School’s Cancelled: A Day of Non-Traditional Learning

By: Brittney Friedman
from Yeshiva Day School of Las Vegas

Real-World Learning

Subject(s) of entry:
Art, Engineering, English/ Writing/ Language Arts, History, Math, Philosophy/ Values/ Ethics/ Hashkafa, Science, Social and Emotional Learning, Social Studies, Technology, literature

Design-Thinking Model, Experiential Education, Gamification, IBL - inquiry based learning, PBL - project based learning, Social and Emotional Learning, 21st Century Skills

Grade(s) to which this was taught:
K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, Elementary school, Middle school

Grade(s) for which this will be useful:
K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, Elementary school, Middle school

How do you promote real world skills in a traditional school atmosphere? During Expo Days at YDLV, classes are cancelled and students embark on a themed journey of learning and inspiration, giving them the opportunity to practice non-traditional skills with a variety of exercises and challenges built for real world learning.

Entry Narrative


What if you designed and sold a medieval castle to your principal? What if you made s’mores and the oven to cook them in? What if you managed a campaign to promote your candidate for school mascot? What if your team had to build a tower out of balloons and tape? What if you had to figure out how to get Jack away from the Giant without using the beanstalk? What if you you were encouraged to fail until you succeeded?

Welcome to Expo Day at Yeshiva Day School of Las Vegas (YDLV), where class is cancelled, and the halls are transformed into an inspiring array of activities and events that challenge the students to learn outside of the normal classroom experience and develop important real world skills.

The goal of an Expo Day is to promote collaboration, critical thinking, and risk taking. Instead of regular classes, students are challenged to work collaboratively and think outside of the box. The entire day is dedicated to one theme of study that students in Kindergarten through eighth grade will understand and draw inspiration from. The challenges and activities throughout Expo Day are designed to push students out of their comfort zones and challenge them to try something they wouldn’t experience on a normal school day.. Students are given a variety of constraints that force them to work under pressure and create a need to find creative solutions to problems. Teachers from all disciplines, from Rebbeim and Morahs to General studies staff, all work together to guide students during the activities and push them towards accomplishing their tasks. We also needed to accomplish this on a very small budget. The idea for Expo Day wasn’t something that was planned during any kind of budget meeting, so we had to get creative with the activities and planning. The Expo Day program, while a fantastic tool for teaching students real world skills, is designed with a parallel and equally important goal of of building community within the school and creating a sense of positive school spirit and connection. Ever since Expo Days were implemented in the 2016-17 school year, they have quickly developed an extremely positive reputation amongst the students and faculty. There is palpable anticipation for the next theme and the unique and fun activities associated with it. One of the factors that make Expo Day such a success at YDLV is that students tend to forget that they are actually learning. In fact, one seventh grader was incredulous that we cancelled school to play all day instead of learning.  The secret to this learning success on Expo Day is a lack of textbooks and worksheets and a fully engaged student engrossed in project based learning and hands-on challenges. When we take learning out of classroom, we give opportunities to children to hurdle over barriers to learning that can be challenging in a traditional classroom environment.

Election Day Expo

Election Day Expo Video Highlights


Why did we choose this theme?

With the 2016 Presidential Elections around the corner, the administration and faculty were faced with a unique challenge: How do you teach children about the importance of Elections, Democracy and Civics, while under the spectre of an election so controversial that its subject matter wasn’t always age appropriate? With mixed messages blanketing the media and a very strongly opinionated parent body, this wasn’t your typical election. We were facing cultural tension between the faculty and students were overhearing and, of course, only absorbing this negative aspect of Election season. Once we understood this challenge was only becoming greater as the season wore on , the team shifted gears to focus more on building a healthy understanding of the US Government systems, along with its colorful and inspiring history,  and leave students with a positive feeling about our country’s leaders, its founders, its Constitution, and the Democratic process. This would result in a healthy school spirit surrounding Election season and hopefully reverse the negative course we were headed in.


Engage students in activities and challenges that build a healthy understanding of US Democratic History, the process of Elections, and an appreciation of the positive results of the Democratic process in topics outside of the Presidential Election.

Activities/ Description


  • Vote for Class President – Students in Kindergarten were interviewed and asked why they would make the best class president, and what contributions they would bring to the class and what changes they would make. Each student made their own campaign poster and “ran for president” by giving a campaign speech. The activity ended with students hitting the voting booths to choose a class president for Kindergarten!

