Three interconnected gears with the letters M.I.C. representing Maimonides Integrated Connections. This encourages students and teachers to find cross-curricular connections, bridging various subjects and disciplines, and integrating classroom learning with real life experiences.
At Maimonides in Albany NY students of all grade levels from 4th through 9th spend one period a week reporting on their classroom studies and school activities (as well as that of younger grades) for the weekly “MC” Newsletter. In addition to developing writing and photography skills, the goal is for students to be mindful of the marketability of their learning, to find ways to express its relevance, and to present it in a newsworthy format. The spirit of this endeavor is fostered and guided by our local-standing TNT (Torah and Technology) teacher, Rabbi Mendel Rubin. The TNT Program (Torah ‘n Technology) at Maimonides integrates curriculum studies and enrichment programs, following our school motto: “A Beautiful Blend, Torah and Worldly Experience.” This program helps students find relevant and creative expression to their learning, as well as instruction in important real life skills.This 4-page newsletter of short, crisp paragraph articles and engaging photos has become a staple in our community. Beyond the avid readership of students and parents it is read by a broad spectrum of community members, supporters and out-of-town alumni. Please see sample Maimonides Community editions.
In recent years we’ve realized the far-reaching power of a simple device that raises awareness and interest in certain values and objectives, simply by assigning certain icons to articles in the newsletter. The power of this approach is its replicability in any school of any size, regardless of their newsletter system, as this can be done in a variety of contexts or styles, at little or no cost!
Take these examples:
“Maimonides Middos” is a heart of interlocking hands with two M’s that appears alongside any newsletter article describing classroom learning that includes character development, life lessons or inspirational behavior. When used and repeated consistently over time, and when this is celebrated in the classroom, in newspaper reporting and at school assemblies or events, eventually it becomes ingrained and reinforced in students minds (as well as with teachers!) that this is something valued and appreciated and something I should be looking out for in my learning. The icon, and how it is highlighted and celebrated, creates momentum and interest and a focus.
MIC – Maimonides Integrated Connections is a series of 3 tiny gears with the letters M.I.C. inside. It appears in the newsletter whenever an item of learning intersects with another, when there is cross-curricular pollination or coincidental overlap. It is also used when connections are found between learning and living, textbooks and current events, or personal experiences. It was a stretch at first, but we were persistent and now “We have a connection!” is an eager cry in almost all of our reporting classes, students look out for these things and are eager to share them. This instills within them a value that is so important: the interconnectedness and relevance of learning. In fact, the enthusiasm for this has caused our teachers to work more closely together, to be curious about each others curriculums in our departmental classes, and look for connecting themes and highlight them when possible. In addition we feature W.O.W. standing for Wide Open Windows, opening a metaphorical classroom window to the wide world outside, by bringing in communal guests who share their stories, talent, expertise and experience.
We highlight our Better Together service-learning program integrated with our Judaic Studies Kibud Zekeinim and General Studies curriculum to share the students and local seniors interactions. Maimonides School strives to blend curriculum with real life to create a sense of self-awareness and esteem, in the scope of larger society, to develop student character and service to others.
Of course, it isn’t just the icon, but it also is the icon. It is about creating a meaningful focus that is highlighted and celebrated in many different, repeated, reinforced ways at school that created a momentum and focus that is beautiful to see in our students and school community.
Rabbi Mendel Rubin has been teaching at the Maimonides School since 1997. He teaches classes in Talmud, Jewish thought, the APPS (applications) program, and TNT (Torah and Technology) which produces the school’s weekly newsletter. He and his wife Raizy are the proud parents of 8 children who all attend (or have graduated from) Maimonides. They are co-directors of the Shabbos House Student Center serving UAlbany. Rabbi Mendel is also author of the 20 year “Torah Tuesday” series at Shabbos House and is especially interested in interconnected learning and life relevance. He also freelances in writing Torah classes and curriculums for teens and young adults.