Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My Haiku -- Easier than I Thought!

For several months I've been observing my colleagues' use of Learning Management Systems. An LMS allows the teacher to manage their class's online learning activities in one centralized location.

·         allows teachers to present new material that he/she wishes the students to acquire
·         allows teachers to post assignments and track student progress
·         allows students to follow each other's assignments
·         facilitates collaboration among students
·         facilitates online evaluation tools that serve not only to evaluate, but to further learning

 In preparation for my upcoming 10-week online class with a group of pre-teens, I decided to organize my class on a Haiku Learning Management System and see whether the system lives up to the hype.

I taught a similar class last year and found it difficult to keep track of all of the audio-visual materials, online tools, documents and learning strategies that are needed to create a high quality online lesson.

I've created two of the ten lessons so far and, although I don't know yet whether it will be a more effective learning environment for the students, I can already see that the Haiku LMS will help me stay organized and on target.

There have been a few bumps on the learning curve, but basically, with one click you can create a new content block or a new page, sending you on your way to establishing your class Haiku. So non-techies, we can do this too. 

Before beginning my lesson plans I did a little research and acquired some tips that have been helpful.
1.       There's more than one way to skin a cat. When the technology seems overwhelming, consider alternate ways to solve a problem. Or just move on. I wasn't able to embed a video or post a photo on my Haiku page so I just added in the video link instead of the embed code -- we'll have to view the video on an alternate forum --  and cut and pasted my photos  in the text box from a WORD document instead of inserting them as a computer file.
2.       Look at your lesson from the standpoint of someone who knows less about technology than you do. I noticed that when I put different activities in different content blocks it was difficult to tell where one activity stopped and the second one began. I alternated text colors for each activity -- that simple change ensured a more comprehensible format.
3.       Keep it simple, at least at first. There are numerous ways to prepare the Haiku layout. You can arrange your pages and content by date, topic, category, chapter - whatever works for you. You can create a page with sub pages for each unit you teach or organize your pages based on a general topic. You can also organize the information on any page and rearrange as you wish. Start simple and get more creative as time goes on, as you start to feel more comfortable with the system. Again, the idea is to make the system work for you. If you get frustrated and abandon the LMS, everyone loses.   

4.       Keep your class URL simple. The URL is created when you type in your class title. Keeping it simple will allow you and your students to easily find the URL if you ever need to do a search.
5.      The Manage Class Button allows you to share your class, import content, quickly access the students' emails and more. Become familiar with the Manage Class tool and take advantage of everything that it offers you. 

6.       If you like to use Wikis, the Haiku LMS makes it easy to incorporate Wikis into the LMS. WikiProject Templates offer students an easy platform on which to work, create videos, audios, etc. The students can collaborate on their projects and see each other's WikiSites as they share the links on the Haiku. The "connect" tab in the upper lefthand corner takes you pages that offer you the opportunity to make announcements (the students will receive notifications of these announcements via their emails), discussions, polls and WikiProjects.

Sometimes the hardest stage in using online tools is taking the first step. I encourage you to take the Haiku plunge – you'll be glad that you did.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Education CAN Educate

Last year my daughter, who was then in the 10th grade, studied about the early Zionist movement for her history class.

I remember my own enthusiasm when I first encountered this material. I was 14, in 9th grade, and was reading Leon Uris's Exodus for an English book report. The subsequent 10-page report was, my teacher ruefully told me, the biggest book report that she'd ever received, but it expressed my new-found passion for the fascinating history of modern Israel, and would pave the way for my future involvement in Zionism and my eventual aliyah.

So to say that I was thoroughly disappointed with my daughter's unenthusiatic feedback about her class ("It's boring. Who cares?") is an understatement. Needless to say, as soon as the test was over, my daughter and her classmates had forgotten 99.9% of the material that they learned. (They did seem to remember some of the personalities for whom Tel Aviv streets have been named).

In contrast, as I have watched the the JETS elearning history class with Yeshivat Kadima progress through the year, I see a different way of facilitating student learning that creates a true educational framework, not simply a mechanism for memorizing and regurgitating material.  The Kadima students are studying about issues in Jewish history in a JETS distance learning class that uses the Haiku LMS (Learning Management System) for student assignments and projects.

In contrast, as I have watched the Yeshivat Kadima Haiku progress through the year, I see a different way of facilitating student learning that creates a true educational framework, not simply a mechanism for memorizing and regurgitating material.  The Kadima students are studying about issues in Jewish history in a JETS distance learning class that uses the Haiku LMS (Learning Management System) for student assignments and projects.

The participating Kadima high school students are currently concentrating on the period of the Tanaiim.  As opposed to a traditional history lesson of "x wrote this and then y wrote that while plony did something and almony did something else", the Haiku allows the Kadima kids to interact with the world of the Jews who lived in the years during and immediately following the destruction of the Second Temple, and to interact with each other as they learn.

Through the use of online tools and a dynamic LMS, the kids acquire information and then utilize this data to complete assignments that challenge them to think about the subject matter, consider alternatives and internalize the material.   As I view the work on the Haiku, I see how the LMS can be used to foster collaborative learning and the development of critical thinking skills.

Concepts that we grapple with today, including "Land for Peace" and "Assimilation vs. Acculturation" are put in the context of the decisions that the Jewish leaders who lived 2000 years ago were forced to make. How could they ensure the continuation of Torah learning? How could they save lives? At what point did saving physical lives endanger the  spiritual lives of the Jews? How could the leaders retain their leadership while making these difficult decisions?