Grades 1-5

  • Meet the Candidates – Students had a chance to “meet” the candidates from the 2016 Election and pick their vote. They explored the electoral college and learned about how the votes would be coming in and counted later that evening. A photo booth was set up for students to dress up like the candidates and show their support!

  • YDLV Town Hall Meeting – Students were engaged in a moderated debate about hot school topics like lunch, recess, and uniform policies! Students learned that topics can be multifaceted and that healthy debate is vital to a functioning school and country. They were challenged by having to defend opinions that they thought were simple and one-sided.


  • Presidential Hall of Fame – Students learned about major accomplishments from a number of our past presidents and had to chose to reelect some of them back to the White House to serve another term based on their major contributions and impact to our country’s development and growth. The school was decorated with campaign posters for these alternate candidates and could be seen all around the campus.

  • Presidential Jeopardy – Students split into teams and enjoyed a fast paced quiz game about fun presidential facts including presidential hometowns and presidential pets! When winning is on the line, students became more engrossed in presidential history than the ever imagined was possible.


Grades 6-9

  • YDLV Mascot Campaign – For ten years, YDLV was missing a school mascot! We used this opportunity to stage a mock election with real stakes. This decision would be permanent and remain in place for the duration of the school’s existence!  Middle school students were given three hours to build an entire campaign. They opened up headquarters, put together a research based campaign, provided a speech with a multimedia presentation explaining why their animal would make the best mascot for the school, all while creating a full complement of posters, campaign pamphlets and a catchy slogan! The school gathered for an assembly where they were treated to speeches and cheers for each mascot candidate. The excitement and passion was only enhanced by the knowledge that this election had real and lasting effects on the school as a whole. At the end of the day, after the students had all casted their votes, the entire school gathered to cheer on their mascot candidate, and the winner was revealed to a cacophony of cheering and excitement.

A few months later, students and faculty showed off their new school spirit, wearing t-shirts designed by our Eighth grade boys!



Enchanted Engineering Expo Day

Enchanted Engineering Video Highlights

Why did we choose this theme?

One of the many educational advantages of a STEAM curriculum is that it pushes students through the design process. This important real world skill challenged students to work through the design thinking process to create a working model in teams. We felt that devoting an entire Expo Day to the benefits of STEAM problem solving and design process would help spread the messages behind quality STEAM education in a way that is fun for the students and and demonstrative to the faculty. To get the students out of the sometimes dull and dry engineering mindset, we presented the engineering and design activities in the form of fairy tale and time travel challenges. This made the learning opportunities a little more fun and imaginative than what they would typically see in a textbook or lecture. An added benefit of the Enchanted Engineering theme was the onset of the Month of Adar and Purim! The students were asked to enter the minds and stories of fictional characters and solve their problems. It was certainly in the spirit of Purim!


To integrate the design thinking process through project based learning that integrates STEAM and Literature at the same time. Students had full access to a cost friendly Makers Space that gave them the opportunity to build and design their models.

Activities/ Description

All elementary students gathered together for an assembly to learn about fairy tale characters in distress! From Jack escaping down the beanstalk, to Red Riding Hood running from the Big bad Wolf, students were were summoned by Detective Friedman to jump in and save the day! Each class received their confidential case files that described and outlined their challenge. Students made use of a maker space fully stocked with materials and loose parts to unleash their creativity and design to build solutions for their cases.


The Kindergarteners designed new houses for the two bears who were unfortunately homeless due to the huffing, puffing, and blowing of the wolf. Students designed houses that would not fall down. A desk fan took the place of the big scary wolf from the story! Students were encouraged to fail and learn from their mistakes until they were able to build a house able to withstand the gale force winds.


First graders were challenged to design a parachute that Jack could use to jump down from the top of his beanstalk and escape the clutches of the evil Giant. A teacher stood atop a ladder and tested the parachutes by timing their descent until the students were able to deliver Jack safely to the ground in one piece.

Second graders took over the three bears’ house and had the choice to rebuild a new chair for baby bear, design an escape route for Goldilocks to get out of the window safely, a latch for the front door to prevent Goldilocks from entering, or the perfect bed for Goldilocks.

