Sixth Grade Summary of Units, Goals and Key Concepts
All units in the sixth grade Etgar curriculum share certain educational and Jewish commitments and approaches that are reflected in the choice of materials and activities.
The units described below are all based on 4-MAT, an educational approach that starts with the students' development and interests and honors a variety of learning styles, while encouraging cooperative and performance based learning. The curriculum incorporates a variety of individual and group projects using media, art, skits, researchand text study, as well as more conventional reading and writing. Family education is also a component of most of these units.
Each unit of the curriculum is designed to help emerging adolescents understand that Judaism and its traditions and texts can be useful, active components in their own lives. The topic of each unit was chosen for both its importance to Conservative Judaism and its interest to sixth graders./p>
Sifrei Kodesh (Sacred Texts)
This unit is divided into two main parts:
- Introduction to Judaism's Sacred Texts - This part of the unit introduces students to the "tools of the trade" of Judaism: the Torah, Mishnah, Talmud and Shulchan Aruch. Since texts from these basic books appear throughout the curriculum, Sifrei Kodesh creates a basis for understanding all the others units that follow. The unit opens with an all-sixth-grade event, Yom Rishon at Hagwarts, a takeoff on Harry Potter, that introduces the books the students will learn about. Then, in small groups, students familiarize themselves with these seminal texts while creating a poster size mock-up of a website for each book.
- Tza'ar Ba'alei Hayim (Kindness to Animals) - This part of the unit serves as a case study, or example, to help students understand how Jews throughout the generations used sifrei kodesh to derive Jewish values that guide their lives, and how ancient texts can be relevant to our lives today. This subject was also chosen because caring for animals is of interest to, and in the experience of, sixth graders. Students consider sifrei kodesh and more recent Jewish texts addressing the challenge posed by using animals in modern medical research. Here, as in other units, the approach and examples are illustrative of Conservative Judaism's perspective on halachah.
See lessons 1-3.
Early adolescence is a time when young people begin to define themselves more and more in terms of their friends and less and less in terms of their family. Another critical aspect of an early adolescent's process of defining the self is questioning the validity of religious tradition. This unit provides an opportunity for sixth graders to explore the often painful issues surrounding friendship within the context of the very tradition that many of them are questioning.
So "Friendship" helps the students relate Judaism to their own lives, from the opening video clips from "My Girl" to the haftarah about David and Jonathan to the Mishnah and the "Wisdom of Ben Sira" to writing their own friendship "mishnayot," students are learning that insights and advice from thousands of years ago can speak to them today. Guidelines and models from the books of our tradition help us to be better friends through understanding the many ways that people in friendships can, or do, treat each other. We are thus-as knowledgeable Jews-able to learn to be better friends.
Again, the texts not only tell the students something about friendship, they also intended to add to the students' growing understanding of the nature of those texts and the role they play in forming Jewish values over the centuries. As in other units, students continue to learn how Conservative Judaism uses these texts in its approach to Jewish life.
This unit on the dietary laws does not assume that most of the students come from homes that keep kosher; rather it serves as an introduction to this important part of Conservative Jewish practice. Since kashrut is a central principle of the Conservative movement, those who choose not to observe it need to understand it sufficiently to accommodate the needs of their fellow Jews who do. Students, along with their families, are encouraged to try it out, not made to feel guilty for not observing it. It is interesting that this unit, despite the small number of students from kosher homes, has been one of the most popular in the curriculum.
But the unit explores many Jewish concepts that reach way beyond kashrut itself, such as holiness, kindness to animals, obligations of mitzvot, unity of the Jewish people, character development and the Conservative movement's approach to understanding faith and the historical development of halachah. This list, however, does not capture the concrete, hands-on nature of this unit of study. Shopping , cooking and sharing a kosher meal with sixth grade families, trying it out in "kosher week," developing kosher restaurant menus or skits all contribute to its popularity.
The unit begins with the exploration of faith, triggered by scenes from the movie "Karate Kid." It explores primary and secondary reasons for observing kashrut, then looks at what is kosher and what is not and the derivation of the laws of kashrut before putting it into practicefor a kosher meal and kosher week.
Bikkur Holim (Visiting the Sick)
This unit is designed to explore Jewish values and practice in an area of life where students have some limited experience. Early adolescents want to help others, to make a difference,and here, as with friendship, the rabbis apply our basic books to helping Jews understand how to help those in need of comfort or assistance.
The unit, beginning with the video "Alan and Naomi," helps students to distinguish between doing a nice thing for someone and the obligation of a mitzvah. Jewish texts and rabbinic guidelines provide students with the tools and skills for performing this essential mitzvah. Students share their feelings and concerns about visiting the sick, write skits, discover little-known aspects of Jewish history, consult ancient texts, learn about and explore what to do when visiting, grapple with reasons for performing the mitzvah, and apply their knowledge by making an actual visit, make welcome home baskets for patients returning from the hospital, and share their knowledge with peers by drafting a guide to bikkur holim for teens.
As with all units, students are encouraged to grow in their understanding of the origins and development of this important gemilut hasadim value.
Iyun Tefillah Units
Because sixth graders are nearing that all-important Jewish event in their lives, becoming a bar or bat mitzvah, the curriculum focuses on the Shabbat service. The two units of the sixth grade tefillah curriculum are designed to help students understand the meaning and structure of that service in a Conservative synagogue, while mastering the skills for participating in and/or leading it. These units encourage a greater comfort with prayer on the part of the students and provide the opportunity to reflect on some their questions about God and the meaning and importance of concepts such as revelation, holiness and Shabbat in Jewish life. Note: Because students in different schools are at very different levels in Hebrew reading, using the siddur each school can tailor Hebrew instruction to fit its own needs.
- Avot - In the opening of the Amidah bracha, we seek to know God through our experiences and through the experiences of our ancestors. Understanding these experiences, primarily through text study, helps Jews develop a relationship with God today. Beginning with the familiar, students consider the messages of the "circle of life" from the Lion King before embarking on study, in hevruta, of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.
- Gevurot - This section of the service, and thus of the unit, is about exploring God's power and our own, striving to imitate God's ways, striving to act in the image of God. A variety of exercises help students reflect on these ideas.
- Kedushah - With a focus on the relationship between the choreography of this prayer and the holiness we seek to encounter, students both practice the service and write their own kavanot.
- Kedushat Ha'yom - The central part of the Shabbat service celebrates the uniqueness of Shabbat, God's gift to the Jewish people, and the ways in which the Jewish people have cherished that gift. Students learn about Abraham Joshua Heschel's "island in time" concept of Shabbat.
- Modim/Sim Shalom - Prayers of thanksgiving and peace.
See lessons 11-14.
Students are motivated to master this service because they know that within a year or so they will be a part of it as they become bar or bat mitzvah. As they learn the service, they will have an opportunity to demonstrate their skills to their parents in a service they lead at the end of the unit.
The Torah service commemorates the revelatory moment at Sinai; through the liturgy and choreography we remember Sinai and celebrate the ongoing relationship every Jew has with the Torah.
The unit opens with a study of the Sinai experience, when God gave the Torah to the Jewish people. Students are introduced to the concept of revelation through text study and a clip from the film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."