Monday, June 9, 2014

Religious School 101: The Importance of Chutzpah

Learning about chutzpah isn't traditionally part of Hebrew school curriculum, but Israel's new place as a major player in the global technological expansion is causing everyone to sit up and take notice of how the famous Israeli "chutzpah" may be behind Israel's new reputation as the world's Start Up Nation.

What is chutzpah? In her class with the 4th graders at Vancouver's Beth Israel Hebrew School, JETS director Smadar Goldstein opened up the question: How do you define chutzpah? What is there in the Israeli character that has propelled Israel into first place as the world's most innovative country?
From an overview of the amazing inventions and advances that come out of Israel on an almost-daily basis, Smadar created an online lesson that encouraged the students to look at the phenomena in a different light.
·         Who were the start up personalities of the Tanach?
·         What does it mean to "leave your comfort zone" and explore the possibilities that await?
As the lesson progressed, Smadar linked the 21st Century Start-Up nation with the Tanach. She pointed out that the Torah is not a storybook but is, rather, a list of incidents and people who break the mold to become great. This teaches us that we have the ability to change, to break out of our mold - To not only answer a call, but create one to answer.

The students took parts in a skit which illustrated Judaism's first start-up personality – Abraham. They read the skit aloud. Some of the highlights:

The kids were enthralled with the subject. After watching the short clip of the role that chutzpah plays in Israel's rise as a leading force of innovative technology they expressed pleasure in the realization that chutzpah was a valued commodity in Israel.

 "omg, Israel invented the playstation."

"chutzpah: I've got chutzpah!"

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

JconnecT – An Interactive Complementary Religious School Option that has Kids Asking for More!

Over the course of the past several decades, reams of reports and piles of papers have been written about what's wrong with complementary Jewish education in North America.
The hours are inconvenient….parents are uninvolved….the subject material doesn't relate to the students' lives….participation often requires mandatory Temple/Synagogue membership which pushes up the price….discipline is lax….staff members are not always well-trained…..
There is, however, much that is right in Hebrew School education. This is particularly evident when looking at some of the educational models that have been developed over the last 10 years or so in which Religious school professionals have recognized the problems in the system and have taken steps to rectify the issues.
The new online Hebrew School offers one such model. Suddenly, as students study Judaism online, they find that they are actively-engaged in an interactive and engaging online complementary school where they have the opportunity to learn meaningful subjects through stimulating experiential activities.
Online religious school offers students the opportunity to learn about their heritage from the comfort of their own home. Parents can easily be involved, to the extent that they wish, by simply joining the lesson. The lessons can be scheduled at a time that's convenient to the child and family, and the instructors, can be located anywhere in the world, ensuring that professional and proficient educators facilitate the classes.
JETS has been running the online JconnecT Hebrew school for 3 years. Each year the school grows as more and more families recognize the benefits of online Jewish learning and decide to offer these advantages to their children.
Judging by the evaluation comments of this year's students, the 2013-2014 school year was the most successful year yet. Students from North Carolina, Omaha Nebraska, and other far-flung regions "met" virtually every Sunday morning with Michal Lashansky, a professional educator based in Israel.     
Throughout the course of the year, the students learned about Jewish traditions, holidays, ethics, language, culture and more via participatory project based learning activities which included discussions and debates, online presentations, collaborative projects, posters, online bulletin boards and audio and video casts. Some of the highlights of the year included
·         ordering a falafel (in Hebrew)
·         hearing people in a local mall describe how they celebrate Chanukah
·         reviewing celebrities who embody Jewish values
·         presenting about Judaism and healthy living
·         identifying Jewish heroes
·         discussing Israeli leaders
·         examining the question of what makes Israel a Jewish state

When asked whether they would recommend JConnecT to a friend, the entire class answered in the affirmative.

JconnecT will begin again for 5th – 8th graders in September 2014. Registration opens June 2014.

