Portland Jewish Academy is a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and is proud of our partnership with them in strengthening our local Jewish community as well as the global community.



Curriculum Corner

Giving you the Latest Insights into PJA Curriculum

Number Corner

Number Corner - by Betsy Bailey

Each morning, when Kindergarten and First Grade students gather on the floor to look at the calendar, they also begin “Number Corner,” one of the components of our rich math curriculum. Number Corner introduces, reinforces, and extends skills that students explore in math lessons and activities during other parts of the school day. Tied to calendar reading and the day of the month, each component of the Number Corner program engages students in thinking about numbers and patterns, and helps them visualize and verbalize important math concepts.

“Number Corner” is part of “Bridges in Mathematics”, a comprehensive, inquiry-based math program PJA teachers use in lower school (K-5) classrooms, along with the “Everyday Math” program (a comprehensive program of text books, math journals, and assessments), web based programs such as xtramath, and their own teacher-designed activities and materials.

Each month’s Number Corner Calendar features a collection of some kind—shapes, coins, etc. These images, along with the day of the month and day in the school year, are springboards for talking about and analyzing data, looking at patterns, solving problems, strengthening counting skills, and developing computational fluency. Geared towards a variety of learning styles, Number Corner materials include visual models like ten frames and number lines, and tactile activities such linking cubes and finger patterns.

One of the most exciting and meaningful elements of “Number Corner” is the emphasis on “real life” applications of math skills and the ways the calendar-related activities make math concepts come alive for students. For many students, the daily activities and routines that capitalize on the number of days students have been in school is a favorite. In Kindergarten, students create a chain, with a ring added each day to represent one day of school, to help concretize large numbers. To keep count of the days, students use tally marks (thereby practicing counting by fives) and unit sticks that give practice regrouping clusters of ten. The 100th day of school is marked as a special occasion, with a full day of special activities that help make the number real.

In first grade, Number Corner activities strengthen students’ computational skills and allow students to explore the different ways we use numbers and can express a given number. By focusing on the day of the month, students consider the many ways to use that number in equations and story problems, thereby developing and using strategies to solve single- and double-digit addition and subtraction problems. As the year progresses, and the symbols accompanying the days on the calendars grow more complex, students practice telling time, investigate shapes and fractions, and discover a variety of measurement tools and techniques.

Parents can help reinforce the wonderful learning students do through Number Corner by posting a large family calendar—or better yet, helping their child create a calendar each month, decorated with seasonal images -- and using it to count forwards and backwards to family and school events, holidays, and other note-worthy dates.

Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead

Full STEAM Ahead - by Betsy Bailey

PJA’s outstanding hands-on science program and engaging interdisciplinary, project-based learning are widely recognized as hallmarks of our excellent academic program. As teachers look at ways to further develop these curricular cornerstones, they have embraced the STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Art-Math) approach to teaching science.

STEAM and an emphasis on an inter-disciplinary approach to teaching science grew out of research at the Media Lab at MIT and is a major component of the recently published Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that have just been adopted by the State of Oregon. But the concept of STEAM is hardly new. Leonardo da Vinci recognized that science, math and art were interconnected, and drew from all disciplines as he deepened his knowledge and offered the world revolutionary ways of looking at anatomy, optics, engineering, and geology. At the core of STEAM is the “design thinking” approach to problem solving that in our time is what distinguished Steve Jobs’ innovations that have made technology so readily accessible to the lay person.

Funded by a professional development grant from PPS, Middle School Science teacher Sara Morton led lower school teachers in a two day science workshop this summer. Focusing on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), Sara designed activities to deepen teachers’ understanding of STEAM and how this approach helps students become problem-solvers and innovators. Teachers became enthusiastic students, working individually and in groups on model lessons that Sara designed to incorporate key components of the NGSS. Under Sara’s guidance, teachers examined the NGSS and refined and augmented their own grade’s curriculum to align with those standards. The focus of the NGSS is inquiry based, with a focus on how the application of scientific method and STEAM look at different age and grade levels. NGSS also identifies core content knowledge for each grade level. Teachers wrote lesson and unit plans that aim to deepen students’ work in areas already in the curriculum and added to the curriculum, making sure that students have opportunities to learn in all the core content areas identified in the NGSS. Teachers will continue working with Sara during their planning time throughout the school year and in additional science workshops on in-service days. Each classroom will also have access to additional science learning materials, due in part to the generous gift from two lower school families of a mobile science cart.

