Jonathan Safran Foer once wrote an article in The New York Times (2013) in which he stated, “We live in a world made up more of story than stuff. We are creatures of memory more than reminders, of love more than likes. ” After over 30 years of teaching, one of the “tips” for teaching I can pass on is that everyone loves a story, especially when that story opens up the world to meaning and understanding. Below is a true story of an unforgettable experience I had this week with three students, physics majors, from one of the high schools I teach in.
The Meaning of Education
Dr. Karen D. Guth
As a teacher with over 30 years’ experience in both America and Israel I search for those moments and opportunities in which my students comprehend that what they learn in their classrooms are not fully realized until they understand how they can apply that knowledge to the world outside of the classroom. I am privileged to teach at an out of the ordinary place, Yeshivat Mekor Chaim, which affords those opportunities to allow the students to experience the true meaning of their education.
On January, 29th, 2017 I found myself in small claims court in Israel after filing a claim against a young man who rammed into my car with his truck, pushing me into a van in front of me and causing tens of thousands shekels worth of damage to my compact Toyota Yaris. Thank God no one was hurt; however, much to my surprise his insurance company refused to pay for the damage to the front of my car arguing that I could not prove that I didn’t first hit the van in front of me when he stopped short and then afterwards was hit from behind by the truck. In Israel, this type of accident is called “sharsheret” where three or more cars are connected as if in a “beaded necklace” one after the other in a smash-up. In this case, unless I have an eye witness to prove that I did not hit the car in front of me before being hit from behind, I will not receive payment for damages to the front of my car.
We are admonished, “Justice, justice, thou shalt pursue” and I felt that it was not “just” that the insurance company of the man who slammed into me should not pay for all of the damage done to my car. Thus, I took both him and his insurance company to court. The challenge was how was I to prove without a witness, that I was not responsible for the damage to the front of my car? My husband suggested that this was a physics problem and that I needed to find someone who could show, with the weight and the speed of the truck that hit me, the weight of my car and the fact that I had stopped and wasn’t moving, that the truck could have pushed me into the van thereby causing damage to the front of my car.
I approached one of my former Mekor Chaim students who is majoring in physics and he took all the information, brought it to two other physics majors and together the three of them worked studiously on the calculations, with the information they had, to estimate how far the truck pushed me. They sent me pictures of the white boards filled with four levels of calculations, which I of course could not understand, the formula they used and the results. They estimated that I had been pushed approximately 3.8 meters as a result of the impact of the truck hitting me from behind.
Wonderful! Now how was I to explain this to a judge when I did not understand the physics myself? I received permission from the Rosh Yeshiva (headmaster) to take the three students with me to court and I sent a special request to the court to allow them to speak on my behalf when it came time to explain the physics of the accident.
These three young men stood by me against the driver of the truck and his insurance representative (no lawyers are allowed in small claims court in Israel, like America) and when I was finished telling my story, complete with toy cars and trucks that I brought as props to explain what happened, one of the boys stood up and proceeded to explain with intelligence, confidence and maturity how it was likely that the damage to my car, both front and back, was the cause of the impact of the 1700 kg truck hitting my 1000 kg car at 40 km per hour.
The judge asked him questions, the insurance representative tried to make him look like a fool and throughout it all our young student held his cool, answered every question with honesty and respect. The other students, who had helped with the physics calculations and provided translation for me as well as advice as to what questions I should ask, all showed the power of knowledge applied to a “real life” situation.
In the end, the insurance representative who opened the case with the comment that there was no way to prove that I didn’t hit the van in front of me before being hit from behind, became nervous because the judge was so impressed with our Yeshivat Mekor Chaim student, that he offered to pay 60% of what I was asking before a judgment was made. I, feeling that this had become so much more than about the money I wanted to recover, decided that it was a good compromise and I was willing to take it.
I will tell you that no one in that room on that day will ever forget what happened there. It was a day that three young students took four years of learning in math and physics and recognized that their learning had helped their teacher to prove that her accident was not her fault. Furthermore, they witnessed the justice system in action in the State of Israel. The adults in the room experienced the full power of a meaningful education when the students displayed their knowledge, understanding and ability to apply what they had learned in a way that lay people could understand. The student who spoke realized that not only is he brilliant in physics but he is articulate, he spoke with confidence and firmness. He held his own against the sometimes antagonistic questions thrown at him by the insurance representative and he answered honestly to the judge when he expressed that he was not at the scene of the accident during the accident but he was confident in their calculations which showed that HaMorah (The teacher) was telling the truth.
