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January 20, 2016 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Hack Jewish Education!

From my friends at Behrman House:

Hack Jewish Education

We’re seeking ideas for a NEW digital experience that can help reboot Jewish education

Have you been tinkering with an idea for an app or other digital learning experience for Jewish education? Would you like get ongoing mentoring about your idea, and take it to a month-long workshop in Israel to bring it to life with help from professional coders, designers and ed tech developers? 

Behrman House and MindCET, the innovation department of Israel –based Center for Educational Technology, are seeking a North American team with a great idea to mentor in a pilot accelerator program funded by a grant from the AVI CHAI Foundation. The program will include working with developers and other teams in Israel for a month, hosted by MindCET; workshops and mentoring hosted by Behrman House to focus on the Jewish educational market; and access to professional design, coding, art and other tech development talent.

Applications, which are due November 20, 2016, can be accessed at under ‘submit your idea.’ The chosen team will work with Behrman House and MindCET for six months, beginning in December 2015, will head to Israel in mid-February (exact dates to be announced). For more information, contact Jeremy Poisson.

October 26, 2015 Posted by | Education | , , | Leave a comment

Links You’ll Love

How BIG is Google? Check out this great documentary:

Shake Up Learning is a website that features tips and techniques for educational technology, including Google, mobile learning and social media.

Well, now, this is interesting…here’s a nicely crafted revision of the traditional rubric. Instead of working on all those columns and rows, why not try the single-point rubric? Very cool! Read more here (and I love the name of the website, too!).

Google tip: If you’ve been using Google Classroom, be sure to check out this blog post to get an idea of some of the new features that were introduced this week.

October 15, 2014 Posted by | Education, G Suite (GAFE), Google, Links You'll Love | , , , , | Leave a comment

3rd and 4th grade teachers love Handouts!

My colleagues have been playing with the Handouts app and they’re simply loving it. It isn’t exactly earth-shattering or paradigm-shifting, but it’s simple, to the point, and elegant. The process is easy: create a handout (either make a PDF or take a picture of something), import it into Handouts and send it to your students. Students use the now-familiar method of joining a class via code, receive the handout and fill it in and send it back. Students can “write” or type their response. Simple and elegant.

My teachers are most excited for this in terms of its potential for a digital portfolio. That and the whole paperless part. Very cool!

September 15, 2014 Posted by | Education, Technology | , | Leave a comment

Digital device reading…the need to teach differently

In a fascinating New Yorker article, Maria Konnikova discusses the differences in reading comprehension across different media. Konnikova cites research into various issues such as Internet-enabled devices, scrolling, layout and hyperlinks. Researchers hypothesize that deep reading – the thoughtful, reflective process of really synthesizing what you’re reading – is taking a hit when readers are using a Kindle or iPad.

So, the first response might be to say that, well we’re not going to use eDevices then…we’ll still teach using books, newspapers and magazines. That might work for a while, but we’re obviously doing our students a tremendous disservice if we make that call.

I think this is just fascinating. Of course we need way more research into this, but it’s one more task that faces those of us in ed tech…how to teach our kids to adapt to the changes technology brings.

What do you think?

July 31, 2014 Posted by | Education, Thinking | Leave a comment

The little things matter

Last week, during the confirmation service, one of the kids spoke about something that happened in Israel during a synagogue trip. She used the story to illustrate, to her, that Judaism is capable of evolving.

During a b’nai mitzvah service in Israel, it was discovered that no one had brought a yad (the pointer which helps you keep your place while reading the sacred scroll without touching it) for the Torah reading. Our quick-thinking rabbi pulled a pen out of his pocket as a substitute and proceeded with the service. (I’m sure it was held in such a way that there was no potential damage to the Torah.)

Clearly this had an impact on our young student, who thought enough of the incident to relate it last night.

I’m sure that the event was quickly forgotten by many of the people in attendance. But not everyone. As educators, we need to remember that you never know what small gesture will have the greatest impact on our students. I know I can use this reminder. Small things (or words) matter.

June 11, 2014 Posted by | Education, Jewish | , | Leave a comment

On taking it slow

I have a meeting Monday to talk about what new stuff we want to buy for next year. I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time. We did a needs (really a wants) survey with the staff earlier this year and we had a lot of teachers ask for interactive white boards or iPad carts. I have one colleague, who, even though she houses an iPad cart, is lobbying heavily for her own that she doesn’t ever have to share. If we bought everything people asked for (not including repairing, replacing or upgrading, including upgrading our OS including servers), it would be pretty close to 200K. That’s a lot of money.

I will admit that I work for a school that really wants to remain cutting edge. In fact, I’ve been known to admit that I’ve never had a reasonable technology request denied.

That’s why I’m recommending that we buy very little of what my colleagues want for next year.


Not much.

In my fifteen years of working with ed tech, I’ve never heard anyone say “I wish we’d bought x a year earlier.”

