From History to memory

By: Stephenie Samuels , Jack Fidler, Megan Hemliton , Roberta Writh , Barak Cerf, Benji Hain , Hal Borkow, Dana Bar-or ,
from Maimonides

Interdisciplinary Integration

Subject(s) of entry:
English/ Writing/ Language Arts

PBL - project based learning

Grade(s) to which this was taught:
6, Middle school

Grade(s) for which this will be useful:
6, Middle school

An innovative program in our middle school: a multi-disciplinary. multi-grade curriculum that will help our students understand the meaning of Holocaust. We currently are implement a new curriculum for each grade of middle school includes projects, meaningful first-person accounts and personal student reflections.

Entry Narrative


Maimonides School continues its proud history of educational innovation with a new curriculum. Our Shoah Studies lessons, formerly history-based, are extending into a two-week multidisciplinary unit, developmentally appropriate for each Middle School grade and designed to connect personal experiences to the broader framework of historical events.Through observations of previous years’ results, we have found that the students’ experiences would be deepened by seeing this topic from different vantage points. Having teachers from three different disciplines study the material with them gives them this opportunity. Based on our experience from  previous years and our main focused only on eight grade we understood that a change must happen.

At Maimonides Middle School, we consistently work to connect students to their past, their present, and their future. It is our hope that they see themselves in the material they learn, or at least relate to it socially and emotionally as well as intellectually. So, naturally, much of our pedagogy, our resources and ways of teaching, offers an all-school approach. For example, our teachers often ask one or two essential questions to frame a given unit so that students might connect its larger themes to their every day lives. In this process, students may also connect the same larger themes to materials they learn in other classes. To facilitate that connection, our teachers work with and alongside one another. And this is just one small example.

While we operate well at this model, we also always look for ways to enhance our practices. As part of Facing History and Ourselves’ Jewish Education Partner School Network, we have created an all-school, cross-disciplinary curriculum for Shoah studies. Starting in the sixth grade, students spend six weeks prior to Yom Hashoah deeply investigating one aspect of that time. This project highlights our dedication to interdisciplinary education.

Each grade has a defined and age-appropriate multidisciplinary unit that involve parts of their English, History, and Hebrew language classes. In the sixth grade, the students focus on Pre-war Jewish life in Europe pre-War. We believe to understand the destruction of the Holocaust, students must first form a connection to what was lost. Using pictures, films, and contemporary writings investigated in both English and Hebrew, and with the overarching picture of European Jewish society painted in History, the students truly develop a new appreciation for and understanding of the world that was destroyed only a few years later.

The seventh-grade students delve into more emotionally fraught topics, centering around Michael Gruenbaum’s National Jewish Book Award Finalist Somewhere There is Still a Sun. This memoir is an expressive, emotional book that takes Michael from a 9-year-old child curious about the arrival of the new German troops in his hometown of Prague, Czechoslovakia, to an adolescent struggling to survive and keep his humanity in the Terezin concentration camp. A message of hope is threaded through in Michael’s relationships with other children, with the young man assigned to lead them in Terezin, and with his mother, who successfully brings both Michael and his sister through the Shoah alive. They respond to the book in both Hebrew and English, and in History they learn the background of what Michael experiences throughout the memoir.

In eighth grade, the students will have an opportunity to hear many voices as they read a selection of diaries translated into English or Hebrew that discuss the events of the Shoah in the immediate nature that only contemporary writings can provide. The students have an opportunity to formulate and write their own thoughts on what the writers of the diaries experienced and connect the diary authors to their own lives. Their history teacher also teaches an expanded version of what the seventh-graders are learning, going over what was happening in Europe as a whole with a focus on the areas where the diarists lived.

While this topic is a difficult one for everyone, it is our belief at Maimonides that presenting Shoah studies in an age-appropriate way in a school setting, with teachers, grade deans, and guidance counselors present to help process the emotions evoked, is an important part of developing healthy students who understand our history and are prepared to carry on our legacy as a people. We also believe that an interdisciplinary approach is a strong way to safely and responsibly teach this material.


Entrant Bio(s)

Jack Fidler returned to the world of education after an extensive career in banking systems and technology. He earned a Master's degree in education from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA, in 2008, interning at the Baker School in Brookline, MA. He has been at Maimonides School since the 2008-2009 school year, teaching History and English at all Middle School grade levels and directing annual Middle School drama productions.

Benji Hain is a graduate of Yeshiva University in Washington Heights, NY, and New York University Law School. He practiced law in the United States and Israel before joining the staff of SAR in Riverdale, NY, in September 2014. He is now Director of Student Life at Maimonides School and teaching Jewish History while completing his teaching degree.

Barak Cerf earned an MA in education from Brandeis University in Waltham, MA, and is currently a candidate for a PhD in Modern Languages at Middlebury College in Middlebury, VT. In addition to teaching at all grade levels in Maimonides School both in the Middle School and the Upper School, he mentors MA teaching candidates at the Rosen School of Hebrew and serves as the principal and educational director at the Israeli School of Lexington, MA. Prior to his career in education, Mr. Cerf worked for the Israeli secret service and foreign ministry for 15 years.

Stephanie Newman Samuels has been teaching at Maimonides School in Brookline, MA, since 1995. She teaches Tanakh and English to middle school students, and she also serves as the sixth grade dean. Stephanie lives in Newton, MA, with her husband and their four sons. Stephanie earned her BA from Barnard College and an MA from New York University in Medieval Jewish History.
Stephanie Newman Samuels has been teaching at Maimonides School in Brookline, MA, since 1995. She teaches Tanakh and English to middle school students, and she also serves as the sixth grade dean. Stephanie lives in Newton, MA, with her husband and their four sons. Stephanie earned her BA from Barnard College and an MA from New York University in Medieval Jewish History.

Dana Bar-Or has been teaching at Maimonides School in Brookline, MA, since 2015 She teaches Hebrew and she also serves as the Middle School Director . Dana lives in Newton, MA, with her husband and two girls who also goes to Maimonides. Dana has a law degree and worked as a lawyer before. Dana is getting her MA from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

My name is Hal Borkow, and I teach 6th grade U.S. history at the Maimonides School. I enjoy teaching students the founding principles of our society, and helping them connect those ideas to our modern world. I hope to make the characters and ideas of past generations alive and vibrant in the classroom. I strive to make history relevant to our students while developing their critical thinking skills. In past years at Maimonides, I've taught high school U.S. history and world history as well as middle school English and middle school civics.