Project-Based Learning in the Judaic Studies Classroom

By: Rabbi Aaron Ross
from Yavneh Academy

Real-World Learning

Subject(s) of entry:

PBL - project based learning, 21st Century Skills

Grade(s) to which this was taught:
6, 7, Middle school

Grade(s) for which this will be useful:
6, 7, 8, Middle school

The collection of lessons in our submission are examples of how we have applied project-based learning (PBL) to our Mishna and Chumash classes. In addition to having to develop the skills necessary to learn the material on their own, our students learned how to reach out to and share what they had learned with members of the broader school community, the Jewish community, and the global community. This process has brought our students to a greater appreciation of the role of the texts in their daily lives, and of their ability to take initiative in both the learning process and the practical application of what they have learned.

Entry Narrative

We are attaching a link to a Google Drive folder that contains videos, pictures, instructions, and student-generated material for two 6th grade Mishnah projects: The “Shiur” project in which the students were asked to create their own original shiurim from their analysis of the mishnayot in Brachot chapter 4, given to adults at a “lunch and learn” session, and a “lesson” project in which the 6th graders developed lessons about tefillah to teach younger students.

We are also attaching a link to a blogpost that details the full process of a PBL unit on Kashrut in a 7th grade Chumash class, as well as a link to a wiki page that served as a hub for sources and information for that project. The sources, articles, and pictures were meant to serve as a virtual library, and not a syllabus where every item was required. Students chose their sources based on what was relevant to the specific project that they were developing. Over the past several years, there have been a variety of guiding questions for this unit, as follows:

1. What are the major issues in kashrut today and what are the sources for those issues? The projects for this question included teaching about kashrut to a class of non-Jewish students (as detailed in the blog) and calling a representative from a major kashrut organization to discuss various kashrut challenges.

2. How do kashrut organizations stay on top of the ever-changing food industry? How do we know who we can trust? The projects for this question included researching a variety of involved kashrut questions, such as stores that some people will eat in but others will not (e.g. frozen yogurt stores or vegan restaurants) or products whose kashrut status is complicated (e.g. Worcestershire sauce). The research involved both web-based searching as well as emailing and calling the relevant stores and organizations to better understand the issues involved.

3. A lot of people think that if food is kosher, it is also healthier. You have read “Chew on This”, which discusses many of the issues in the fast food industry. Do the same issues exist in the kosher food industry? This was an interdisciplinary project, based on the Middle School read for the year. Student projects focused on finding out if the same issues that were described in the fast-food industry were evident in the kosher food industry. Students researched topics such as kashrut in Uruguay (including a phone call to the Chief Rabbi), the Agriprocessors scandal (including attempted contact with the prosecutor in the case, who is now a judge in Iowa), Grow and Behold organic meats, and the Tav HaYosher ethical seal.

Also being submitted is a link to the wiki page for a PBL unit on korbanot. As this project was about a topic that is no longer practiced, the driving question and motivation had to be more creative.