Our Stories

Immersive Learning Week 2023

December 20, 2023 by Lisa Schopf (Faculty and Staff)

During the last week of the calendar year, the Middle School suspends typical classes to allow students and teachers to take a deep dive in a particular content area during Immersive Learning Week. This year’s offerings allowed students to stretch themselves academically, artistically, physically, and spiritually as they traveled in small groups throughout the DC area, digging deep into their chosen discipline.

North Campus Principal Lisa Schopf reflected, “It has been a phenomenal week of experiential learning in which the students broadened their interests and skills- even beyond what one typically encounters in a middle school curriculum. And they had a great time in the process!”

The Art of Paper

This week was all about using creative courage to explore the Art of Paper, learning from different artists, practicing different techniques, and having studio time to apply what we learned. We met with two artists who all use paper in different ways in their art. Melanie Dankowitz works in paper and metal, making beautiful laser cut and hand cut designs for ketubot, jewelry, and more. Rachel Farbiarz, showed us her collage technique where she cuts images from old books and uses them along with drawings to tell stories. The students recycled paper into beautiful textured paper, and made Suminagashi prints by floating water resistant paints on water, swirling them and lifting them with paper. After learning to use Exacto knives carefully, we made paper cuts by layering designs, making holes and thinking about color. Some students laser cut their paper designs. We were the first Middle School students ever to visit the National Gallery of Art Library and saw fantastic Artist Books that included pop-ups, three dimensional paper books, and hand-made paper. We also got inspiration from the Modern Art collection in the museum. We learned various folding techniques and laser cut paper for precision. Primarily, the students had studio time to create, invent, make mistakes, problem solve and hopefully learn that paper is actually unique and complex. Perhaps  some of them will start to love paper as much as the artists we met and their teachers!

Art: Passion and Purpose

In Art: Passion and Purpose, students explored the myriad ways that artists use a variety of media to express personal passions or to further a purpose in the world. They began by discussing questions about the role of art in social justice movements, what constitutes art, issues of representation, and the breadth of contemporary art.

  • On Friday, students visited the Renwick Gallery to see two exhibits. They explored the idea of space in Janet Echelman’s installation piece and sculpture, “1.8.” Echelman uses knotted net to create her moving sculptures, as well as lights that change color to signify the passage of time by mimicking a sunrise and sunset. In addition, students visited “The Honors and Burdens” exhibit which looked at the life of indigenous Alaskan tribes and their use of symbolism, and honored family, clans, and their communities. 
  • On Monday, the learners visited the Smithsonian American Art Museum where they engaged with an exhibition called American Voices and Visions, which took a close look at how contemporary American art has evolved over the past forty years. We also explored music’s place in art today, and spoke about whether music belongs in a traditional art museum. Before leaving for the museum, Dr. Derin delivered a brief presentation about westward expansion in the USA. In the exhibition Many Wests, the learners used this knowledge to interpret art based on this era, as well as the effect expansion had on the Native American people who encountered the “pioneers”. 
  • On Tuesday, the learners went to the Anacostia Community Museum where they grappled with understanding the pressing environmental issues that affect the people of DC. They learned about the displacement that happens as a result of gentrification, as well as the impact that climate change has on women. In the museum, the learners were hands-on in engaging with the many living art exhibitions that the ACM has to offer: quilt squares, button making, and remembrance walls.
  • Lastly, the students went to the Hirshhorn Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery on Wednesday. At the Hirshhorn, the learners saw art presented in a multitude of ways: Through words in Jessica Diamond’s Wheel of Life; through film in John Akimfrah’s Purple, through photography in A Window Suddenly Opens: Contemporary Photography in China, and sculpture in Simone Leigh’s exhibition. Additionally, they had a truly immersive experience in Laurie Anderson’s Four Talks installation. Throughout the gallery, the learners were challenged to consider the purpose of the medium chosen by the artist, as well as the message in their art. At the Portrait Gallery, the learners analyzed the portraits of environmentalists, activists, and presidents, while considering how a portrait of a person can represent their ideals, their values, and their personality.

