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Ben Bag Bag’s Classroom: Flipping Jewish Education on its Head

by Dan Brosgol on behalf of Prozdor: The High School of Hebrew College / January 30, 2012

Rabbi Ben Bag Bag taught; Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it. Reflect on it and grow old and gray with it. Don't turn from it, for nothing is better than it.  (Pirke Avot 5:24)

Ben Bag Bag’s quote is memorable for two reasons.  First of all, Ben Bag Bag is one of the best names in Rabbinic literature.  Secondly, Jeff Klepper made a famous song from the words, which you’ve probably heard before (but in case you’ve missed it, here it is).

Ben Bag Bag was talking about the Torah when he was immortalized in Pirke Avot with this quote.  But he could very well have been talking about not the word Torah as the Torah, our sacred text, but Torah as in “teaching”, which is its actual translation.  And if Torah in this case means “teaching”, then the quote is more relevant than ever.

Terms like “flipped classrooms” and “upside-down classrooms” are getting a lot of play in educational circles.  In these classrooms, the focus moves away from the teacher as the deliverer of curriculum and the gatekeeper of all knowledge, or as the “sage on the stage”, and towards the empowerment of students to create learning experiences through the innovative use of technology.  Lectures and instruction may be delivered digitally, and class time is devoted to students working, creating, and exploring.  The hallmark of a truly flipped classroom?  Students as teachers.  Talk about flipping something on its head.

This threadbare definition of flipped classrooms is inadequate, but it captures the idea. 

Here at Prozdor the flipped classroom is just the beginning of vision that is coming into focus.  But it is clear that we must let go of a vision of top-down instruction to passive recipients of curriculum and teaching and develop a model that makes room for the learner to actively create meaning and relevancy through teacher facilitation and guidance.

Our challenge is to move the school away from a teacher/curriculum/content-from-the-top-down-driven school to one in which the role of the teacher is quite literally being turned on its head.  We must move towards teachers as enablers and technology as the medium used to empower student learning and student self-direction.  We must move away from once-a-semester projects and towards virtual portfolios full of the results of project-based-learning. 

Prozdor has always been about excellence.  Excellence in teaching, excellence in curriculum development, and excellence in innovation.  Now it’s time to learn from best practices in teaching a new generation of digital natives and marry the new reality of technology with the curricular resources and human capital that are the hallmark of Prozdor.

It’s time to channel the words of Ben Bag Bag and take our vision of teaching and learning and turn it on its head.  Then we can reflect on it, grow old with it, and continue to keep our vision relevant and dynamic as we teach the next generation.


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