As a lower school faculty, we aim to include science learning in all units of study, and students will “do science” on an ongoing, regular basis throughout the year. In Kindergarten, students will be engaged in hands-on activities that explore water, habitats, weather, the life cycle of trees, and light. First graders will look at the life cycle of insects and engage in an interdisciplinary study of sea creatures and penguins. They will study the migration of birds, explore light and sound, and include an engineering component to the exciting math based Farm study at the end of the school year. The second grade curriculum has always been rich in social studies-science connections, and engineering design challenges will deepen the work students do as they study honeybees, bats, the rainforest and desert. Second graders also explore geology, chemistry and physics. As third graders engage in their interdisciplinary study of Portland, they will look at weather patterns and engineering, working in teams on bridge-related design-thinking challenges. As part of their literature study of Runt, they will study life cycles and the evolution of wolves and dogs. Other aspects of the science curriculum in third grade include forces in motion and electricity. As part of their on-going, interdisciplinary study of Oregon, fourth graders study fossils, plate tectonics, energy and power sources, and the life cycle of salmon. An overnight trip to Audobon’s Marmot cabin and several day trips during the year enrich this study and give students an opportunity to work in the field with and as scientists. Back in school, fourth grade students engage in lab work, growing their understanding of the scientific method through the study of waves and magnetism. Fifth graders build on that study as they conduct experiments to deepen their understanding of states of matter. Through individually designed “E-search” projects and a week-long field study at Islandwood, Fifth graders immerse themselves in the study of ecology and environmental ethics. A class reading of the novel Tuck Everlasting introduces an interdisciplinary look at cycles and an in-depth study of the moon integrates literature and creative expression with science, math, engineering and technology.

Spotlight on Hebrew

Spotlight on Hebrew - by Rabbi Chaiton

Aleph-bet and reading Hebrew play an integral role at PJA. Hebrew language touches almost every subject of our school in tefillah – prayer, chagim – holy days, Torah and of course Ivrit – Hebrew. For the past two years teachers have reflected on the program and approach we use in teaching the aleph-bet and Hebrew reading. We asked ourselves: Are we meeting the goals we want for our students? Are we best serving the needs of the students?

We looked at our current Tal Am curriculum and adapted the program to better serve our needs. For example, instead of introducing students to basic classroom and home vocabulary in first grade, appropriate parts of Tal Am are used in kindergarten. As students learn their letters they are also exposed to words that they can use in context of everyday life in school. Teachers used Tal Am as the basis for creative activities that give the students the opportunity to engage with Hebrew in a meaningful way. The Grade 3 puppet project required the students to read, write, ask and answer questions in order to create their skits. It was all based on the seder hayom – the daily schedule unit.

Focusing on fluency and accuracy students reading is regularly assessed. This information gives the teachers information and important data. Most importantly teachers use the information to make informed instructional decisions that target the needs of individual students in real time.

As part of their ongoing professional development teachers participated in a series of workshops from Israel presented by Otiyot Medabrot. It is an innovative curriculum and teacher training program for Hebrew reading based on proven methods of phonetic language instruction.

Studies have demonstrated that good phonologic awareness is a prerequisite for success in the acquisition of reading. Otiyot Medabrot teaches the foundations of Hebrew reading based on creating a high degree of phonologic awareness through the dissection of 25 one-syllable words into isolated phonemes. Within the school it has a wide range of applications, whether in the regular classroom or for student support.

As we begin the new school year, we are going to continue to look at aleph bet and Hebrew reading. We will see continue to use what best serves the needs of our students.