Afterwards, my husband and I took the boys out to dinner and we celebrated. We discussed the case, a little Torah, ate and the boys went to a room in the restaurant to daven Mincha before we took them back to school. My husband took a picture at the courthouse of the four of us, each of the students holding one of the toy car props and smiling. We sent the picture out on the school WhatsApp with a caption written by one of the boys, “Physics majors help Morah Karen win big in court. What great students we have at Mekor Chaim!” That was the truth; Morah (teacher) Karen “won big” because she has the privilege of being surrounded by young people with brains, values and heart in an institution that truly understands, the meaning of education.
In the last post I wrote about Liat Ben-David’s concept of “The Four Arts” in education, one of which is “Interaction Arts” that include; curiosity, imagination, motivation, teamwork, activism and sustainability. Today I want to give one tip for initiating an interactive art in the classroom. Students naturally like to work together on assignments. There are some students who prefer working alone, which is fine; however, one of the skills that we should promote in our classrooms, which will be essential for their future, is working together, discussing issues and coming to conclusions or decisions.
The idea of “fishbowl” came from students I once taught from a school in New York. Oftentimes we have questions about material that we teach and we ask students to answer in writing or we ask the questions orally in class and have students raise their hands and wait until we acknowledge them before answering. “Fishbowl” is a cooperative interactive activity that encourages students to work together and to arrive at an answer through discussion. Here is how it works:
The teacher chooses a group (no larger than 6 students) to sit in a circle (in chairs) in the center of the classroom. They are in the “fishbowl”. The teacher then gives them a question. It could be connected to a review on the material before a test or a problem that they have to solve that introduces a new unit. I use this for reviews before literature exams but the possibilities are endless.
The students in the “fishbowl” discuss the question or problem amongst themselves while the other students listen and/or take notes. If a student, not in the “fishbowl”, would like to enter into the discussion he/she must raise his/her hand and be invited to join the group by someone in the center.
One of the best aspects of the “fishbowl” activity is that the teacher is not the center of learning! It is a motivational activity that encourages students to pool their knowledge and experience and to arrive at answers or conclusions as part of a process.
I have had students relate to me that they learned more about the subject through “fishbowl” discussions than they did listening in class or working on the questions alone. Knowledge is something that is acquired through hard work, experience and a collaborative effort. The “fishbowl” activity allows for all of those forces to come together. In other words it engenders learning!
I hope that you will feel free to share some of your interactive arts activities in the classroom with our readers.
Until next time,
It has been almost a year since I added information and articles to englishteachingwith creativity.ETC as I was completing my doctoral dissertation in Education and Curriculum Studies. It has been a challenging five years, working as a full-time high school teacher and mentor for English teachers and writing a dissertation. Now that I have completed the doctorate I seem to have a little more time to return to writing on this site and hope that you will also participate in the discussions that the articles elicit. This year I want to concentrate on Tips for Teaching in the classroom, which will help us develop strategies to better enhance our skills as facilitators of knowledge acquisition and mentors, which is what good educators do on a daily basis.
An interesting article by Liat Ben-David, CEO of the Wolf Foundation, in The Jerusalem Post (Monday December 5, 2016) entitled, “Vive la revolution!” speaks about redesigning our educational systems by asking a few fundamental questions which include; what is worthy of learning, who are our students and who are the teachers we need and when and how does learning/teaching take place? She argues that all of these answers should consider the development of what she terms the four arts which include knowledge arts, the identification and utilization of multi-disciplinary knowledge, thinking arts which includes problem solving, critical thinking, flexibility, creativity, innovation and risk taking, know-how arts, which includes design, craftsmanship, technical skills and practical experience and interaction arts, which involves curiosity, imagination, motivation, teamwork, activism and sustainability.
The answers to Ben-David’s questions are not necessarily difficult for us. As teachers of the English language we know that the ability to express oneself in English is a skill worthy of learning for the future success of our students. Our students are not just the pupils we meet in the classroom but all people with whom we come in contact in our work environments as well as those we communicate with in our on-line communities.
As for who are the teachers we need, it is us! We have chosen this profession because we believe in making a difference. We are passionate about learning, thinking and having a positive impact on the future. This means that we too must continue to learn if we want to impart our enthusiasm for learning to our students.
The final question, when and how does learning/teaching take place, is not the classic answer, learning takes place in school. Of course most of us are physically in the classroom; however, more and more we find ourselves communicating out of the school building as we work with students on-line and answer many questions in our WhatsApp groups which many of us have created with our classes. In addition, we recognize that much of what our students learn comes from the adventures we take them on out of the building, the volunteer work they do and the extra-curricular programs which take place during the year, including the holidays, when they are not in a formal school setting.