Third Graders had to design, build and test a raft for the Three Billy Goats Gruff to travel across the water without having to meet and deal with that pesky troll every time they crossed their favorite bridge.

Two groups of Fourth graders were either challenged to design an escape route for Rapunzel to get down from the tower or to create a zip line for Little Red Riding Hood to get from her house to Grandma’s house without having to walk through the woods and meet the Big Bad Wolf.

Fifth grade boys designed bridges for the Gingerbread boy to safely travel across and escape the Fox. The girls had to design a shoe that wouldn’t fall off Cinderella’s foot!

Middle School students were challenged to go back to the year 1076 in London, England. They had to research and design an perfect castle for the Principal (heretofore known as the Duchess of Friedman of Friedmanville). Students were placed in multi-grade level groups to prepare a physical design, research and develop a Google Slides presentation describing the inside of the castle plan and lifestyle, write persuasive letter to the Duchess and her council, and ultimately build a scale model of their design. The Duchess of Friedman was able to peruse the completed castles, decide which design would be best for her and her royal family and entourage, and publicly decree which castle design firm would get the job.

The Castle Assignment can be reviewed here. An example of a student presentation can be found here

Below is an example of a team’s sales pitch.















Letter to students from the Duchess

Medieval Photo Booth – In celebration of Rosh Chodesh Adar we added a photo booth for students to have a little extra fun and get in the spirit of the Jewish month ahead! Purim was just around the corner!


Summer Expo Day

Why did we choose this theme?

School is almost out, the temperatures in the Mojave Desert are really rising, and the kids are hot! Staying engaged in a learning environment can be difficult for students and teachers alike during the last few days of school. We knew the students were just itching for that summer break, so we gave it to them a few days early! For the Summer Expo Day, students were involved in fun and challenging summer-themed STEAM activities that gave them a taste of vacation while keeping their minds on target.


To integrate STEAM and Summer vacation into a single school day and promote highly engaged learning opportunities for students and staff during the last few days of the school year.


Elementary School

  • Sand Castle Contest – Using homemade Kinetic Moon Sand, students designed a built sand castles on top of their desks. They worked together in teams.


  • Sidewalk Chart – Students decorated the hallway floors with pictures, math problems, notes, spelling words, and more as they enjoyed a chance to relax and hang out with friends in a different learning space.


  • Solar Powered S’mores – Kids in Las Vegas appreciate Solar Power a lot! It hasn’t rained in months! In fact, our entire campus runs off solar energy generated by a field of solar panels right in our backyard. What better way to teach students how to capture the energy from the sun by cooking a summer favorite in ovens they built and designed themselves. The promise of sweet gooey S’mores were definitely a great incentive to get students in the engineering mindset. Students worked in teams to design ovens out of pizza boxes. They had access to simple materials like tape, skewers, tin foil and box cutters. The students’ ovens had to compete with an unexpectedly windy Summer day, and the S’mores took a little longer to cook. This didn’t discourage our engineers, and by the end of the activity, the students were enjoying warm, melted s’mores.  

  • Ice Cream in a Bag – There’s nothing like Ice Cream on a hot summer day, so the students were tasked to make their own! How often do you get to see matter change from liquid to solid right in front of your eyes? Students placed milk, sugar, and vanilla into a ziploc bag. They took that bag and put it into a larger bag filled with ice and rock salt. After some vigorous shaking, the liquid on the inside became a smooth solid and the ice cream was ready to eat. It was Scientifically delicious!


  • Stop Drop and Read –  We try to stress every year that the most important thing to do for learning retention over the summer is reading! We set up tents and cozy pillows, twinkle lights and glow necklaces. Students climbed into tents and curled up with flashlights for summer campout reading sessions! There’s never a bad time to curl up with a book!

Middle School

  • Summer memories are made of trips and family vacations! Many times, the highlight of these trips are the amusements parks and roller coasters. Have you ever thought of the physics involved during a roller coaster ride? How does that cart handle the energy to go upside down on those tracks without falling off? Students were given 12ft of foam tubing, masking tape, and marbles to design roller coaster contraptions. Some used the railings coming down the stairs, others designed courses around the classrooms using desks and other furniture to help build speed! One team even created a “jump” in their design! The creativity was quite remarkable.  


