Students planned a trip to Greece to learn about literature, ancient history, and Jewish history, researching content, budgeting, fundraising, and halakhot. Success was met with disappointment when the trip was canceled for terrorism. Students regrouped, changing the destination to Arizona to research nature, American history, and the arts.
Original Project Goal:
A large chunk of the 9th grade English Language Arts curriculum is to study Greek tragedy and Greek mythology, areas that are often alluded to in works of literature. Yet, aside from the connections to literature, students can connect the material to other areas as well, such as ancient history, modern history, and Jewish history.
9th grade students planned a trip to Greece, where they could visit the cities of Athens, Delphi, and Thessaloniki to research more about Greek mythology, Greek tragedy, Ancient Greece, and Sephardic Jewish history. Each student in the class was required to research one area of Greece (Jewish history, ancient Greece, or Greek arts) to become an expert tour guide on the locations we would visit. For example, one student researching Jewish history would be the tour guide of the Holocaust museum in Athens, while another studying the arts would give a tour of Apollo’s temple in Delphi, etc. Secondly, each student was placed in a planning group: budgeting, fundraising, brochure design, Kosher catering, and hotels/transportation. Through hard work, students collaborated to raise $40,000 through various fundraisers and presentations to philanthropists. However, the research trip to Greece was canceled as a result of the bombing in Manchester, England and the unsteady climate in Europe.
This project asked students to take learning further than the classrooms around them. Students spent half a year researching, fundraising, and planning a trip the Greece to study more about Greek mythology, Greek tragedy, Ancient Greece, and Sephardic Jewish history, tying together the skills of collaboration, research, public speaking, fundraising, and real world knowledge.
Skills Acquired & Accomplishments:
- Collaboration and Fundraising: Working together, students raised close to $40,000 through various fundraisers, such as bake sales, auctions, and formal presentations to philanthropists.
- Communication and Research: Each team had to communicate and collaborate with one another. For example, the budgeting group gave the hotel group a number to work with, and once the hotels were found they let the fundraisers know how much needed to be raised.
- Real World Knowledge: Students met with experts in the field of Jewish history to learn more about the Jews of Thessaloniki, and with the Rabbis in our community to learn about the Jewish laws of visiting ancient temples and ruins, and about preparing Kosher food for the trip. We brought in experts on fundraising and public speaking to coach our students before any presentation or fundraiser.
Learning was brought to a whole new level as students worked through lunch, stayed after school, and did whatever they could to bring this project to life. As this dream became more and more realistic with each fundraiser, students were met with an even larger battle: convincing their parents! Even the most cautious parents gave their children to permission to attend the research trip to Greece after their presentation of learning, and the students felt a strong sense of empowerment that they were able to turn a seemingly unrealistic idea into a reality.
A few weeks after we booked our flights, there was a bombing at a concert in Manchester, England. The school administration felt it was telling of the unsteady climate in Europe, and canceled the trip to Greece. To say the students were disappointed is an understatement; yet, rather than give in to the disappointment, students quickly learned that facing disappointment is yet another skill they would learn in this project. We decided to pick ourselves up, regroup, refocus, and plan something new.
As sophomores, the same students started again, choosing a destination in the United States. At the start of the year, students researched three different aspects of Arizona: natural wonders, American history, and art and architecture. Each student created a research question that stemmed from one of these areas, was required to create a research proposal that included a specific spot on our itinerary where the student would conduct on-site research. Additionally, students knew that upon our return from the trip, they would be presenting their research to the philanthropists, faculty members, parents, and community in an exhibition night. Each student would be required to present a research paper as well as some type of retelling of their research: a speech, photojournalism, children’s book, a scrapbook, etc.
The students just returned from their well–earned, fully–funded, meaningful, educational trip to Arizona. They are currently in the process of completing their research papers and retellings, and have a date set for exhibition night in which they are eager to share their stories!
The students feel empowered as they realize how far they have come, learning skills that will take them well beyond high school.
Rachel Harari is the Department Chair and a teacher of English Language Arts at Magen David Yeshivah High School in Brooklyn, NY. Inspired by Project Based Learning, Rachel aims to engage students by demonstrating real world skills and how to apply them in the ever-changing, post-textbook world. Rachel is also faculty advisor of the school’s newspaper The Flame, and literary journal, The Quill, both recipients of national awards. Rachel received her M.S. in Special Education from Brooklyn College, and her B.S. in English Education from New York University, where she published her research on mathematics anxiety in elementary school students: “Mathematics Anxiety in Young Children: An Exploratory Study.”