The Tips for Teaching articles will center on these four “arts” that Ben-David discusses in her article. I invite your input so that our community can benefit from many ideas and experiences. I am particularly involved with the “thinking arts” as I teach in a literature program that infuses higher order thinking skills (HOTS) into the lessons.
This week’s tip is about choosing a list of HOTS to introduce to your students and how to develop lessons that enable them to practice those HOTS. The list of HOTS which we teach in our high schools includes:
- Comparing and contrasting
- Distinguishing Different Perspectives
- Explaining Cause and Effect
- Generating Possibilities
- Identifying Parts and Whole
- Making Connections
- Problem Solving
- Uncovering Motives
There are many sources for definitions for these HOTS and it is important to give students written definitions; however, they are best learned when practiced. I found that one way to practice HOTS is to give students an activity to do collaboratively. One idea is called “The Marshmallow Challenge”. Each group is given:
- 20 pieces of uncooked spaghetti
- 1 meter of string
- 1 role of scotch tape and scissors
- 1 marshmallow
They have 15 minutes to build a free-standing structure with a marshmallow on top. They should try to make it as high as possible.
After completing the task, pictures are taken and then each group is asked to explain what HOTS they had to use to build this tower and explain how they used that HOTS. This activity works well with adults too although the younger you are the more risks you are willing to take in building this structure. Failure is an important part of learning and when you are willing to take risks and fail your chances of gaining knowledge are greater. Try this creative and fun activity when introducing HOTS to your students.
It has been some time since I have had an opportunity to write on the English Teaching with Creativity site. Over the past two years I have taught the literature course for teachers who want to inspire their students with literary pieces that speak to the hearts and minds of our young people. In Israeli schools today, English educators are part of a program that teaches literary pieces infused with higher order thinking skills. The final project of the course is to create a unit that you could use in the classroom.
The first set of units which are posted here are in word format so that you may change and adapt them to your particular classes. Although these represent final units, it may be possible that there are some errors so please read each unit carefully before using it with your students. In addition, because there are on-going changes and adjustments to the program, the units may reflect differences from year to year. Again, please be mindful to read and make necessary adjustments to the units based on your knowledge and experience.
All of the teachers who have agreed to post their units on this site would like to encourage other English educators to share their work so that we may all have a quality bank of literary units from which to choose and share with our students. The following units will be uploaded at this time to https://englishteachingwithcreativity.wordpress.com/. We hope that you enjoy reading them and teaching them to your students!
1. “If ” By: Rudyard Kipling 2.”Stopping in the Woods on a Snowy Evening” By: Robert Frost (3 different units) 3.”Digging” Seamus Heaney ” 4.The All American Slurp” By: Lensey Namioka 5.”Richard Cory” By: Edwin Arlington Robinson 5.”The Hitchhiker” By: Roald Dahl 6.”We and They” By: Rudyard Kipling 7. “The Perfect Heart” By: Shara McCallum. Next week I hope to upload another group of units for you to use.
Click each of the links below to download the unit:
This is a beautiful project tailored to weaker EFL or ESL English classes. It combines reading, writing, researching and the value of volunteering. Students could also deliver a short oral presentation about the organization which they highlight in their projects. Many thanks to Jenny Epstein for sending this to me to post.
A Partner in Kindness
One of the most important principles in Judaism is kindness and helping others. In this project you are going to read about what the Rabbis say about kindness. You are going to learn about an organization that encourages others to do acts of kindness and you are going to describe your own acts of kindness.
Part 1 Introduction
Why do think volunteering and acts of kindness are important? Who gains from acts of kindness? Write a paragraph of 80 words.
Part 2- What do the Rabbis say about acts of kindness?
Go to the site http://www.traditionofkindness.org/ourtradition.php
Choose 1 article and write a summary of what is written. 50-60 words
Part 3- An organization has been started that encourages people to do acts of kindness. Why was it started? Describe the organization. Write 80 words. http://partnersinkindness.org/
Part 4- Your own experience with volunteering
Describe your own volunteering experience. Where do you volunteer? What do you do? Why did you choose this place? How does volunteering make you feel? Write between 80-100 words.
Part 5- An interview
You are going to interview one of the organizers or people in charge at the place where you volunteer. You can ask them why they have decided to work /volunteer there. You can ask questions about the organization. Write between 8-10 questions.
Part 6- Reflection
What did you learn from this project? Did this project change your ideas about why volunteering is important? Write about 80 words.
Part 7– Bibliography At least three sources, including your interview
Checklist: Your final project must have the following parts:
Front page – Your name, name of project, picture
Table of Contents
Part 1- Introduction
Parts 2- What the Rabbis say
Part 3- Partners in Kindness
Part 4- My experience
Part 5- An interview
Part 6- Reflection
Part 7- Bibliography
“The Enemy” by Pearl S. Buck
Idea sent by Batsheva Gordon
Many of our students learn about the history of WWII in Europe but few learn about WWII in the South Pacific. Pearl S. Buck’s short story “The Enemy” can serve as a stepping off point to research information about the Second World War in the Pacific arena.