#YDLVChoosesKindness Expo Day

FOX News Segment on #YDLVChoosesKindness Expo Day


Why did we choose this theme?

Middle school students spent the first couple months of school reading about August Pullman, a fifth grade boy with a facial difference. They were deeply engaged the novel Wonder, by R. J. Palacio, understanding the impacts and struggles he overcame on daily basis, just because he looked different. The themes of the book and the concerns it raises about treating everyone with kindness in schools made Wonder more than just a book students read in class. It was almost like they went to school with Auggie. The idea of “choosing kindness” became something everyone on campus was talking about. No matter how hard we try to teach kindness in the classroom, students need role models and reminders on a daily basis. We are constantly looking for new innovative ways to remind students to use good middos (character traits), so  we decided to devote an entire day to teaching about Kindness, empathy, team building and growth mindset through different activities, using Wonder as our theme. Teachers were reminded that it was not just a day to act with Kindness but to teach it as well.


To understand the power of ONE and understand what “I” can do to make the world a kinder place.

Themes of the Day

  • Kindness – Knowing how to get along with others should help me to make and keep friends.
  • Growth Mindset – A growth mindset allows students to embrace learning and growth as positive traits. It’s important to understand the role of effort in creating talent and intelligence. We need to celebrate the success and achievements of others and use this as a learning opportunity for ourselves and those around us.
  • Empathy – A sense of empathy is key to being able to understand others’ perspectives and differences and respond to situations/conflict appropriately.
  • Self efficacy – A clear sense of self identity creates a positive self image.
  • Judging Favorably – The Torah teaches us that we often (unjustly) judge others based on our own perceptions of others, rather than others’ actual feelings or behaviors. We are therefore commanded to search for a favorable explanation. Each person is believed to have goodness within them, and that one who judges is obliged to look for those good qualities

The Faculty Role

Faculty was instructed to take the initiative at their stations, and to interact with students, even if you don’t regularly teach them. They should look for opportunities to discuss with students about how choosing kindness can make a difference in our school and our daily lives. Teach them to not give up. Challenge them to try again.


  • Kindness Rocks – In an effort to create a permanent art installation enshrining the ideas of kindness to yourself and to others, Students decorated River Rocks with motivational and kind words. These rocks are displayed around campus as a constant reminder of the power of positivity and kindness.


  • Handprint Murals – Elementary Students will paint a handprint in variety of colors. While every hand may have the same shape, they all look different. Acts of kindness are written under each handprint, driving home the idea that everyone has a potential for kindness.

  • “I am…”  Self Portraits – Elementary students will draw self portraits and reflect on what positive traits they bring to the world. Focusing on your own positive traits is a good exercise to start recognize the positive traits on others.

  • Toothpaste Challenge – Students were put into groups to squeeze out an entire tube of toothpaste. Once the entire tube is empty, they were asked to put all the toothpaste back in. This was clearly impossible. This exercise was used as a discussion prompt about words that leave your mouth can’t be put back in, and that our words have permanent and long-standing effects.

  • Balloon Towers – Students split into teams and were tasked to build a freestanding tower out of balloons and tape. This activity required a lot of trial and error, failure and success, and was a great tool to teach the value of teamwork and staying positive in the face of repeated failure.

  • Growth Mindset Storybook – Elementary students had a chance to wind down and read a book with their teacher that explains growth mindset in different creative ways. Teaching students at a young age that they can train their brain to learn some new is critical to future growth and helps them work through challenges they face in the future with a different mindset.
    • Kindergarten – Giraffe’s Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
    • First Grade – The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
    • Second Grade – Your Fantastic Elastic Brain by JoAnn Deak
    • Third Grade – Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty
    • Fourth Grade – The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires  
  • Collaborative Poster Project – Each Middle School class created a collaborative poster that featured a student writing prompt, “The three things I love most about myself are…”, and an illustration of the Wonder’s main protagonist, Auggie. Students collaborated to assemble this art installation. The activity is designed for students to communicate and work together. Each student was given a square portion of the poster to fill in with their art and writing prompt. Once completed, students needed to find the class members with poster pieces adjacent to their own to finish the poster and create their masterpiece. The writing activity is truly insightful and reflective of the book’s central message of “Love yourself, Be Kind, Choose Kind.”