" I learned so much about this then i ever could before and i really like this school because i learned more then i learned before." JConnecT student, course evaluation, 2013-2014

" I love shopping!!!!! and I thought that it was cool to learn about all the different things Israel has made in such a short time." JConnecT student, course evaluation,  2013-2014

"Interesting and not too difficult …. I learned a lot of new things from this class.". JConnecT student, course evaluation,  2013-2014


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

PBL Works for Testing Too!

It's springtime and, as any parent of an Israeli high-schooler will tell you, it's Bagrut season. The dreaded matriculation exams have begun, but in truth they occupy high schoolers' thoughts throughout the entire school  year. Starting in September, the teachers start dangling the carrot over the kids' heads with almost every activity, every test and in every unit of every subject. My fifth child is now in the middle of her 11th grade exams. I've actually heard teachers remind her that "you won't finish your Bagruiot if you don't……" since she was in 5th grade!

The unfortunate thing is that, as these kids study intensely for their matriculation exams, they very rarely retain any of the material for more than a few weeks beyond the test. I recently sat at a Shabbat table with my kids, now mostly in their 20s, as they struggled to remember even the basic elements of some of the history and Tanach that they had blissfully "passed" (with reasonable scores) a few years previously.

Beyond giving "The Grade", how else can educators use evaluation tools to assess student learning? One of the benefits of project based learning, discussed in previous blogs, is that it provides opportunities for alternative assessment techniques, many of which place the students in the role of self-assessment. Edutopia writes that, in the same way that Project-Based Learning models promote "directors and managers of their learning process, guided and mentored by a skilled teacher," project-based evaluations drive students to develop the skills that they will need in the future as they enter a knowledge-based technological society.
JETS has embraced this strategy.  Yeshivat Kadima's Contemporary Jewish Issues students have repeatedly noted that they appreciate PBL evaluation methodology and feel that they learn and gain more than when they are evaluated by traditional testing formats.

To sum up a year in which the students studied Jewish history in the light of Contemporary Jewish Issues, Smadar Goldstein, the instructor, assigned the students to summarize the final units of the course, Lopsided Prisoner Trades, Jewish Military Ethics and What Makes Israel a Jewish State? 
The students were given their choice of how they wanted to present their summary. Options included writing an additional stanza for the poem במה אברך ובמה מבורך  which relates to returning captives, writing a blog post that reflected on soldier Aharon Karov who joined a battle in Gaza the day after his wedding and the motivation of Israeli soldiers, or creating a Google presentation that showed varying approaches to a prisoner trade, an example of what makes a Jewish State and an example from a "meeting" with a combat soldier and how it affects Jewish identity or feelings about Israel.
In addition to the final assignment, other PBL evaluation tools that Smadar has used throughout the course include
·         Oral projects (debates,  oral presentations)
·         Products (making games, posters and brochures)
·         Multimedia (creating PPT presentations, audiocasts and videos)
·         Writing (letter-writing to historical characters)
·         Collaborative projects
·         Analyses of decisions made by Jewish leaders throughout history
Yeshivat Kadima student final project
Yeshivat Kadima student final project
Yeshivat Kadima student final project
Yeshivat Kadima student final project
Smadar notes that it's important to be flexible when creating PBL assessments. Sometimes she gives the students clear rubrics which will be used to evaluate the assignment while at other times she gives herself the option to use her own estimation of the students' progress.
"Until now I never realized how relevant Jewish history was." Yeshivat Kadima student, final evaluation, 2014
"I enjoyed learning this way especially because I could always work on it and I felt I was pulling knowledge and references from everywhere. I also felt like I was developing informed opinions of my own. I was given material and I was able to draw on outside and inside knowledge and form MY ideas and opinions, which I think is important for us at this age." Yeshivat Kadima student, final evaluation,  2014
"I absolutely would recommend this program to another student because I think that this class doesn't only teach fascinating information, but it also teaches the students how to become a different type of learner, and this is a skill used for life." Yeshivat Kadima student, final evaluation,  2014

Friday, May 30, 2014

Please Sir, Can I Learn Some More -- Flipping the Bar/Bat Mitzva

By now many people have seen the story about Lisa Kudrow's son who, during a visit to the mall, was given the opportunity to don tefillin and a kippa and "have a Bar Mitzva."

