This interdisciplinary unit on water and tashlich integrates Judaic studies, physical science, ecology, and Language Arts through text analysis and critical thinking exercises. Fourth grade students connect Judaism and general studies through Torah, mitzvot, scientific method, creative thinking, and problem solving.
WATER AND TASHLICH – INTERDISCIPLINARY INTEGRATION
At The Shlenker School of Congregation Beth Israel, Judaic studies are integrated throughout the school day. Jewish content is used to reinforce specific skills and higher-level thinking is encouraged through discussions based on Torah, holiday observance, and ethical decisions.
This fourth-grade interdisciplinary unit focuses on the study of water and tashlich. The students participated in an innovative tashlich ceremony by utilizing water soluble ink and writing their misdeeds on leaves. The students then threw the leaves in our outdoor classroom’s (“The BackYard”) pond. This creative take on the traditional tashlich ceremony enabled students to have a deeper understanding of science while also fulfilling their ethical and environmental responsibility as Jews.
Through careful collaboration among our teaching team (Mr. Joe Blanton–science; Mrs. Rachel Hall–Math/Texas History/Judaic Studies; Mrs. Lorna Boughton–English Language Arts) students learned relevant content in each of their distinct core content areas. The fourth-grade students first learned about the concept of t’shuvah in their Language Arts class by reading about the story of Joseph’s life and family relationships in the Torah. After reading the text, Mrs. Hall led discussions about Joseph’s life and relationship with his family. She explored the central theme of jealousy in the Biblical story and encouraged students to ponder why bad things happen to good people. By illustrating the text through modern and relevant examples in their own lives, the concept of t’shuvah was brought to life.
The students then reflected on their own regrets by reading a modern fictional story of a student in the secular book Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. Mrs. Boughton conducted a read-aloud where students were paired to discuss posited questions based on the story’s “big ideas.” She encouraged the students to make relevant connections throughout their discussions. At the end of the story, the main character reflects on her actions and throws stones into the water. Each stone represents a missed opportunity for kindness—directly tying back to the main idea of t’shuvah and tashlich.
In the last lesson of the unit, the students explored the power of water to wash away stains, or missteps, by investigating the various types of ink used in paper chromatography. This lesson examined how water is used as a solvent with certain pigments. Students marked the filter paper with the washable marker and placed it in a cup of water. Students then observed how the ink dissolved in the water. The ongoing metaphor continued into this lesson with the idea of the water dissolving the ink as a means of washing away our misdeeds.
Before participating in the tashlich ceremony, students were challenged to think at a higher level about how best to perform tashlich in an environmentally conscious and ethically responsible way, given what was just learned in their Judaics, language arts, and science classes. By writing their own words of t’shuvah with washable markers on cottonwood leaves, the students watched the ink slowly dissolve in the school’s pond and created a lasting memory and a promise of how to improve their actions in the future.
Included below are lesson plans, a white paper on Jewish integration, and an information card about The Shlenker School.
JUDAICS LESSON – T’SHUVAH AND JOSEPH
LANGUAGE ARTS LESSON – REGRET
SCIENCE LESSON – WATER
INTEGRATED LESSON – WATER AND TASHLICH
WHITE PAPER: DIGEST OF LITERATURE ON JEWISH INTEGRATION
INFORMATION CARD – THE SHLENKER SCHOOL
Mr. Joe Blanton has been the Science Specialist at The Shlenker School for the past four years. Mr. Blanton teaches students in Pre-Kindergarten through fifth grade. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology from University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Science degree in Molecular Biology from Baylor College of Medicine. Prior to joining the faculty at Shlenker, Mr. Blanton was the Director of Adult Education for two years and the Director of Conservation for seven years at the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center. Mr. Blanton is a certified Organic Vegetable Garden Specialist through local non-profit Urban Harvest and a former employee of Urban Harvest with three years experience supporting and coordinating 12 school gardens for Houston ISD. Mr. Blanton is certified by the National Wildlife Federation in Schoolyard Habitats Design and The Permaculture Institute in Sustainable Land Use and designed our on-campus nature sanctuary called The BackYard in 2012. Currently, Mr. Blanton serves as liaison for the Green Initiatives Committee of the Shlenker Parent Association and coordinates volunteers to maintain The BackYard and gardens throughout the year. Mr Blanton also serves as campus co-sponsor of The No Place For Hate Coalition of the Anti-Defamation League.
Mrs. Lorna Boughton has been teaching at The Shlenker School for the past five years. Mrs. Boughton currently teaches fourth grade language arts and serves as the Language Arts Liaison. She holds a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Glasgow, Scotland. She taught primary education for five years, in Scotland, before moving to Houston, Texas with her husband, Bryan.
Mrs. Rachel Hall has taught at The Shlenker School for eight years and is in her fourth year of teaching the fourth grade. Her focus is on math, Texas history, and Judaic Studies. Prior to teaching fourth grade, Mrs. Hall taught Kindergarten and first grade. She graduated in 2008 from Texas State University with a Bachelor's in Interdisciplinary Studies. Mrs. Hall has spent most of her adult life working within the Jewish community, teaching religious school, being a song leader for NFTY, and assisting in leading services for The Shlenker School when needed.