Discovering Taglit

Taglit is one of the most anticipated and exciting weeks of the school year for Middle School students. Read more

Student Drash Project

Stories Remembered: Maia Ross

When we think of Hanukkah, we think of dreidels, candles, and miracles. When we actually think about the story, we think of the menorah staying lit for eight nights and the Maccabees winning the war against the Greeks. In reality, the story goes much deeper than that. There are many different versions of this story, this is the one I usually think of.

Alexander the Great dies, leaving King Antiochus to take over the throne. Before this, the Jews and the Greeks had lived peacefully, side by side, with the Jews who followed Hellenism, people who acted, dressed, and lived like Greeks, and the Hasidim, who thought that they should stick to traditional Jewish ways. Then King Antiochus came to power. He thought that everyone should be Greek and worship him. He said that everyone had to bow down to the idols. Some of the Hellenists were unhappy, but went along with this. Others wanted to rebel. King Antiochus put a new priest in the Holy Temple. He was a Hellenist and did not do a good job. At this time there was a man named Mattityahu. He had 5 sons, named Yehuda, Eliezer, Yohanan, Yontan, and Shimon. They wanted to fight back. So they hid away in the hills and prepared. They called themselves the Maccabees. Then they launched a surprise attack on the Greeks. They won. When they went back to Jerusalem, they found the Temple a mess, with idols and dirt and dust. They cleaned it up, but they found that there was only enough holy oil to keep the menorah lit for 1 day. But the oil lasted for 8 days and continued to burn until they could make more. That is why we celebrate a miracle. I believe that Hanukkah is really a war victory though. Most of the Hanukkah story is based around the Maccabees fighting back.

We all like Hanukkah for the presents, the story, and the food, but we rarely think about the people. They must have been incredibly brave to face the Greeks, but they also didn’t try and control the Greeks. They must have been kind and considerate. I think that we should remember the people more. They might have had family and friends that they had to leave to go to war. Maybe they had children. Who knows? But I think that we should keep wondering, maybe finding answers. If we don’t remember the people, we can’t relate to the experience in the same way. It’s like all of Jewish history. Each individual person has his or her own story. It’s our job to remember them and pass them on to the next generation. Did your great - grandparents work as spies? Did they manage to escape countries that were try to pursue them? Or were they soldiers in a war? These are the stories that we are supposed to pass on, along with our own stories. If people didn't remember the miracle who knows if there would even be Hanukkah today? Would we make delicious latkes and sufganiyot fried in oil to remember how important the oil was to the Temple? Whether you celebrate Hanukkah or not, I think that we can all pass on our stories. Every story we hear, whether it be Hanukkah or a favorite family tale. Every family has their stories, the Hanukkah story is our story. We Jews who have fought for centuries to keep our freedom and religion. We have been slaves, fought wars, even founded a modern state. We may be one of the smallest nations, but I think we are among the strongest because we will never give up and we share our stories with our children. We are the ones who make sure that memories are never lost. We are the ones who retell those tales every year as the holidays come around. So my question for you is: What will your story to your children be?

Drash for Gratitude: Nayantara

When I thought about writing a drash about gratitude, I wasn’t really sure where to start. A few days after I was assigned this, my birthday came along. By then, I had all but forgotten about this drash. Anyways, I woke up on my birthday, and went into the dining room. When I got there, I gasped. The whole table was filled with presents. Thirteen, to be exact. As I was looking at those presents, I felt something stir inside of me. I think it was the beginning of real gratitude in me. I realized that I had taken for granted everything around me in my daily life. I realized how lucky I was. I know, that I’d heard people lecturing me about gratitude, and I had read about it too, but I never actually felt it deeply. I mean, yeah, I sometimes felt thankful for huge favors that were done for me, but I never really was thankful for the small things in my life that I take for granted.