Most Bar and Bat Mitzva celebrations involve more serious preparation than Lisa's son experienced, but sometimes you have to catch Bar/Bat Mitzvah age students where they are.  

Temple Emanuel of Pascack Valley piloted a new type of  "flipped" religious school program this year. Bar and Bat Mitzva students split their Temple School attendance – meeting at the Temple one afternoon each week and alternating that with a distance learning program that allowed them to study online in their own homes about Judaism and Israel over the course of the winter and spring months.

Using a variety of elearning tools and dynamic subject material the students explored,  debated and reflected on subjects which focused on "Remembering and Rebuilding", and ranged from how we memorialize the Holocaust to Holocaust heroes and from the rebirth of the State of Israel to what makes Israel a Jewish and democratic state.

One of the most unique aspects of the program centered on the involvement of parents in their childrens' studies. As students studied at home, the parents had a chance to observe the curriculum and, frequently, participate with their child.

To conclude the unit the students created a class book of poetry and artwork that summarizes their learning experience. The majority of the students inquired about continuing the program next year. 

"They were interesting."
"I just love learning about israel and this is probably the best way I've learned about Israel."
"I enjoyed everything."
"It was better than going to Hebrew School."
"It was fun and different."
"I enjoyed learning about them and the activities we did."
"Fascinating. very interactive."
I think that it was great in every way.
"There's not much to improve because it's already amazing."

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How to Take a Basic In-House PD Course and Create a Tsunnami of Interactive and Meaningful Innovation

School administrators usually organize their professional development sessions by grade level or subject. These groupings generally place educators in PD sessions with other educators who teach similar material.

In a break with this traditional arrangement, Yeshivat Noam of Paramus, NJ organized a year-long PD course that combined live Face2Face sessions with online meetings for educators who spanned the spectrum from Judaic studies teachers to general studies instructors, Hebrew specialists, and resource room professionals. Some of the participants had extensive experience in online learning while others were just beginning to get their feet wet in the new technologies and techniques of today's elearning. Participants were grouped according to their familiarity with technology rather than by subject matter.

Students at Yeshivat Noam have access to chrome books and ipad tablets in the classroom, and the school invited teachers to join the course in order to promote strategies and methodologies that would allow them to maximize student learning via 21st century platforms and tools. Each month a different set of online tools was presented. The course covered audio, video and written tools, with a focus on those most applicable to the chrome book.  

During the course the participants explored the use of Learning Management Systems as a technique which helps students organize their work, stay better connected with the teacher, remain clear on instructions, and work collaboratively with peers. The course facilitator, JETS director Smadar Goldstein, highlighted Haiku LMS as a preferred LMS system and gave examples from her own innovative Contemporary Jewish Issues class that she has been teaching this year at YeshivatKadimah in St. Louis.

The final sessions of the course focused on guided Project-Based Learning models. The participants reviewed and practiced PBL strategies including developing driving questions and maximizing students' voices and choices. This topic was highlighted by two Yeshivat Kadimah students who "joined" one class session – virtually from their school in St. Louis -- to discuss their experiences with their PBL Contemporary Jewish Issues class and display their projects that they created as part of their studies. The participating teachers ended the program by generating driving questions and student based methodologies for a PBL unit that they hope to implement next year.

At the end of the course many teachers shared their impressions of their experience.

"…allows the student to think outside of the box. "
"…made for some excellent class discussions! "
"I think this will be helpful/useful in my class -easy to set up and create. "
"Easy for students to use"

Monday, May 26, 2014

JETS PD Programs Take Off

"As online learning becomes an increasingly important part of our educational system, it creates both the need for educators who are skilled in online instruction and the demand for greater knowledge of the most effective practices"                U.S. Department of Education
2013-2014 has been a banner year for JETS professional development initiatives!! JETS expanded its Online "No Teacher Left Behind" PD Course and its Online and Face to Face "Connected Classroom" PD sessions and also launched the eCom Online Professional Learning Community and an Asynchronous "No Teacher Left Behind" PD course.

In addition to the special No Teacher Left Behind course for teachers who work in the Lauder network of Jewish educational institutions in Eastern Europe, two additional NTLB courses brought together educators from North America and Europe during the 2013-2014 year. The course presented a wide range of e-tools and strategies that are at teachers' fingertips to maximize student participation and learning.
"The course was very well organized and very practical and I really enjoy it. Probably this one of the best courses I have ever taken". M.A. participant in fall 2013 NTLB course

JETS director Smadar Goldstein traveled to the United States twice during the year to present Connected Classroom lessons to Jewish day school and afternoon religious school educators. These sessions included presentations at the New Jersey Day School Conference and the Jewish Education Project Conference, as well as sessions for staffs of several day schools and afternoon religious schools. Smadar also presented online Connected Classroom PD sessions for the staff members at several additional schools throughout the year. In addition, Smadar provided a year long Connected Classroom program for teachers in Yeshivat Noam in Bergen County, NJ that involved a combination of online webinars and face to face meetings. 

"The teachers really enjoyed the professional development workshop – they found Smadar to be wonderfully engaging and were impressed by her wealth of practical, hands-on ideas for implementing new technologies in the classroom!"  B.H. head of religious school

Beginning last fall, the JETS eCom community met weekly throughout the year – virtually -- on the Haiku Learning Management System platform. Every week, new tools and methods for online learning were presented, while participating teachers were invited to share their own ideas and thoughts. Teachers brainstormed and collaborated on new ideas and methodologies for enhancing elearning in their classrooms. eCom became a rich forum for experienced elearning teachers to keep abreast of the latest developments in online learning.
"This was an amazing year for learning new material and information. We covered so much – social media, google docs and presentations, games and so much more. Everything was presented clearly and with tremendous enthusiasm – I could hardly wait to get back to my class and try the different tools that I was learning about!"  L.R., eCom participant 2013-2014

Another new initiative for novice teacher who are interested in bringing elearning in to their classrooms is the Asynchronous No Teacher Left Behind course, developed by JETS in conjunction with the Solomon Schechter Day School Network. The course is available at no charge for teachers of Solomon Schechter schools on the SSDS Eduplanet platform. The asynchronous course is broken down into user friendly self-explanatory units. Pedagogical information about different concepts of elearning is followed by concrete information about available etools and their use, and activities that give participants an opportunity to hone their skills. The asynchronous learning is guided as well by facilitated feedback from the JETS staff. The Asynchronous No Teacher Left Behind course is ideal for teachers who prefer to learn at their own pace or who cannot schedule in the online webinars of the NTLB course. Beginning in July, the Asynchronous No Teacher Left Behind course will be available to teachers who are not part of the Solomon Schechter network at a reasonable cost.

"I realised that you don't have to be in the classroom to teach students. There is a wide variety of tools which make on-line classes effective and interesting." Participant NTLB fall '13, Lauder School, Berlin 

The success of any professional development program can be gauged by the degree that it leads to implementation. If so, 2013-2014 was also a good year vis-à-vis assessment of the JETS PD initiatives. In addition to the testimony of teachers regarding their use of online tools learned in JETS sessions, the JETS PD programs spawned two major online learning programs this past year. The Lauder e-Learning School began functioning in several countries in Central and Eastern Europe, providing online Jewish education for young Jewish students who live hours from a Jewish hub and have no access nearby to Jewish education. In addition, a very successful online learning program entitled "Remembrance and Rebuilding" was taught to grade 7 students at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley. The course, which was initiated by NTLB participant Rabbi Shelley Kniaz, will be expanded next year to incorporate an added class for 8th graders. In addition, the "Remembrance and Rebuilding" course will be offered as well in two other Hebrew schools that are run by other NTLB participants.

"I find very useful the tools enabling us to combine face - to - face conversation with the chat and the "private chat", then all the possibilities if the "on-line blackboard" and if I would compare with face - to - face teaching, I find also very useful the possibility to use the on-line sources like for example youtube during the teaching - this is the possibility to make the lesson more interesting." Participant NTLB fall '13, Lauder School, Warsaw