Students created a student centered, research and project based "Halachic User Manual" to master the topic of Kashrut. Students were tasked to use the various components of a user manual to incorporate the different halachot and halachic applications based on a commonly used item found in a kosher kitchen.
The Halachic curriculum for the 8th grade at Yeshivat Yavneh focuses on the laws of Kashrut. When I first began teaching this subject, I felt a mixture of responsibility and trepidation. On the one hand, it is an extremely vital and important topic within Judaism and therefore I felt a strong responsibility to have my students truly master the topic. On the other hand, I realized that the intricacies of the halachot could be “dry” and “boring” to 13-14 year old girls, and I really want the girls to feel a connection and an excitement towards this topic, which would ultimately prove to be an integral part of their lives.
During a professional development lecture I once attended, the speaker pointed out that you should ask yourself, not if the students are engaged, but rather if they are INVESTED. I believe that when students are able to use creativity and student centered learning, they tend to be more invested in the topic as opposed to being “taught” the information through a teacher droning on and on in a lecture. I therefore try to incorporate a lot of hands-on creative approaches within my classroom. Kashrut is a topic that I believe a student MUST feel invested in, in order to ensure the proper knowledge and implementation of the Halachot. After much deliberation and thought, I came up with a creative, hand-on, student centered approach to teaching this unit.
After covering an introductory unit on the foundations of Kashrut, (i.e.—kosher vs. not kosher animals, the prohibition of eating milk and meat together etc.), it was time to tackle the halachot of the kosher kitchen. I introduced the long term project of a “Halachic User Manual” based on the topics we were to cover in Kashrut. Similar to a User Manual for putting together, installing and using an item- the students would have the opportunity to create their own halachic user manuals for different objects in the kitchen. The different items of the manual included: necessary equipment, set-up, functions, troubleshooting, frequently asked questions, where to go for further help, and this year I am adding a live demo section. (SEE the instruction packet given to the students below for more details)
Students were placed in groups, and given a commonly used item in the kitchen. These included the following topics:
A-Dishes, Glasses and Pots
B- Countertops and Stovetops
C- Oven and Toaster Oven
E- Cutlery, bbqs and blenders
The Halchot covered included: Toiveling, Kashering, Hagalah, Libun Kal, Libun Chamor, the varying halachot based on the different materials the object can be made from, batul b’shishim, bein yomo vs. eino bein yomo and more.
The students were given an instruction packet along with a rubric, in order for them to know what they are responsible for, and how I would be grading the project. They were also given numerous resources to use to help research their topic. These included packets of information, sources inside the Hebrew text, and online resources to use in order to thoroughly research their topic. (SEE short video below of a sampling of the girls doing reseach)
The students were then given time in the computer lab to compile their manuals.
After each group has given in a rough draft of the manual, I reviewed it and made the necessary additions and corrections. The students then corrected it and gave in a final copy. Finally, I combined all the topics and made a copy for each girl which was professionally bound. (SEE photos below of some sample pages from the manual)
This year, I will include a summative assessment based on the different presentations, and the halachot within the entire halachic user manual, to ensure that the girls can demonstrate comprehension of all the different topics.
The Halachic User Manual combines a number of different learning capacities. These include skill of proper research, analysis, the ability to synthesize, proficiency in technology, project based learning, student centered learning, differentiated learning, social skill building, personal responsibility, creativity and knowledge of Halacha.
Students were directed to research and understand the topic on their own. They created research stations (with the desks turned into each other) and used their research materials, laptops, pens, highlighters etc. to learn and summarize the information and halachot. In order to “check for understanding”, I walked around the classroom helping and giving “guided feedback”. After comprehension of the different halachot, they then needed to demonstrate analysis by breaking apart the halachot and ideas of their specific topic into the different pieces of the manual—i.e. (set-up, troubleshooting etc.) They needed to incorporate synthesis in some of the sections (i.e. the trouble shooting section) where they took their research and applied it to an actual halachic issue that arose with their specific item in the kitchen, and used the different halachot as support their conclusion. (i.e.- milk pot was accidently used for chicken soup etc.)
I was able to incorporate differentiated learning in two ways. Firstly, I gave the less complex topics to the students who were struggling, and the more challenging topics to the stronger students. Secondly within the group itself, the students who had specific strengths such as, tech savviness, who were more detail oriented or had stronger reading comprehension skills were able to use their strengths to assist their group in that specific area.
In order for their manuals to be successful, the girls needed to have good social dynamics. Students needed to hear each other out, compromise, take personal responsibility for their “job” etc. Every member of the group needs to turn in a flashcard and write down what each girl did to contribute to the project, so they felt accountable in doing their “due diligence”.
Students used both technology and creativity to create the manual on the computer, using different programs such as word, davka, picture graphics and other online tools. Since most regular user manuals tend to be dry and boring, extra emphasis was put on the creativity piece within the manual. The students incorporated pictures, cute puns, and other creative ideas to make the manual interesting and fun. Students were given time in the computer lab to work on the project. In addition this year I will be adding a “live demo” section – where students will add an additional area of creativity by coming up with a way to teach their specific halachot with an actual tour of their topic in the school’s kitchen. The other students will need to take notes, and be held responsible for each topic.
The entire class would then demonstrate comprehension of the different halachot and how they apply to the different areas around the kitchen through a summative assessment.
Video of research:
Here are some sample pages from the completed Manual:
Carli Becker has been teaching middle and high school girls for over 15 years. She has a teaching degree from Meohr Bais Yaakov in Jerusalem, a B.A. from Thomas Edison State College and a Masters degree in both Education and Special Education from Touro College. Carli has taught an array of Judaic subjects both on the East Coast, in Bruriah High school in New Jersey, and on the West Coast in Bais Yaakov high school, Emek Hebrew Academy and for the past 4 years, in Yavneh Hebrew Academy. Carli is married to Rabbi Ahron Becker, and they have five beautiful children.