I think it’s kind of funny that I finally realized how lucky I am was after twelve years of hearing people tell me how lucky I was, and never believing it. For example, the warm bed I go to sleep in with blankets on me, under a roof. A warm shower each night. A warm meal. And thirteen presents? I bet many kids around the world don’t even get one present. After I realized this, I felt really childish thinking back on how selfish I had been. Anyways, I think that you’ve heard enough about me and my birthday and realization of gratitude, hoda’ah. Now I want to send a hopefully strong take home message to you all. Even though some of you might not feel grateful for the small elements of your luxurious life that you can’t even imagine living without yet, I sincerely hope that all of you one day will have a sort of epiphany, like I did, though it doesn’t necessarily have to be on your birthday. Since then, every night I think about all the wonderful things and people I have in my life. I strongly recommend you do that. I was a bit hesitant to do it at first, but I realized after I did it, I felt a lot more lucky than I used to think I was. The world is a better place with grateful people inhabiting it.

Simchat Torah

Boker Tov and Hag Sameach everyone!

Today, we talk about beginnings and endings, moving forward. That is the essence of Simchat Torah. As we wrap up the end of the torah, no pun intended, the Israelite’s move on into the promise land without Moses’s guidance. We go to the beginning. God created life, the universe, everything from scratch. Each day he added another detail, progressing until he completes the world, and then creates man and women.

Each year we begin the Torah again, each year as we grow and mature, every new beginning has deeper and greater meaning. Our lives are like the creation, because every day we add a new detail to ourselves. New knowledge about who we are, and what we like to learn. Simchat Torah literally means Happiness of the Torah, because we celebrate the chance to read and appreciate our history, and find ourselves yet again.

I consider every year a new beginning, a new creation. We all move classrooms, meet new teachers, learn new things. This is my last year in PJA, so it has all the more meaning. Every day of learning is even more important now. Every event is more special. This, for example, is the last time that I will celebrate Simchat Torah in PJA. That motivates me to participate with double the enthusiasm, because this is the last time opportunity I have.

So I want all of you to think about your new beginnings. What do you want to keep from your experience last year, what do you want to try to improve? What are your goals for the year? What experiences are you looking forward to, and what challenges are you nervous about?

Enjoy the sweetness of a new beginning, hag sameach.

Hoda’ah – Appreciation/gratitude: Isaac

Shabbat Shalom!

A few nights ago, I stepped out of the shower. The time was nearing eleven o’clock. It was then that I took a moment to truly think. After dreading going to sleep, knowing I would have to wake up at 6:45, eat breakfast, brush my teeth, pack my bags, and start another day of sitting, writing, and homework, I realized what a kid tucked away in a remote corner of the Earth would give to wake up at 6:45 and commence my morning routine. How much better it would be than waking up earlier and having to walk the miles that they walk to retrieve clean water. Many kids in the world would give a lot to do my homework, so that they can learn, and maybe one day have a job. My homework would give those kids a chance to live a great life. A life that I was born into. A life that I may always have. But I don’t want to do my homework. I want to sleep in. I want to eat a glazed doughnut. I want drink Coconut water. I hope someday those unfortunate kids can do these things. I hope those kids know that I’m sorry for them. I hope they know that everything I have is because of them, because they were born into their situation, and I to mine, and every spot has to be filled. I could be where they are right now, but in all honesty, I hope they know that I’m too selfish to trade places with them.

I appreciate everything I have, because barely anyone else in our world has it: that night, a few nights ago, around eleven o’clock, I took a warm shower. I washed myself with soap. Then I brushed my teeth. With toothpaste. Then I went to bed in a warm comfortable bed. I had sheets and pillows and pillowcases. I’m thankful for all of those things appreciation, but not quite in the way that I talked about it. In the portion, the Israelites have almost made their way into the promised land. In fact, the Jordan river is the only thing in between them. Moses calls all of the Israelites, men, women, children, and elders together. He tells them that they will officially become G-d’s people, but first they must all agree to a great covenant. That which binds us to Judaism today. But the funny thing is, this covenant really isn’t that crazy. All G-d is asking of the Israelites is that they keep their faith in G-d and not stray from him. This means they can’t go worshipping other gods or idols. If they keep their promise to G-d, the Israelites are promised love and family and prosperity, but if they stray from the path, then G-d will curse them. This promise seems pretty legitimate. Really, all the Israelites must do is stay faithful. They’re just showing their appreciation to G-d for taking them out of Egypt and bringing them to the promised land. Staying faithful is the least they could do to show their appreciation. But throughout the years, this covenant has proved very difficult to keep. We Jews have broken our promise many times. And for a great deed like the one G-d did for us, we should always be appreciative. It seems to me that we humans sometimes forget about who or what helped us arrive where ever we are today. It was only a few nights ago that I remembered how fortunate I am. We should all be thankful for what a we have, because not everybody has it. I encourage you all to think about the positivity in your lives and be thankful for it. Because after all, there’s always somebody who would happily trade places with you.

