With Galil (8th grade), the only shiurim are what they're calling Mini-Rotations, with an emphasis on integrating Jewish values into your everyday lives. So, how do you play football in a Jewish way? How do you go to the movies, hang out with your friends, surf the internet, or do your homework in a Jewish way? While some of it is, clearly, just about using Jewish vocabulary to refer to day-to-day experiences (you're not being kind to someone but exhibiting 'chesed' etc.), there is a real sense on camp that these kids are now exploring the values that we've been teaching them in a frontal fashion for themselves without any kind of tether, and that's making a huge difference.
I'm going to be doing my teaching on comics, superheroes and being a mitzvah hero. Part of this is my own comfort zone: I've never been good at doing "Torah study and canoeing" or whatever (not to dismiss the idea--I just can't pull it off) and I happen to know something about this subject, both as a collector of comics (though by no means a comic book guy), and as someone who's done a little study (and a little teaching) on the Jewish connection to the comics industry (this article gives you a good taste, as does this recap of an article in Reform Judaism a few years ago). And, what 8th grader (well, 8th grade boy) doesn't like comics? Especially superheroes? Superheroes (or mythological heroes, like the Golem) tap into a psychological need on our part (especially as adolescents) to be both empowered and saved, so why not by a guy in blue tights, who's secret identity is someone as 'weak' as the rest of us are?
It's funny, I've been re-reading Alex Ross' Marvels, which looks at these superheroes through the eyes of regular people (also a theme of his Kingdom Come miniseries), and what comes out is both how small we seem compared to them (hints of the 10 spies in parashat vayishlach, seeing themselves as grasshoppers?), and as a result, how we could both never measure up to that standard, and how we are never satisfied by the good works of others. Do we have the same reaction to those who are observant, that somehow, their performance of mitzvot minimizes our Jewish experience ('they're more religious than me') and causes us to judge our own abilities as wanting ('I could never do that')? Hopefully, the kids will come away from the program having done some cool art, but also thinking of how they can be mitzvah heroes in their own right, feeling both empowered and capable of doing some good in the world.