Project. Educators know that The Jewish Education Project is available for continued support and for excellent age-appropriate teaching resources on Israel.

With the Rodef Shalom text-based guidelines for respectful conversations on difficult topics presented in the webinar, the educators have a tool to take them into conversations with the leadership of their congregations, with their teachers and staff, with parents, and with children.

With the situation in Israel as it now is, we are each now called to action to be like Nachshon who stepped in the waters – we are called on to be the brave ones to begin the conversations that can hold multiplicity of opinion and point of view, and still be respectful, continually upholding our holy Jewish values of sacred listening and sacred speech.


Click to View

Click to review the presentation

Shelly Barnathan_thumb (1)

Shelly Barnathan, Rabbinical Candidate at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College & Spiritual Educator


Register your Events with NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation


5775 is right around the corner, and Birthright Israel alumni and young adults in your community will be looking for a way to celebrate. Make sure they can find your High Holiday events and services by entering your event information on NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation’s interactive map.
NEXT will launch the map in September to thousands of Birthright Israel alumni and young adults, enabling them to locate holiday services, learning opportunities, meals, and more in their local communities. The map will also include increased social functionality, more user-friendly event filters, and more ways for young adults to indicate interest in events. Many Birthrighters—particularly those who have traveled to Israel this summer—are eager to continue the conversations from their trips, learn more about Israel and their heritage, and take action. This holiday season is an opportunity to introduce them and their friends to your community, and provide the space for reflection, discussion, and learning that they are seeking.


If you have any questions or thoughts, please reach out to NEXT: map@birthrightisraelnext.org.

Click HERE to register your events today!


God Talk


By Susie Tessel

It’s summer, and this year has been a relatively mild one. The weather has been beautiful and even in New York, it seems that the tempo of everyday life has slowed. Part of the pleasure of the season is that this slower cadence provides greater opportunity for observation, for contemplation, for reflection. We can spend more time outside. And we are often lucky enough to see majestic views or tranquil scenes.

People see God in many different ways and in many different places. Some people see God’s artistry in a sunrise or sunset. Others see it in a rainbow or with the changing of the leaves. One of my favorite illustrations of how different people find God’s paintbrush took place in a cooking class. The chef was a jovial fellow with salt and pepper hair and he wore a white shirt and white apron. Before the class began, he was prepping the food for the class. As he sliced and diced, he was talking to me and another student. His hands were a whirlwind of activity. I was in awe. He chopped in a couple of minutes what would have taken me a good half hour to complete. But when he took a round purple onion and cut it in half, it stopped him cold. He was still for a moment. Stopped. He looked at it the onion, smiled, and held it up for my friend and me to see the rich vibrant purple exterior. Then he turned it to show us “the perfect alternating concentric circles of purple and white.” To our surprise, he then added thoughtfully, “I look at these circles and I know there is a God.”

My Dad saw God’s hands in flowers. Like peonies, with uncountable feathered petals, or blue and purple bearded irises with orange throats, or day lilies – in yellows, oranges and cremes. Some have ruffled petals, some have double and triple layers. Each is beautiful in its own way. Each is slightly different from the others of its own species. The constructs and permutation seem endless! My Dad bred and hybridized day lilies. He wanted to create a pure white day lily. He got very close to his goal before he passed away, and one is named for him- Irving Shulman. More than once he observed that God created in a blink of an eye what we can only imitate and copy but can never originate.

I see God’s handiwork where I least expect it – a wild turkey foraging in our yard, a heron gliding gracefully over the pond, an unusual flower or plant resplendent with vivid blossoms and dramatic shapes, and in the striations left on the beach of the sand from a retreating tide.
Where do you see God’s fingerprints in this world? Wherever it is, enjoy it! And share it with us!


geriatrics books