Course Descriptions

Beit Midrash

9th and 10th grade: Rabbi Tavi Koslowe and Rabbi Zach Rothblatt

The Idea School Beit Midrash is a space for students to engage Judaic texts through a lens of personal inquiry, passionate engagement, and creative expression. Our units of study are designed to integrate with the essential questions and big ideas that are informing their humanities and/or science curriculum as well. By displaying and engaging with their learning through a variety of creative art, writing, drama and real-world applications, students emerge with a unique and deeply personal ownership of their Judaism and its continued relevance to their world. 

In the 9th grade Beit Midrash, as in humanities, we will begin the year by exploring our origin stories. With Sefer Bereishit (Genesis) as our primary text, students will engage in close readings and thoughtful seminars about the Biblical origin of existence, humanity, morality and monotheism. We will then leap forward to modern Jewish history so that each student can personally research and understand their family’s origin story and journey within the greater context of the Jewish diaspora.

As our students move on to study the habits of agrarian civilizations in humanities, we will study Sefer Bemidbar (Numbers) with a sensitivity to and appreciation for how many of those same habits of early civilizations were instilled within the fabric of our emerging nation. In the third trimester, as they study Ancient Greece and the foundations of our modern legal system, we will explore the Jewish concept of Tzedek U’Mishpat (Justice and Righteousness) as it is meant to inform every aspect of our lives, including medical ethics, business ethics and justice reform. 

In 10th grade, our essential question regarding the positive and negative impacts of interconnection will guide us through the rationale and complex application of the laws of Kashrut which, according to some, are meant to help guide us towards a healthy balance between isolation and assimilation. The student’s understanding of Kashrut will become essential as they utilize it in their entrepreneurial challenge of designing and operating a successful Kosher food truck in Bergen County.

As our students move on to discuss the innovations of the Renaissance, in the Beit Midrash we will explore the concept of Halachik innovation and creativity as it applied to the creation of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its implication for the corresponding laws of Shabbat. In the third trimester, as students consider a utopian vision for the world, we will explore the many different Zionist perspectives that shaped and informed the nascent state of Israel as well as the diverse and passionate perspectives that reflect the modern Jewish state.  


Engineering, Technology, and Entrepreneurship

9th and 10th grade: Mr. Aryeh Laufer

In this course, students will learn many vital engineering and computer science concepts and problem-solving skills to prepare them for the 21st century. The course will allow students the creative freedom to create their own products and projects while using the technological skills they’ll acquire. Projects will drive the learning, and students will be tasked with making and creating products like technological art, choose-your-own-stories (using coding in Python), and designing and building methods to control vehicles like rovers and rockets. Students will also use design thinking to create and pitch products, and hear from many entrepreneurs and computer scientists. Students will learn by doing, have fun, and develop a love of problem solving. 


Humanities

9th and 10th grade: Ms. Nancy Edelman

The Idea School Humanities program is a multidisciplinary approach to the study of what distinguishes us as humans--collective learning and civilization building.  The focus is on developing the habits that readers, writers, and historians use in the real world through exposure to great works of literature, primary source documents, articles written by experts in various fields, and engaging writing activities and projects. 

In the 9th grade, we will be piloting the Big History Project, a revolutionary and interdisciplinary approach to teaching history that zooms out and spans the 13.8 billion years since the Big Bang.  The first part of the course, all about the origin story of our universe, our planet and life, will be taught in tandem with our Earth and Environmental Science course, and then move on to the habits of Paleolithic people and the emergence of agrarian civilizations.  We will pause Big History in our third trimester to zoom back in on Ancient Greece and Rome, the foundations of our modern legal systems, to explore our whole school driving question: how do we create a just society? Along the way, students will write multiple document-based investigation essays in response to our driving questions, learn how to develop and test claims, and understand historical causation. They will also create a museum of ancient civilizations and other public products that will share their learning and ideas with the larger community.  

The English/language arts component of the course is fully integrated with our history study.  After reading origin stories from around the world and experiencing the process of brainstorming, drafting, feedback and revision, students will write their own family origin stories inspired by their exploration of their family history in Beit Midrash.  We will learn the elements of good storytelling by reading classic short stories as a class. Other class texts will include William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which will help us think about the challenge of creating a civilization, and the Greek play Antigone, which asks the question, what happens when one’s responsibilities as a citizen conflict with one’s moral responsibilities?  

We continue in the 10th grade with exposure to more complex texts and more practice in writing as students of history and literature, all while working toward real-world projects that connect the past to the present and the future. The 10th grade curriculum picks up in history at a time when the world was becoming interconnected through trade and exploration.  We will ask: what are the positive and negative impacts of interconnection? Using Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice as a literary lens with which to view this question, students will create dramatic presentations that highlight some of the issues raised by this very provocative play.  We will also look at some of the innovations of the Renaissance that led into the modern revolutions of the 18th century, and we will also ask, has the modern revolution been a positive or negative force? To answer, we’ll explore Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein along with the scientific and political revolutions taking place in the world, both at the time it was written as well as today.  Students will consider what the “Frankenstein monsters” of today might be through a publicly presented project. Finally, after exploring some of the popular dystopian literature of the 20th- and 21st-centuries, both as a class and independently, students will look to the future and create more utopian visions for a better world by designing sustainable and ethical cities and communities. 


Inquiry Beit Midrash

Mr. Aryeh Laufer and Rabbi Tavi Koslowe and Ms. Tikvah Wiener

The Inquiry Beit Midrash is a class that allows students to explore topics and questions they have about the world and then examine Jewish texts that relate to those ideas. Students then engage with those texts and create a product, project, or event from their learning. The purpose of the Inquiry Beit Midrash is to show students Judaism can be part of any discussion they want to have about the world; to get them comfortable finding and using sources in a Beit Midrash; and to empower them to make meaning from their learning by turning it into a personal project. This course was developed through JEIC’s HaKaveret Design Challenge by Rina Hoffman, Michal Smart, and Tikvah Wiener.


The Chaburah

Rabbi Zach Rothblatt

One of the Inquiry Beit Midrash sections is a course for students interested in learning Talmud at a fast pace and in a rigorous manner. Specific attention is given to the acquisition of textual reading skills. 

Mathematics

Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry: Ms. Rochie Sommer

Algebra I Essentials: Ms. Freidi Hyman

Math is the most traditional of the courses at The Idea School. Our core course sequence for ninth and tenth grade includes Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II. We also offer options for students to enroll in Pre-Calculus and Calculus, as well as essential classes for those who require more support as they engage in the rigors of the curriculum. Of course, embedded in each course is time set aside for SAT and ACT test prep, so critical as our students prepare for the next steps in their education.

Although our math courses are more traditional, they include time for self-reflection and self-guided growth, both of which are critical parts of our culture at The Idea School. After assessments, students are asked to reflect about the type of errors made (computational, conceptional or careless,) thereby allowing assessments to become formative. This structured iteration, even within math class, helps to motivate students to achieve at the highest levels possible and to demonstrate to them how capable they are. 


Science

9th grade: Ms. Rochie Sommer

10th grade: Mr. Gav Sturm

The Idea School Science curriculum engages students in the contextualization of science as it relates to all other disciplines and focuses not only on how to use the scientific method, but on how to do so to solve real-world problems. Science is a means to understand the universe we inhabit, the  planet we reside upon, the other creatures we share our planet with, and the building blocks of everything that exists. We read scientific articles, conduct laboratory experiments, use mathematics to explain and describe scientific phenomenon, and explore connections to different disciplines. A unique feature of the science program at The Idea School is that we are critical of how we as humans are using our scientific knowledge. We look at how we have affected the world around us and focus on how we can make a more positive impact on it. 

In the 9th grade, we are using the Big History Project, to study Earth and Environmental Science. Our study begins with contextualizing the Earth and its location in the solar system and universe. Students study scale and measurement, skills that they will carry with them throughout their study of science. As the students learn about the impact of the Big Bang and travel the path of the elements from Helium and Hydrogen to the establishment of the entire periodic table of elements, they are introduced to the basics of chemistry. They also explore the Physics underlying the  accretion and placement of each planet in our solar system. Finally, after learning about the surface environment of the Earth and human impact upon it, students will complete a culminating project in which they choose an environmental issue, study its impact scientifically, and determine the best restorative justice approach to rectify the problem.

In the 10th grade, students will study chemistry and will be taking on some of our most pressing environmental problems. We will dive into current water pollution contentions and renewable energy technologies. Our class will also be learning about how some of the most fundamental elements and compounds on earth play a central role in society. Looking at past catastrophes, present conflicts, and future solutions, we will bring together the core concepts of the chemical sciences to get a big-picture understanding of how the natural world and the social world are one and the same. This course is designed not only to give over foundational chemical knowledge, but also to develop students' scientific interests, thinking, and habits. 

Ulpan

9th and 10th grades: Mr. Tzach Yoked

Hebrew Language at The Idea School focuses on students’ acquiring fluency in reading, writing, speaking, and listening to Modern Hebrew. Students place into one of four Hebrew classes based on their fluency level, with Level 1 students using Brandeis University’s Beginner Hebrew book to lay the foundations of the language; Level 2 students becoming more familiar with the language by focusing on speaking, reading, and writing about themselves, their families, and everyday life; and Level 3 and 4 students using newspaper articles and videos in Hebrew to have high-level discussions in the language. Our aim is to grow the students’ comfort and familiarity with the language of the State of Israel and of our Jewish heritage. 

Equally important is the fact that our Ulpan classes help students develop a love for the culture and people of the State of Israel, through projects involving Israeli food, music, art, sports, current events, and more.