In this week’s portion, Nitzavim-Vayelech, we see the theme of thankfulness and appreciation, but not quite in the way that I talked about it. In the portion, the Israelites have almost made their way into the promised land. In fact, the Jordan river is the only thing in between them. Moses calls all of the Israelites, men, women, children, and elders together. He tells them that they will officially become G-d’s people, but first they must all agree to a great covenant. That which binds us to Judaism today. But the funny thing is, this covenant really isn’t that crazy. All G-d is asking of the Israelites is that they keep their faith in G-d and not stray from him. This means they can’t go worshipping other gods or idols. If they keep their promise to G-d, the Israelites are promised love and family and prosperity, but if they stray from the path, then G-d will curse them. This promise seems pretty legitimate. Really, all the Israelites must do is stay faithful. They’re just showing their appreciation to G-d for taking them out of Egypt and bringing them to the promised land. Staying faithful is the least they could do to show their appreciation. But throughout the years, this covenant has proved very difficult to keep. We Jews have broken our promise many times. And for a great deed like the one G-d did for us, we should always be appreciative. It seems to me that we humans sometimes forget about who or what helped us arrive where ever we are today. It was only a few nights ago that I remembered how fortunate I am. We should all be thankful for what a we have, because not everybody has it. I encourage you all to think about the positivity in your lives and be thankful for it. Because after all, there’s always somebody who would happily trade places with you.

Yom Kippur: Julianna

We are gathered today to celebrate our highest holiday, Yom Kippur, also known as Day of Repentance or Day of Atonement.

I feel that the idea of at-one-ment (spelled the same way as atonement) best captures the essence of this day; for today, more than all other days, we are called to be at one with G-d.

What usually keeps us from being at one with G-d? From my own experience, I can say that one of the main causes of my forgetting the divine nature of the world are the many distractions that life offers. Entertainments, satisfying my desires, and engaging in selfish activities. Foremost amongst these distractions is eating, which is the reason we fast on this day. By fasting we express our determination to center our lives upon G-d rather than our appetites and desires. The purpose of the fast is not to torment ourselves, but to focus on that which is the most sacred in life.

Another cause of separation from G-d is carrying hatred, feelings of revenge, anger, grudges, and negativity against our fellow man and ourselves. Such feelings banish love from our hearts, and God is in the deepest essence, Love. By letting go of these feelings, by forgiving, we are forgiven by God.

I experience this very powerfully when I consider how we are destroying our own home, Mother Earth. Climate Change, cutting down our forests, polluting our air, water and earth, extinction of many species, the horrible mistreatment of animals especially in animal factories, the injustice of extreme poverty of millions while a few super-rich people enrich themselves even more, oppression and wars: we could have a paradise on Earth and instead we are turning it into an unlivable place. When I think of this, I often feel anger and despair, and I condemn those that commit these horrors. But in doing so, I pollute my own heart with negativity, and I lose touch with love. This is a great challenge: how to fight for a better world without hating those that are destroying it. I have no easy answer, but I know that I have to forgive, and recognize our shared humanity.

The idea is not to just live righteously for this one day of the year. Rather, the purpose of Yom Kippur is to set an example for how to live every day of the year.

My question for you is: How can we carry the awareness that we nurture on this day of Yom Kippur into the rest of the year?

Powered by Finalsite