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Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Alternative History as a Route to History
Camille McCue, PhD
Director of Curriculum Innovations
History is a tricky subject to teach. Looking backward is taught with the intention of looking forward, but instruction can often lapse into knowledge-level memorization of facts, timelines, and maps. Digging deeper to the application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of ideas requires an active context in which students can create something tangible in the present. In formulating her plan to engage students in learning about the modern state of Israel, Adelson Educational Campus teacher Ayelet Blit brainstormed with school Headmaster, Dr. Joyce Raynor – and the Streams of Zionism PBL was hatched.
What would Israel look like if the vision of a single Zionist leader was the only one that prevailed?This became the driving question that Morah Blit posed to juniors and seniors in her Modern Israel course. “It is very challenging to fully understand today’s Israel without knowing and understanding the different ideologies that were there in the beginning. Israel today is a combination of all of them. So, the main goal was to learn and understand the different streams, their leaders, and ideologies,” notes Morah Blit. 
Like any butterfly effect, slight variations in the timeline of history would amplify to produce a different world than we see today. Learning and understanding the key moments and movements in our history forces students to examine causality – and consider deeply how today’s governance shapes their own futures. Alternative history is not revisionist history – it empowers students to formulate comparative “what if” scenarios and extrapolate how the students are the architects of their own futures, and the future of their world. From books such as “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” and “The Difference Engine” to TV series including and “The Man in the High Tower” and “Timeless,” alternative history pushes us to draw connections between then and now, thinking critically about the actions we take in the present -- and the resulting history those actions yield.
To draw the connection between Israel then and Israel now, Morah Blit formed student teams to research prominent Jewish visionaries. These leaders and philosophers consisted of Theodor Herzl (political Zionism), Ahad Ha’Am (Cultural Zionism), Dov Ber Borochov (Socialist/Labor Zionism), A.D. Gordon (Socialist/Labor Zionism), Rav Kook (Religious Zionism), Ze’ev Jabotinsky (Revisionist Zionism).  She then asked students to develop and articulate a re-imagined Israel according to each visionary. This included consideration of the geographic location of the State of Israel, system of governance, economic structure, and national language. Along the way, students were invited to invent and produce a variety of artifacts rooted in, and representative of, their visionary’s Zionist perspective, including a constitution, a 3D model of a typical city, a newspaper front page, and a flag. 
Teams culminated their work by presenting completed projects to peers and faculty and engaging in a question-and-answer session about their reimagined Israels. For example, a team  
focusing on Herzl discussed their unique choice to situate Israel in present-day Argentina and establish German as the national language. Emphasizing the importance of culture and leaning in their country, the team created and showcased a Minecraft animation of the local university. The research, collaboration, critical thinking and development process was evident in each presentation – and the audience gained new insights to modern Israel through each team’s synthesis of alternative histories. Morah Blit was elated with the outcome: “They stepped up and presented with confidence. They definitely delivered.”
As this phase of the Streams of Zionism project wraps up, Morah Blit notes that this is really just the beginning of her students’ examination of Modern Israel. She notes, “Our work is not done yet. Each team researched only one stream and created an imaginary Israel that represented the Zionist leader’s ideology and personality. Through different activities, students are now learning from each other about the streams researched by peer teams. Additionally, teams will create electronic games about their streams, in Jeopardy-style formats, for use by sophomores in their Humanities class.”
Morah Blit shared her final thoughts about the biggest take-aways from the Streams of Zionism PBL: “First, I hope my students will be able to have conversations about Israel with a deeper understanding of its basic complexity. How did these visionaries influence Israel? On what, and how did they needed to compromise? How are these streams manifesting themselves in Israel today? And second, I hope that they will be able to apply different learning and life skills they used here when they are in college and later in the workforce. The soft skills they grew during this project will serve them throughout their lifetimes.” And those lifetimes will be students’ own histories in the making.


Newfangled Tech Meets Time-Honored Traditions
Camille McCue, PhD
Director of Curriculum Innovations
The Jewish holidays are special times for honoring traditions and celebrating with family and friends. They are also the perfect occasions for bridging the old with the new, employing technologies in novel ways which connect young generations to their Jewish ancestry and customs.  Curriculum Coordinator, Susan Tecktiel, and Technology Specialist, Rachel Ziter, talked about some of the exciting projects they’ve been conducting with AEC Lower School students this semester -- projects which bring together technology instruction with Jewish learning.
During Sukkot, fourth grade students designed and coded their own original games in Scratch. Can you share some details about the project?  
Rachel Ziter: The fourth graders created a game where the four leaves of Sukkot (Hadass, Lulav, Aravah, and Etrog)fell from the top of the screen and a player uses key control to move a bowl, catching the leaves. They learned how to draw the leaves and then used cloning to make multiple copies. Finally, the students made variables to count up how many leaves were caught and how many leaves were missed. Once a player caught enough (or missed too many), the game would take them to a winner (or loser) screen! 
How does coding a game help students learn about and observe Sukkot in an updated manner compared with more traditional instruction?
Susan Tecktiel: Designing and programming a computer game gives the students an opportunity to meaningfully integrate technology into their learning. Instead of traditional instruction, students are able to demonstrate their knowledge of the four species that are used during Sukkot -- their appearance and their symbolic meaning -- in an active way that features both art and analytical skills. A great example of this is Lear’s finished game.
Fourth graders also designed and 3D printed cookie cutters with Jewish shapes, which they will use with their Kindergarten buddies to bake cookies for Hanukkah. How did they go from an idea to a finished cookie cutter?
RZ: All students first created either a dreidel shape or the Star of David. They conducted their design work in Tinkercad, thinking geometrically and compositing a variety of 3D shapes to create a flat, solid version of their shape. Then, they duplicated that shape, turned it into a hole, and shrank it to have a slightly smaller perimeter than the solid shape. Grouping the two shapes together and extending their height resulted in the finished cookie cutters. The students printed them out, then worked on a second Hanukkah shape of their choice, for example a Hanukkiah, or an individual candle. 
What do you hope for students to take away from this cross grade-level, shared Jewish experience?
ST: A key goal was for the students to make their learning come alive with this experiential project. Ultimately, creating authentic ways for students to prepare for and celebrate holidays helps build our Jewish identity. The children combined their understanding of important symbols of a holiday and their knowledge of engineering design and 3D printing to make a real, functional object. Using the cookie cutters to make cookies to celebrate Hanukkah will be reinforced by making connections with younger students. The buddy event will take place in the Dining Commons at the end of November… we’re all looking forward to it!
Finally, I understand that the fifth graders are also working on a timeless Hanukkah activity, what is it? 
ST: Yes, they are making their own dreidels! Studying and fabricating dreidels presents opportunities to explore Hebrew, physics, game design, Jewish tradition, and engineering in a single project. (See the Startup Incubator webpage on Dreidel Fab at an overview of the project.) Students will use the dreidels they create in spinoffs in the classroom and a final spinoff in Shabbat just prior to winter break.
This seems like a project that would have been challenging to do without 3D printers.  How has this technology elevated the type of fabrication students can conduct?
RZ: Traditional construction might have involved clay or other materials, but adjustments were not quick to make. With the 3D printers, students can design iteratively, making changes rather easily. The size and shape of the pointed end present the greatest challenges in designing a dreidel -- students usually have to do a couple of redesigns in order to get this component right. It also takes some creative thinking to figure out how to print the dreidel in two parts, separating the spindle from the main dreidel. Interestingly, Tinkercad includes letters of the Hebrew alphabet, so it’s an actually an easy task for students to add Nun, Gimel, Hei, and Shin to the faces of the dreidel.
Any final thoughts?
ST: Whether it’s a coded game or a 3D-printed dreidel or Star of David cookie cutter, students love to take home their finished projects, sharing them with parents and grandparents. In the end, the processes are modern and technological, but the products are timeless -- known to every generation -- and representative of traditions worth preserving. 


Small School, Big Wins
Camille McCue, PhD
Director of Curriculum Innovations
A key advantage of attending a small, boutique school such as the Adelson Educational Campus is the highly personalized instruction which is custom tailored for each student. But we also recognize our critical obligation to prepare students for success in the more populous arena of college and career, where the competitors are many and fierce. One of the ways we are cultivating that competitive edge is by encouraging our students to step outside the school walls and compete in citywide and nationally recognized academic contests.
Our Adelson students have garnered some impressive awards over the years, with two recent wins standing out. The Adelson Lions UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) Team, during its first time in competition, won the 2018 Skybot Competition against a field of high school drone teams from throughout Southern Nevada. Points are earned in a variety of categories including building UAVs, designing drones for various load and agility challenges, and demonstrating in-flight skill, speed, and maneuverability. The Adelson team, comprised of current senior Ben Khavkin, junior Kalman Steinberg, and two recent graduates brought home the Skybot cup, with Kalman earning a deafening congratulatory cheer from the crowd for his perfect piloting. 
Just last week, sixth grader Chris Bao propelled Adelson to victory with his impressive win at the citywide MathLeague competition. Featuring paper-based problem solving and a Jeopardy-style Countdown round, MathLeague contests serve as feeders to ARML (American Regions Math League), the most nation’s most prestigious high school math competition hosted at universities each spring. Chris has been preparing for competition by reviewing Khan Academy math videos, practicing problems from workbooks, and enrolling in online contest prep courses from JHU-CTY (Johns Hopkins University – Center for Talented Youth). At the MathLeague event, his first math contest, Chris won First Place Sixth Grade, First Place Countdown Round, and First Place Team Sweepstakes. Chris was excited and humbled by his success, stating his enthusiasm for attending the forthcoming MathCOUNTS competition and encouraging his AEC peers to join him in future math competitions.
Ultimately, competition is not just about winning awards. Rewinding to weeks and months prior to a contest, we see the hours of consistent practice and steady perseverance that’s required when a student is honing his or her craft in preparation for the big showdown. Winning is a successful payoff, but so is losing: it provides insight into knowing the location of the competition ceiling, and motivation for reaching it – or crashing through it. It also results in socialization with like-minded peers who don’t attend your school, as well as respect for fellow competitors who continually raise the bar, pushing everyone to elevate their performances. In the end, “competition helps kids learn that it is not always the best or the brightest who are successful, but rather those who work hard and stick with it. Children who engage in competition earn critical social skills through interacting with other children, while also learning the value of hard work and developing self-esteem and self-efficacy." [McGuinness, citing Timothy Gunn, Psy.D]. 
At The Adelson Educational Campus, we are proud of all our amazing students and faculty and the tremendous academic successes, big and small, that they experience each day – both in the classroom and beyond the campus walls!
McGuinness, Devan. “Why Competition Is Good for Kids (and How to Keep It That Way).”


October 19, 2018

Crash Helmet Design, Prototyping, and Testing:

An Egg-Citing Physics and Engineering Design PBL 

“Learning to apply theoretical principles is much better done when given real problems and hands-on activities in projects” [Shekar, 2014]. As part of a schoolwide evolution towards authentic, project based learning (PBL), Adelson Upper School teaching teams are reimagining traditionally-taught content in the context of engaging and rigorous projects to be executed over several weeks. The Crash Helmet Design project, in which students create a device for protecting an “egg head” from a fall or crash injury, represents one such project. The project levels up the timeless egg drop challenge to instruct topics addressing multiple science and engineering standards.
Using an interdisciplinary approach, the project was conducted jointly by the science department and our Startup Incubator faculty. Content which had previously been delivered face-to-face via lectures, problem sets, and labs during the Mechanics phase of introductory, high school physics was reworked in a thematic, applied unit of study and formatted as a ten-day sequence of investigative and experimental activities. Throughout the redesign and implementation, the teaching team sought a retreat from the classic, teacher-centric instructional model and a migration towards “a collaborative culture for teachers and students,” a key, fundamental best practice of successful PBL [David, 2008].
The evolved Crash Helmet Design project applied physics concepts consisting of linear kinematics, Newton’s Laws, impulse, and elastic/inelastic collisions, teaching the basics of each concept “just in time” as applicable to the project. Simultaneously, students employed the Stanford design thinking process – empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing – to produce crash helmets for the purpose of protecting users from traumatic brain injury, using an egg to simulate a human head. Motivation for selecting the real-world problem of the crash helmet was derived, in part, from the age group of the target student audience: high school juniors and seniors who have recently received their driver’s licenses. Students’ new personal connections to a potential source of injury – car accidents which may result in traumatic brain injury (TBI) – fostered interest and stimulated investment in the first phase of the design thinking process, empathizing with the individuals affected by a specific problem. Each subsequent phase of the design thinking process hinged on the success of students’ initial buy-in, and each posed its own implementation challenges with regard to instruction and evaluation. 
Throughout the PBL (project based learning) unit, physics teacher Alexis Hilts and Director of Curriculum Innovations, Camille McCue, coached students in using a variety of technologies at various stages to construct and convey their learning. These included online research and graphical layout tools to create a TBI infographic; Google Sheets to record, analyze, and graph collected data; Quicktime to record a vlog; Coggle to create an ideation document; Tinkercad and Fusion 360 to design crash helmets for 3D printing; and Google Slides to construct final presentations following helmet drop testing.
Best practices for successful project implementation were sought from relevant literature, applied throughout the project, and enhanced by our own local experiences. Specific practices which proved critical to the success of the project included workspace planning, emphasizing reconfigurability of the work areas depending on the current design thinking phase; one-to-world technology access, including uninterrupted use of laptops and 3D printers; sufficient, at-school time-on-task, via block scheduling; formative evaluations, which required (for most tasks) transitioning to rubric-based authentic assessments in lieu of “right-or-wrong” problem sets; and instructional delivery methods, which ultimately took the form of flipped lessons, collaborative work sessions, and checkpoint meetings with instructors. Flipped lessons consisted of both original videos recorded by our instructional team and existing YouTube content, presented to students via our website ( The flexibility afforded by flipped lessons and an effective online learning management system (Edsby) proved uniquely necessary due to a variety of daily schedule inconsistencies including sports event absences and multiple Jewish holidays. Working both synchronously and asynchronously, students successfully executed the Crash Helmet Design project, exhibiting mastery in physics content, the engineering design process, and soft skills including research, collaboration, pivoting, and presentation.
Like any egg crash project, the culminating “drop day” featured students strapping eggs into their 3D-printed helmets, then dropping them from successively higher altitudes until either the eggs cracked or the helmets failed. Student teams measured the success of their designs against the problem statements they had previously written during the design phase, determining whether their helmets met, beat, or did not meet specifications. After cleaning up the occasional gooey splat, teams then presented their design thinking process and discussed the iterative steps to improving and refining designs, considering what it would take to finalize an egg crash helmet for production and distribution.
Most significantly, the Crash Helmet Design project brought to life for our students something which typically lives only on paper for high school physics students: equations of motion and the impulse formula. Conducting their problem-solving in an applied context showed students that computing a final velocity or a “delta t” is not the end of a problem, but the beginning of a solution – the solution to protecting heads from crash injuries. And that’s a real-world problem worth solving.


Shekar, A. (2014). Project-based learning in engineering design education: Sharing best practices. Retrieved from
David, J. (2008). What Research Says About Project-Based Learning.Retrieved from