Project-based learning applied to Jewish education

by Lee Fensin

The second-graders at Congregation Shalom were given a project and told to work together to find a solution. Kids were unsure at first.

Then, recalled teacher Marilyn Franklin, “All of a sudden, one kid sparked another kid, and that kid sparked another kid, and it was gratifying to see.”

Welcome to project-based learning, which in some form has been around since the late 1800s, but recently has been gaining popularity in Milwaukee-area religious schools.

Tziporah Altman-Shafer, the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Jewish education community planner and the director for its Coalition for Jewish Learning, began holding classes on PBL for teachers in August with the idea that “education is changing; students are taking more responsibility for their learning.”

PBL and PBL-like programs have been used in area preschools and in the Milwaukee Jewish Day School for several years. When a seminar was held in August to introduce PBL to supplementary school educators, Altman-Shafer said teachers left “pumped up.” Classes are ongoing.

“The theory behind project-based learning is that if students acquire information themselves, and if they are interested in what they are learning about, the learning will be much deeper,” Altman-Shafer said.

Mequon Jewish Preschool K-4 students helped build a loft to provide more space in their classroom. “They began with envisioning what it would look like, looking on the Internet, thinking about how to use the space,” said Robin Eiseman, the assistant director at the school. “The children each worked on their own architectural blueprint, then shared their blueprints and collaborated to create the blueprint for the loft.”

Fathers and experts helped, but the kids were involved determining a budget and what materials were needed, working on measurements and purchasing the material and tools needed. Children and families constructed the loft together.

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