experiments, instruments & measurement book

The Classroomless Class

The Classroomless Class
Posted by Ben Alpert in Cyd Weissman, KDBB


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.


TIME TO SHARE PROTOCOLS: Young Children for Noticing the Jewish Journey

TIME TO SHARE PROTOCOLS: Young Children for Noticing the Jewish Journey
Posted by Ben Alpert in KDBB, Protocols


Possible Protocol for Young Children for Noticing the Jewish Journey

In working with children in these age ranges, you could empower them both to celebrate their achievements and get excited about learning new things by asking questions around KDBB. (developed in consultation with Suri Jacknis and Ellen Rank)

***For K-2:

Know:  Can you name a new Hebrew song or prayer that you learned this year?

How did you feel when you knew you learned it?  What did you do to celebrate that you learned it?  What are you working on now?

Do:  What is something new that you can do now that you didn’t know how to do last year…like singing the blessings over the Hanukkah candles, singing Eliyahu Hanavi and participating in Havdala with our families, singing the four questions at our family Seder?

How did you feel when you were able to do this?  What did you do to celebrate your accomplishment?  What are you working on now?

Believe: Complete:  Some things that are important for Jews to do are….

Belong:  How many of your classmates (in our congregation) do you know by name?  How many classmates (in our congregation) do you like to work/play with?


***For older children, grades 3-6

Know:  What do you know about Judaism that you didn’t know 2 years ago?

Do:  What can you do now in your Jewish life that you may not have been able to do 2 years ago? (e.g., Can you sing the Shema/lead certain other prayers?  Can you read Hebrew?  Do you know the Hebrew letters? Do you celebrate Jewish holidays in a different way than you did a few years ago?  What has changed for you about Shabbat and holiday celebrations as you grow up? (e.g., Do you know how to recite more prayers?  Do you know that meaning for more prayers?  Do you do more of the rituals like lighting candles and saying Kiddush at home or at synagogue?  Do you celebrate Shabbat and/or holidays at synagogue or with friends or family at home?)

Believe:  What do you feel are some things that it is important for Jews to know? To do? To Believe or Value?

Belong:  What are some Jewish things that you enjoy doing with your peer group at the congregation?  With the larger congregational community?


URJ Biennial Raises Up The Jewish Education Project

URJ Biennial Raises Up The Jewish Education Project
Posted by Ben Alpert in KDBB, Lomed, Uncategorized


By Rabbi Jennifer GoldsmithCommunal Education Consultant, Westchester

This is my third URJ Biennial, the Reform movement’s national conference, but it is the first time I left feeling so proud of the work I do.

The Jewish Education Project’s Congregational Learning Department got great press at the URJ Biennial in San Diego last week. Our work was raised up in many sessions including a lengthy description by Dr. Rob Weinberg on our partnership with the Experiment in Congregational Education over the last handful of years. This included not only slides with our logos, an in-depth description of whole person learning with a great picture of Levi, but also a viewing of the latest video which shares a letter write by Carly a student at Community Synagogue of Rye. Mindy Davids RJE, Director of Religious School and Educational Innovation at Temple Shaaray Tefila, one of our grant recipients, also sat on a panel of educators with innovative models. She discussed her MASA program talking not only about the structure of the program, but the change process her synagogue went through to get there.

Dr. Robert Weinberg at URJ Biennial

Dr. Robert Weinberg at URJ Biennial


In addition to the formal opportunities to hear about our work, I had a chance to catch up with many of our grantees. Including a big hug from Rabbi Mara Young at Woodlands Community Temple where she announced “I love peer consulting!” Peer consulting groups, new for many members of the Coalition of Innovating Congregations this year has grouped synagogue educators from across New York. Groups come together either in person or via phone every couple months to share dilemmas and engage in a rich conversation aimed to offer suggestions and new ideas to the presenter. I was also able to speak with at least 50 people from all parts of the country during my time, sharing with them the work we do. Everyone was captivated with the way we are helping innovation and change happen in our synagogues. People were especially intrigued by the idea that we have a large number of tried and true models and that one focus we have is helping synagogues become excellent adaptors. I even had three different people, one from CA, one from NJ and one from CT ask if they could hire us to do consulting work. I said with a smile… “maybe in our next grant cycle!”

In President of the URJ Rabbi Rick Jacob’s address to the biennial he spoke of “audacious hospitality,” a theme that was carried out and revisited throughout my time in San Diego. Audacious hospitality is the idea of welcoming, being in relationship, sharing, partnering, all values that we work hard to help our congregations realize. From the grant initiatives to the innovative models, from the values we embody to the feeling of camaraderie I was proud to see that so much of the work we do has been embraced by my movement. 

Powerful Learning: Five Must Do’s Webinar

Powerful Learning: Five Must Do’s Webinar
Posted by Ben Alpert in KDBB, Powerful Learning, Webinars


Last week’s webinar Powerful Learning: Five Must Do’s with Cyd Weissman presented by JEA, was a thought provoking and compelling conversation.Click here to watch the full webinar playback.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 4.11.15 PM

What do you think?
Please click on the title of this post to share your responses.

Time to Share Protocols

Time to Share Protocols
Posted by Ben Alpert in KDBB, Noticing, Protocols

By Suri Jacknis


Over the next few weeks we’d like to share some of our most successful learning protocols. These protocols are structures for a guided conversation that usually gives directions/framework for who talks when and for how long to encourage focus and participation. We hope that you might experiment with these or develop your own protocols that will work for your target audiences.  We would love to hear about your experience using these protocols and/or developing and using your own protocols for the Noticing the Jewish Journey.  Click on the title of this post to share your responses.

We are on Jewish journeys throughout our lives.  The protocols have been developed to help our learners to notice their progress on their Jewish journeys and map out their future Jewish journey.We have done a lot of work in The Coalition of Innovating Congregations on the “noticing cycle”- identifying noticing targets for the whole person (Knowing Doing Belonging Believing); selecting tools to notice our progress toward our targets, collecting the data and then analyzing what we learn in order to improve teaching and learning in order that learners continue to progress toward the targets.

Now we bring “NOTICING” to the Jewish journey.  In what ways can we help our learners appreciate and celebrate past benchmarks?  In what ways can we empower learners to select their next goals, pick tools so that they can notice their progress and guide their own Jewish journeys?  Families want a Jewish life that is rich and fulfilling.  These protocols are tools designed to help families decide for themselves what are their own next steps toward a Jewish life that is “well-lived”.

This artifact protocol was developed by Cyd Weissman with input from our Webinar Design Team… Hilary Schumer, Tara Siegel and Suri Jacknis.


Artifact Family Protocol for Noticing the Jewish Journey

(Can also be adapted for individual learners)

Overview: This protocol supports families in paying attention to their Jewish journeys. Being a Jewish family grows and changes over time. Adults and children can benefit from a reflection of where they have been and where they want to go.

The artifact protocol, by accessing family “treasures” facilitates parents and children having a conversation to mark their memorable Jewish experiences. The protocol can help families honor these special moments and together set new experiences the family would like to have on their journey.

Parents and children can see they are in the “driver’s seat” for the journey ahead.


  1. Prior to a communal gathering, families are asked to conduct a “Jewish family treasure hunt” in their home. Each member should select one object that represents a Jewish memorable experience. Objects may be traditional like a hanukkiya or a hallah cover. They can select things outside of tradition that still are seen as special like a piece of clothing worn at a special time, a cookbook, or a photograph of a family member.
  2. At the communal gathering, each family sits as a group to share their treasured artifacts.  Each family member has a chance to share:  This object is important because it helps tell …a memorable Jewish experience I’ve had….
  3. Family members listen to one another’s stories.
  4. Together they make a Jewish Journey treasure map…the years of the events, the object, and why it was important to the person telling the story. Each family member can add their own memory of that moment/ event. Together the family writes a title for their Jewish journey treasure map.
  5. The family then is paired with another family to share their maps. Each family shares their map.
  6. After sharing there is time for questions. Time to be excited: What is one thing you’d like to learn or try from another family or another person’s experience?
  7. The original family unit returns to their own space: What is something we want to pencil in together in the coming months, what is the next treasure we want to uncover/discover/experience together? (This can be more of something they have already done or something new.)
  8. Family Journey Template to Complete together: (keep one copy of the following questions for your family and share one copy with your facilitator)
  • What is our next treasure that we want to uncover/discover experience together?
  • What is something that you might want to know more about so that you can think more deeply about what you will be doing?  How will you plan to learn about this area?
  • What is one way that you can highlight your progress as you move toward your next treasure?
  • How can your family share your pride in your own Jewish journey with others and be able to appreciate the journeys of other families in your circle?
  • How might we track our progress as we move forward toward our goal (next treasure)?


 Please keep an eye out for our next protocol in this series.

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