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

Kadima Stays One Step Ahead

During the course of this past year JETS has been running a course in Contemporary Jewish Issues at Yeshivat Kadima of St. Louis.

The course is unique in many ways -- the style of learning is fast-paced and dynamic, the students are evaluated on the basis of project-based learning models and -- most importantly -- the parents are continuously involved and engaged in their children's learning. 

Last week's school newsletter gives an idea of the interactive nature of the program and the importance that the school places in maintaining an on-going dialog with the parents. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Long-Distance Shlichut

When I was in 11th grade, a group of Israeli kids came to visit our public school. They discussed their lives, touched on Israeli politics and spoke frankly about different aspects of Israeli society, their impending draft into the Israeli army and their complex relationship with a complex society. The visit was an intensely meaningful one for me and helped cement my decision to make aliyah.

Various Jewish and Israeli institutions, including the Jewish Agency, the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry and several private organizations continue to organize such visits but the young ambassadors can't reach every school.

Last week JETS used distance learning to "bring" a young man named Ze'evi , to the classroom of Yeshivat Kadima where he spoke about his military service in a combat unit.
Ze'evi spoke frankly about the difficulties of serving in sensitive areas, specifically serving in the  Judea and Sameria region. The students have heard, and debated the different issues involved, but the real-time visit with Ze'evi helped them to see the concerns from the perspective of someone who had actually served in the region. 
girls class
JETS has created an opportunity for the school to run a
simultaneous boys and girls class, with the same
marterial and the same teacher, but in an environment
in which the students are separated by sex

Ze'evi discussed subjects that the JETS-Yeshivat Kadima Contemporary Jewish Issues class has been exploring during the past year, including the dilemma of whether Israel should negotiate with terrorist organizations in order to free captives. 

The kids had many questions. They asked about the military operations in which Ze'evi participated, the qualifications that combat soldiers must have, how soldiers request a specific unit, Hesder yeshivahs, etc.  

The students were particularly interested in hearing Ze'evi's view of the media reports that they've read criticizing the Israeli army, specifically the charges that the army indiscriminately hurts and kills Palestinians. Ze'evi responded  from the standpoint of a former soldier, explaining that soldiers frequently find themselves in dangerous situations but, per army rules, aren't able to do what they would have liked to  do to protect themselves and their fellow soldiers.  He summarized the soldiers' frustrations at the situation and noted that no other army in the world goes out of its way to protect civilians in the way that the Israeli army does. 
boys class
The students had many more questions which demonstrated the depth of their curiosity about the possibility of aliyah, as well as their evolving personal connections to Israel. One young student asked Ze'evi to summarize the most meaningful experience that he had as a soldier. Ze'evi gave a few examples relating to the camaraderie of the soldiers, but noted that one of the most moving moments of his army experience occurred when he visited the kotel with his unit and was asked to pose with an elderly American tourist. As the man, a Holocaust survivor, stood with 20 young soldiers he began to cry, and, Ze'evi, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, cried with him.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Project Based Learning and Marrano Art

Jake's Marrano Art -- hiding Jewish documents

Who would put a mezuzza in a Madonna's foot? Why would a Jewish family send their son to become a Catholic priest? Why does the holiday of Purim resonate with so many "Catholics?" Where did the tradition come from, among some "Christian" families in Spain, Portugal and South America, to keep locked rooms and secret cellars in their homes where they would light candles on certain days? Why do some "Catholics" clean their homes on Friday, turn their mirrors around when someone in the family dies and refuse to eat certain types of meat?