Physics of Flight

Students in the Physics of Flight ILW group loved visiting Boeing Headquarters in Arlington, VA. After hearing from a career panel and learning about Boeing’s innovative work, students made and tested their own mini rockets. Other highlights of the week included learning about NASA’s planned mission to Mars at Udvar Hazy, the planetarium at the Smithsonian Air and Space museum, a design challenge in which students re-imagined the international terminal of Ben Gurion airport, learning about how airplanes are made at with a former IDF air force mechanic at the Gaithersburg Airport and learning all about model airplanes. 

Animation Inspiration

We had an incredible week in Animation Inspiration! In just one week students created their own stop-motion videos from scratch, each focusing on a different story from the Navi or Gemara. Students created characters from clay and foil/wire, wrote scripts, painted their own sets, animated their videos using stop motion technology, and even made their own voice-overs! On Tuesday, we had the chance to visit the Museum of the Bible to observe different techniques for bringing Biblical stories to life. Throughout the week, students collaborated within their group to work on the sets, gave each other constructive feedback, and helped bring each other’s stories to life!

Adventures in the Outdoors

In Adventures in Nature, students immersed themselves in the natural world and experienced navigating and exploring a variety of environments, and weather, and connecting with each other and themselves. Through daily hikes, we confronted new challenges and stepped out of our comfort zones in different ways. Be it staying outdoors and in the cold for many hours each day, traversing steep rock formations, or communicating with a new friend of a different age, we discovered untapped personal resources within ourselves. Our itinerary included scrambling the Billy Goat A trail, climbing to Chimney Rock on Catoctin Mountain, trekking in Rock Creek Park, climbing Sugarloaf Mountain (which is a monadnock), and fire-building in Rock Creek Park. By spending time developing physical stamina and strength, cultivating situational skills, and experiencing awe in natural venues, we absorbed a sense of centeredness and purpose as individuals and a group.

Cryptography, Spies, and Espionage

In this exciting week of puzzling intrigue, our students explored the multiple aspects of espionage – examining the conflicts, trade-offs, adventures, intrigue, sense of mission, gadgets, tradecraft, and cryptography that all are part of the life of a spy. We solved multiple codes, including cyphers, frequency codes, and cryptograms and engaged with memory challenges and mind game strategies. The students also researched and wrote about the Cold War-era case of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, a couple who was convicted and executed for being spies passing along atomic bomb plans to the Soviet Union. The students wrote thoughtful analyses in their defense/prosecution or to argue that the sentence should have been different for one or both. On Monday, we met over Zoom with Matti Friedman, an Israeli author, who shared about his book Spies of No Country and connected his findings with current circumstances in Israeli society and intelligence. On Tuesday, at the Spy Museum, we assumed cover identities and solved puzzles and codes as we also learned about the role espionage has played in national and global events and interactions. On Wednesday, we applied our problem-solving and collaboration skills in a variety of “escape room” challenges. On Thursday we worked on the second of two cryptology challenges that Expert Cryptologist Wendy Herndon designed just for our group- and we went out to Rock Creek Park to apply our observation skills “out in the field.” It was wonderful to see the students engaging with challenging problems with grit and out-of-the-box thinking, to watch them connect with peers from within their own grade and across the grades, and to witness the joy and enthusiasm that they brought to this week of  experiential learning.

MILTON Mitnadvim

MILTON Mitnadvim (volunteers) spent the week giving back to the community by helping different populations of people, animals and the environment.  We introduced the week by explaining the concept of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and discussed performing mitzvahs.  We kicked off the week by making 588 sandwiches and about 300 bags of trail mix to donate to Martha’s Table, an organization that serves people experiencing homelessness and food insecurity.  We also made projects to beautify the empty Shabbat table, which is set up every Friday on the National Mall. We made flowers, decorated kiddush cups and challah covers.  Our group will have the opportunity to set up the table on January 5th.  On Monday, we volunteered at Days End Rescue Horse Farm, a place that works to rehabilitate horses which have been abused throughout their lives.  Our hearty group of volunteers cleaned stables and shoveled manure.  On Tuesday, we sorted clothes, books, toys, housewares at the Wider Circle, then moved on to sort athletic equipment for underprivileged schools at Leveling the Playing Field.  On Wednesday, we worked with the Rock Creek Park Conservancy to remove invasive species to help save the trees and forest.  On Thursday, we went to Bikur Cholim – a home that serves patients and families getting treatment at NIH.  Our group was enthusiastic, empathetic, hard working and respectful in all the environments. Each organization was so appreciative of all of the students’ hard work.