The debates, flow of ideas and pure enthusiasm with which the Kadima kids are tackling their assignments ensures, I believe, that this subject material will remain a part of their lives for many years to come.

And isn't that the true meaning of education?  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Getting to Know You

7 Schools and 7000 Miles -- Partners Across the Ocean

JETS Shutafut (Partnership) program is moving into gear as students in 22 schools in Israel and in North America "meet" their peers virtually, and prepare to embark on a wide range of projects that will enable them to learn more about each other's religious  customs, history, culture and daily lives.

One of the veteran partnerships involves five Birmingham Alabama schools who have partnered with the Rosh HaAyin G'vanim and HaYovel Schools.

Over the past year these students have learned about each other -- the Israeli students try to read and post in English which improves their English skills while the Birmingham students can read and post in either Hebrew or English, depending on in which language they wish to work (the Birmingham schools include both public schools and private Jewish Day Schools, so posting in Hebrew isn't an option for the public school students. )

This year there are new classes involved and the topic for the course, as decided last year by the schools' staff and students, involves "Heroes." Students present a hero in their lives, work together to identify what makes a person a hero, and then learn about community heroes. There are nine teams, each including students from each of the seven participating schools. The students work on the Wikispaces Learning Management System which allows them to share their own work and view the work of their peers without concern for the 8 hour time difference.

The Emek HaHula partnership with Edmonton Canada is also entering its second year. The subject matter for this year's course is "Jewish Peoplehood." After the new Edmonton and Emek HaHula students introduce themselves to each other and learn about their peers across the ocean, they will begin to delve into what it means to be a part of the global Jewish community, both for  Israelis and for Jews who live in the diaspora. In addition, six more diapsora schools have connected through JETS to six Israeli partner schools to collaboratively explore the meaning of "Jewish Peoplehood".

By discovering their common roots, customs, concerns, and interests students participating in JETS Shutafut programs will use their virtual meetings to build real bridges.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Enhancing Your Learning and your Students' Learning with Personal Learning Networks

Showing a student how to create a Personal Learning network is one of the most important tools that an educators can offer.

A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is an informal network that consists of the learner and the people that provide the student with information and opportunities to grow. PLNs enable students to make connections that will enable them to learn material and acquire information that they might not have access to otherwise.

Students develop their PLNs informally through 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree connections. It's not necessary for the members of a student's PLN to know each other in person -- their ability to connect online offers all of the advantages of a connected network. In writing about 21st century PLNs Gordon Dryden and Jeannette Vos wrote "For the first time in history, we know now how to store virtually all humanity's most important information and make it available, almost instantly, in almost any form, to almost anyone on earth. We also know how to do that in great new ways so that people can interact with it , and learn from it."

A Personal Learning Network can consist of almost anyone in the learner's sphere including co-students, family members, friends on social media and knowledgeable individuals in the community (this includes the Internet community). Every student has a PLN -- the challenge is to guide the students to use the available resources which allow them to make the most effective use of these people.

How does an educator help a student create a PLN which can set the stage for the student's future learning success?  Here are some points to help a teacher guide his students to engage in a PLN and use it to its full effectiveness:

·         Teach the students some strategies for introducing themselves to an existing PLN or creating a new PLN in which all participants can feel comfortable in contributing to the discussions and asking for help wherever needed.
·         Encourage students to make a habit of commenting constructively on other participants' contributions to a PLN.
·         Develop strategies for dealing with disagreements in a PLN -- how do participants express their disagreement without offending other participants?
·         Expand the PLN to include different platforms. If the PLN is based on a social media site, add periodic webinars or online conference calls to meet in different types of circumstances.  
·         Facilitate daily communication via social media posts, blogging, twitter conversations and daily summaries of new questions and material.

·         Don't be afraid to split off into sub-groups for special interest projects and subjects. The larger group won't suffer and the smaller groups can thrive

Sunday, November 3, 2013

JETS eCOM Learning Community -- November Focus on Learning Management Systems

Throughout the month of October the JETS eCOM community of Jewish elearning educators focused on various options for introducing interactive games and other types of online activities into their curriculum. eCOM grew out of the perceived need within the Jewish educational community for a unified approach that would allow both experienced online educators and novice elearning teachers to enhance their knowledge of the available tools so that distance learning in the Jewish classroom will continue to evolve and flourish.

Twenty influential Jewish educators from around the world gathered in a web conference call in September 2013. They wanted to review where online education is today in Jewish day schools and afternoon schools and consider how to advance elearning in the coming years. eLearning has become increasingly important in Jewish schools throughout the world but many teachers are only vaguely aware of the possibilities that the system offers while others need more guidance to successfully implement it as an integral part of their daily curriculum.

The year-long asynchronouscourse is progressing according to the participants' interests and needs. October was devoted to ways to incorporate games and other interactive elearning tools into the classrooms and the topic for November involves how a distance learning educator can make the most effective use of a Learning Management System.

Learning Management Systems (LMS) are software applications which allow an educator to administer, document, track, report and evaluate an online course. The facilitator presents a lesson, either by a frontal method of by posting the material on the LMS platform. Then the teacher posts all of the assignments for the lesson. The students can view each other's work and, as part of the assignment, may even comment on each other's work and use a team approach to complete assignments.  

The eCom course is actually based on the Haiku LMS so the course participants will learn about the system as they navigate it as part of their course studies. The November course includes an overview of LMSs and a discussion, a discussion of how LMSs change the way that students learn and teachers teach, instructions in using an LMS, a survey of the different LMS options and options for including other online learning tools within the LMS platform.