By Hillel Broder

This week’s post offers a different perspective on progressive education: this week, I had the privilege of attending the 4th Annual Summer Sandbox, a 2.5 day conference focused on project-based learning (PBL) and education in the 21st century hosted at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, NJ.

As an educator well aware of the use, jargon, and general interest in PBL within the progressive educational community but without much insight into its underlying principles and methods, I’ve been meaning to attend this conference for a few years now.

I’m so glad I made it after all of these years, and if only for the conference’s slow but steady reaffirming “pump-up” towards looking forward to the school year with fresh, positive, and innovative eyes.

Of course, I have far more pedagogical theory and practice to reflect on, but what a pleasure it was to attend, too! I’ll start this post with much gratitude for the leadership of education pioneer Tikvah Wiener, her conference, the East Coast Summer Sandbox (she ran one on the West Coast, too!), and her institute, i.d.e.a.s. schools, as well as the support of SAR High School for sponsoring my attendance. Without Tikvah’s leadership and organizations, innovators and leaders in day schools would feel far more isolated and lost, I think, while advocating for and implementing such theories of progressive education.

There were so many personal highlights from the conference. It was enough just being able to meet and work with like-minded educators–educators who want to reach every child in the classroom, who want learning to be reflect real-life learning and work, who want to challenge the status quo and the naysayers. But there was so much more, including

  • redesigning my classroom as a “21st Century Library Classroom” and engaging in the prototyping and iterating/revision that Design Thinkers Emily Winograd and Marc Fein of PresenTense modeled for us;
  • learning from a graduate of High Tech High, a PBL driven school, about the curricular implementation of PBL at the school;
  • revising one of my units as PBL so it might help differentiate learning and reach all learners;
  • actually creating a PBL unit together with other teachers on yetziat mitzrayim
  • actually drafting my own PBL unit, receiving feedback from other teachers, and offering feedback to others’ units
It was absolutely refreshing and absolutely challenging–I noticed how much resistance to change rose up within myself, but I was rewarded tremendously when thinking through my ideas with the support of others.