When researching, Google is a good place to start. There are many articles, short films and pictures which provide a plethora of information for our students to study. However, it is also important to understand the theme of Buck’s short story which is about people, even those who are enemies, being able to look at each other as individuals. With this idea in mind, Batsheva Gordon sent in a beautiful story about “Israel’s Secret Doctors” which I am including below. In the article are links to film footage which follow these doctors behind enemy lines. http://www.aish.com/jw/id/Israels-Secret-Doctors.html
Whether or not you agree with what these people have decided to do or not, the article connects to “The Enemy” and will allow for some very interesting discussion and project material in your English classrooms. Remember, learning should challenge and provoke our students into thinking for themselves, coming to their own conclusions and defending their arguments with information based on research and knowledge of the subject matter.
Thank you Batsheva Gordon for this creative and challenging idea!
Israel’s Secret Doctors
Nobody asks permission to kill. We do not ask permission to save lives.
To help refugees from the Syrian war, Israeli doctors and aid workers must do their work furtively. When they go into refugee camps in Jordan, they change clothes so that they can fade into the background. They must be smuggled in and out. They don’t tell others where they’re going and when they go home they usually don’t say where they have been. Above all, they don’t want anyone to know the names of their patients.
They move “under the radar,” in the words of a clandestine organization in this field. When they treat Syrians in Israeli hospitals, they make sure no visiting journalist learns details that will identify the patients to authorities back in Syria.
Usually, Israel is glad to announce when it contributes to emergency relief. The case of Syrian aid is different.
Syria does not recognize Israel and forbids its citizens to go there. Israeli doctors are not welcome in Jordan, where their work has been denounced as a violation of Jordanian sovereignty. And Israel is anxious not to be involved in the Syrian civil war. It does nothing, officially, that could make it look like the medical corps of the rebellion.
For Syrians the possibility that their own government will punish them adds to the horror of their situation. This summer, in Nahariya, Israel, near the Golan Heights, scores of patients have been covertly brought across the border from Syria to be treated by Israeli doctors.
For patients’ friends or relatives, Israel becomes a last hope when no Syrian medical help is available. Masad Barhoum, clinical director at Western Galilee Medical Center, recently told an NBC reporter that many patients arrive unconscious. “When they wake up and find that they are in Israel they are anxious and afraid.”
A Syrian woman in the hospital said that she came to Israel because her daughter was hit by a sniper’s bullet. “The hospital in my town was destroyed. They saved her here, but now I am afraid to go back. We will be marked.”
An Israeli organization, iL4Syrians, operates anonymously in Syria and other desperate countries. Providing food and medical supplies for those who need them, it relies on secrecy to protect both its local contacts and its own practitioners. Its web site identifies no directors or staff but carries a defiant slogan: “Nobody asks permission to kill. We do not ask permission to save lives.”
They explain that “We focus on countries that lack diplomatic relations with Israel, transcending differences.” They argue that a respect for the sanctity of human life expresses Jewish tradition and culture. As they see it, this applies to Israel’s toughest and cruelest enemies as well as anyone else.
Since all of these efforts are unofficial and unrecorded, no one can say how many Israelis are involved. I was alerted to this phenomenon by one of the regular letters of Tom Gross, an astute British-born commentator on the Middle East.
Gross has a 15-minute film showing a couple of days spent by an aid group visiting refugees. The refugees don’t expect them to arrive and are surprised when they learn that their benefactors are Israelis. That makes some of them nervous but in the film others say in Arabic “May God bless Israel.”
The team takes along a professional clown to perform for the children while food is being handed out; in one camp, however, the adults briefly riot over limited supplies. A journalist asks one of the aid workers, “Do people call you crazy?” She answers: “Not many people know.”
Information about this work has to be pieced together from fragments of journalism, like a paragraph in an Israeli/Arabic paper: “The Arab countries offer condolences but the best role is provided by the Israelis because they are crossing the border to provide assistance to the refugees, risking their lives without a word of thank you.”
These are dark days for much of the world, dreadfully dark for Syrians. Few can even imagine a solution that does not involve even more tragedy for them. W.H. Auden, in his poem “September 1, 1939” described an even darker time and offered the only advice that made sense to him: “Show an affirming flame.”
As Jews celebrate the start of the New Year, it’s worth noting that these Israeli humanitarians have found a way to make their flame burn with a brave affirmation.
This article originally appeared in the National Post