It's difficult for 21st century Jews to imagine the turmoil and terror that the Jews of the Iberian peninsula experienced when the rulers of Spain and Portugal instituted the Inquisition. We can read about it and try to envision it, but most of us fall short of fully understanding what Jews of those times were forced to do to try to preserve their faith. How can we, as Jewish educators, impart the depth of Jewish history to our students?  
Over the course of the 2013-2014 school year, JETS director Smadar Goldstein has been teaching an online high school history class to 9th – 12th grade students at Yeshivat Kadima in St. Louis. In order to enable the students to view themselves as part of the continuum of Jewish history and tradition, Smadar employs online tools to foster project based learning, including the following elements:
  • a compelling driving question
  •  student choice regarding topics and modes of expression
  • in-depth inquiry the requires student research and analytical thinking
to make the past "real" for the students.

This month the class is studying the impact that the Expulsion of 1492 and the subsequent Inquisition had on the Jewish world of the era. To drive home the lesson of what life was like for Spanish and Portuguese Jews of the 15th century, Smadar assigned the students to create projects which summarize Jewish life of the era. Some students chose to create a timeline of Jewish history, but many of the students decided to tackle creating a Marrano Art Project. This assignment aims to demonstrate some of the ways that Jews used to ingenuously hide ritual objects along with a page detailing a "Day in the Life of the Marrano." This project helped the students internalize the complexity of the quandary faced by the Marranos, and the blessings of religious freedom. 

Aaron's project

Elianna's Project

Elianna's Project

Jake's Project

Sammy's Project

Yoni's Project

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Link in the Chain: Tips for Teaching Jewish History in Elementary Schools

Educators have often been guided by a conventional "wisdom" that students in grades 5 and 6 do not yet have a sense of historical thinking. This idea is challenged in an article entitled "Historical Thinking in the Elementary Years: A Review of CurrentResearch"  by Amy von Heyking,  in which she concludes that:

1. Thinking historically does not just mean thinking about the past; it involves seeing oneself in time, as an inheritor of the legacies of the past and as a maker of the future. 
2. Many studies support the claim that elementary children and adolescents can develop quite sophisticated historical thinking skills within an appropriate context of active engagement with source material, alternative accounts and teaching that scaffolds children's emerging understandings and skills.
3. Understanding change over time is central to historical thinking.
4. Children who are able to appreciate the subtleties of historical change are those who can make connections with their own experiences.

These ideas are quite relevant to Jewish education, which attempts to help students view themselves as part of the continuum of Jewish history and tradition. In a recent article published in Hayedion entitled "Inheriting the Past, Building the Future: Developing Historical Thinking in Upper Elementary Student", JETS associate Stan Peerless, in collaboration with Lisa Micley, apply von Hayking's conclusions to Jewish education. In the article, they describe new online Jewish history modules being developed by Behrman House that can be integrated into different curricular areas in 5th and 6th grade Jewish studies. The program utilizes the idea of a time travel app that enables the children in the story to experience different events, personalities, and periods in Jewish history as they search for answers to essential questions that derive from their contemporary lives.

The article includes examples from the curriculum that demonstrate how von Hayking's principles are incorporated in the program.  These examples also indicate the degree to which online learning can be used to make classroom learning experiential.

The authors conclude with guidelines for teachers who might want to create their own Jewish history modules for upper elementary students:

·      The first principle that can be derived is that history teaching does not begin in the past. Rather, it must begin in the present, with the actual experiences of the students and with issues that they or their contemporaries face.
·      The second principle is that students should be introduced to the broad strokes of historical change in Jewish history rather than to isolated events that occurred on specific dates.
·      The third principle is that the historical changes found in history must be explicitly tied to the personal lives of the students and their contemporary reality. Furthermore, the students must be actively engaged in discovering and formulating those connections.

Effective teaching of Jewish history can provide students with a learning experience that fulfills the function of historical learning as described by historian Gerda Lerner: "It gives us a sense of perspective about our own lives and encourages us to transcend the finite span of our life-time by identifying with the generations that came before us and measuring our own actions against the generations that will follow … We can expand our reach and with it our aspirations."

JETS online history class "Comparing the Land for Peace issues that the Jews of  the Roman era faced with the Land for Peace issues that Israel faces today: