Playing in the Sand:Getting Ready for the RealSchool Summer Sandbox

Why am I going to a Jewish Education conference called the RealSchool Summer Sandbox? I’m not a Day School educator.  I work in Congregational Jewish Education. I’m a religious school director. My focus has been mainly in part time Jewish educational frameworks. What is it about The Sandbox that has intrigued me so much that I’m going to take a chance and travel to the wilds of Teaneck, NJ?   I think the answer can be found in the question.  I’m going to take a leap of faith.  I’m going to take that chance. I’m throwing something at the wall and I want to see if it sticks.

We know that Jewish education needs to undergo a transformation so that, simply put, we will have Jewish grandchildren. What has worked (or maybe not worked quite so well) for the past 50 years is fast becoming irrelevant.  All of us who are engaged in Jewish learning and teaching are looking at new models and innovative paradigms: Integrating technology, incorporating experiential education, creating student centered learning environments for our students who are learning in Jewish contexts, to name a few.  We don’t know what’s going to work, so we need to experiment.  We need to try new things without fear of failure.  We need to see what sticks.

I’m going to The Sandbox because it seems that it will be a professional learning experience that focuses on experimentation.  From what I can see, it has adapted the MIT Media Lab ethos of passion driven exploration (“hardfun”) and collaboration, and applied it to a Jewish educational setting, custom built for teachers to learn by doing and succeeding and failing.  You can read more about this idea in Frank Moss’s The Sorcerers  and Their Apprentices. I’m hoping that this will be a professional development  model that I can adapt in my congregational school, as well as in other Jewish learning settings, altering the way teachers learn, which will be reflected in how they teach, ultimately leading to a transformation in how and what our students learn and then do.

Yes I’m aware of the fact that most of the attendees are Day School educators and teachers.  So what? I’m going to The Sandbox because I believe that it is time to break down the walls that sometimes exist between Day Schools and Congregational Schools.  We have what to learn from and teach one another.  The  Edjewcon Jewish education conference,  held this past May In Jacksonville, highlighted educational experiences that I know can be adapted in both full-time and part-time Jewish learning settings.  That sense of collaboration has grown in the joyfully chaotic Facebook group – JEDLAB, a virtual phenomenon that, in a Jewish context at least, has gone viral.  I want to see if all of those thousands of words written in hundreds of discussions can be translated into action in real life on earth.

I’m going to The Sandbox to explore what it would take to build the foundations for tomorrow’s Jewish learning, today.

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Peter Eckstein

Director of Congregational Learning at Temple Beth David
Peter Eckstein began his career a Jewish educator in 1982 on Kibbutz Ketura, working with children of all ages and serving as the kibbutz Education Coordinator. In 1993 upon returning to the U.S. he became the Director of Education and Programming at Temple Israel in West Palm Beach. Currently he is the Director of Congregational Learning at Temple Beth David in Palm Beach Gardens. In addition, serves as the Technology Integration Educator for the Friedman Commission for Jewish Education.He was very active with the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education as programming co-chair, Shabbat chair and conference chair for several conferences. He has taught professional development for educators, Judaic adult education classes, and the Palm Beach County’s “Introduction to Judaism” course for those seeking to become part of the community. He is specializing in teaching educators how to integrate Education Technology into the Jewish classroom. He has also served on the faculty at URJ Camp Coleman as an informal Jewish educator.Peter is fascinated by how technology and experiential education will aid in the transmission of Jewish awareness to the next generations



  1. […] how I’d describe the recently concluded RealSchool Summer Sandbox conference. As I wrote  here,   prior to travelling to this event in Teaneck, NJ I had no idea what to expect, or if  it […]