  • Pencil Activity – Middle school students wrote empowering messages on pencils and shared them with students from all grades around the school.

  • Team Building Games- These activities promote communication, respect, collaboration common goal, and problem solving. Students were challenged out of their comfort zones to work together in more gross motor activities. They had to find ways to show kindness and work together reach the goal. Some of the activities included “Human twister” and “Silent Birthday Line-up.” One of the highlights of the team challenges was our very own Escape Room by Breakout EDU. Teams solved clues about kindness and growth mindset to figure out combinations on a series of increasingly challenging locks. This was a very difficult challenge that required the teams to face disillusionment, disappointment and frustration in a positive way that didn’t detract from teamwork and goal orientation.


  • Assembly – Elementary Students kicked off their morning reading the storybook version of Wonder, We are Wonders, by RJ Palacio, and understanding the message that we may not be able to change the way we look, but we can change the way people see. We learned how important it was to judge people favorably, because we can learn so much about a person by talking and spending time with them.


  • Middle School students had their own kick off assembly talking about themes from Wonder and their roles for the day. In the afternoon, the Middle students had the opportunity to meet with another Jewish high school boy from Las Vegas who has a similar facial difference to the boy in the book. Our guest speaker gave an inspiring presentation on his “Wonder of the world” and the challenges and accomplishments he has faced.

The entire school gathered together for a closing assembly to learn how the concept of choosing kindness falls into our school-wide middos program of acting with KOACH (Kavod, Order, Accountability, Compassion, and Humility). Students left feeling inspired to take on a school wide challenge to see how many acts of Kindness we could collect by Chanukah.

Reflections and Lessons Learned

We set out to find unique ways to teach what I like to call the “Hidden curriculum” at YDLV. How could we find ways to promote skills that would give our students the tools they need to successful members of the 21st century? How could we steer away from typical academia and prove to teachers that hands-on, project based, and inquiry learning can have a huge impact on not only the students, but the faculty and the vision of the school. Expo days are tiring and exhausting. They require everyone to be “on” the entire day. At the same time they hit on those standards we look to teach our students without the textbook, without the worksheet.

What Expo day has done to the future of learning at YDLV has been quite remarkable. In only a year an half we have implemented four expo day programs and several “mini expo days.” The concept has been so well received by teachers and students that other teachers are “canceling school” and opening their doors to more collaborative hands on learning experiences as well. We recently hosted our first Pumpkin Stem investigation, planned and designed by our K-2 General studies teachers. We had our Rebbeim and Torah studies teachers put together a mini Expo for Sukkot that was completely student led.

The success of Expo Days at YDLV all but guarantees that we will be continuing this trend for the foreseeable future. Feedback from students, faculty and parents have been positive across the board, and school spirit has increased tremendously as a result. At the same time, Expo Days will continue to drive our school’s vision of a STEAM integrated curriculum in a way that lets the children have a good time and continue to learn and prepare for the future.


Rabbi Zev Goldman, Dean of YDLV

Expo day allow our students to be actively involved in an intense experiential learning environment and creates a platform that challenges both the mind and soul to think out of the box; building the most important skill we can give our students in our modern day of development and technology. To team up, converse, plan, and execute. Expo days generate some of the most vital and memorable moments our students will remember and take with them for the rest of their lives.”

Esther Rothman, parent of two YDLV students

“I love that my kids get to experience a new topic through Expo Day in their school. The teachers have designed a way for all ages and levels to be engaged and excited about something – it rallies school pride and inspires everyone to work together.”

See Attached article from the 2016-2017 School Journal explaining the philosophy of the Hidden Curriculum, a key inspiration for the Expo Day Program at YDLV.

Entrant Bio(s)

Mrs. Brittney Friedman is the General Studies Principal and fourth grade teacher at Yeshiva Day School of Las Vegas. She has a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education and Judaic Studies, an endorsement in ESOL instruction from University of Miami, and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Christian Brothers University in Memphis, TN. With 11 years of education experience, Mrs. Friedman is dedicated to student success and cutting edge educational theory while accommodating students with unique learning challenges. Additionally, Mrs. Friedman is focusing on teacher professional development to drive differentiated instruction, visible thinking strategies and project based learning in every classroom. Mrs. Friedman is teaching 4th Grade General Studies.