I’ve never said it. Have you?

I don’t want to buy classroom carts. I don’t want to jump into one-to-one.

Right now we have thirteen carts of devices that are distributed throughout the building, mostly in classrooms, and two labs. That’s plenty for our school judging from the data (which, admittedly, isn’t completely accurate because I don’t think people who house carts are really good at reserving them). I realize sharing can be a pain, but I’m not seeing much of a justification for buying more stuff. Learn how to share, people.

What I want is to plan, share outcomes and reflect. The stuff money can’t buy.

I want to meet regularly with the teachers who have IWBs and figure out how they’re using them and how they want to use them. I REALLY don’t want to buy more without seeing where they’re making a difference NOW.

I want to meet with the teachers who want to use iPads in their classrooms and figure out how they want to use them for authentic learning experiences, not just for the bells and whistles.

Most of all, I want to figure out how we determine if these awesome tools are, well, actually doing anything other than increase student (and, maybe, teacher) engagement. You know…are the kids learning more because they’re swiping, not typing? I want systematic, allocated time for planning and reflection. I’m no fan of all data all the time, but I would like to figure out how we’ll measure success.

I do want to buy every teacher an iPad for his or own use in and out of the classroom. Some of them haven’t even held tablets yet. I want to spend next year exploring them with the staff – using them for our own productivity and sharing, modeling their use at faculty meetings and professional development.

Then, once we’ve taken a full school year to explore how we’re using them, I’ll talk about putting more into our kids’ hands.

We shall see.

March 9, 2013 Posted by | Education, Thinking | , | Leave a comment

Getting ready for ISTE

I’ve always been one to double my travel. I love to plan travel experiences and I think I get as much pleasure – well, maybe almost as much – from the planning as the actual travel.

I’m finding that going to an international humongous conference is no different. And doing a little (okay, maybe it’s been a lot this week) pre-planning and pre-thinking can really enhance the experience, I believe.

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

1. Use the conference planner. The planner is a fabulous tool. I’m choosing at least three sessions during each time slot. Why three? Sometimes sessions get canceled, sometimes the room is full and sometimes it’s just too far. Seriously. I don’t want a last minute conversation to have to be cut short just because I’ve got to run upstairs and down the hall. Because I’m traveling to ISTE through the generosity of the AVI CHAI Foundation, I’ll be having dinner with the amazing group of Jewish educators that they’ve amassed, so I added dinners to my planner as well so I don’t forget to go (like I’d forget to eat dinner!). I’ll be carrying my iPad and iPhone, so I subscribed to my ISTE planner using iCal, so I can check my planner electronically and have it updated automatically. I also added things like the Jewish educators Birds of a Feather session and my hotel info so it’s all accessible in one place.

2. Twitter. The #ISTE11 Twitter hashtag is becoming very active and it’s a great way to get last-minute tips and scope out some new people to follow. I’ll be following it during the conference, of course, but it’ll be crazy then. Now is when it’s really helpful. Following the tag, for instance, is how I found out that we won’t be able to use power strips at the PACC. That’ll save me a little room in my bag.

3. Get to know the keynote speakers. The keynote speakers are all rock stars in their fields and it’s worth taking a little time to check them out. Do a Google search and check out their websites, blogs and TED talks. I’ve been doing this for some time now and found it really enhances the experience of listening to a keynote when you know a little about the speaker.

4. What to bring: there’s the usual: all the electronics, comfy shoes, a wrap for cold conference rooms (not to mention airplanes)… Here’s a couple other things I’ll be bringing: my CAJE (a moment of silence, please) badge holder (has a little space for extra things like a pen and some cash), a couple little Moleskine Cahier notebooks (sometimes no-tech is better), lots of business cards, pre-printed labels with my contact info and a QR code to my page (totally stole that idea – it rocks!), my mini one-device surge protector so I can feel okay about plugging in wherever (like at the airport), a water bottle so I can be green, snackies to drop in my bag, a little folding Baggu shopping bag, and my ICE (Illinois Computing Educators) luggage tag because one must always remember from whence one comes. I’m not planning to check baggage but lately the airlines have gotten really aggressive about making you surrender your carryons at the gate (because, really? Did they not think too many people would carry on once they starting charging that ridiculous baggage check fee? Sorry. I digress) so even if you’re not planning to check a bag sometimes it just ends up there anyway.

5. Plan to leave the conference center. I know that, other than returning to the hotel to go to bed, there’s no good reason to ever, ever leave the PACC, but it’s worth doing a little pre-planning to find one thing that provides an educational opportunity and a reason to perhaps get out, get some air, and walk a little bit. This time I will try to steal some time to go visit the National Constitution Center.

That’s my plan!

June 23, 2011 Posted by | Education, Lifelong learning, Technology | , , | Leave a comment

Lessons from Debbie

There’s so much in the blogosphere right now about Jewish education – how to change it, how to improve it, how to invigorate it, how to re-vision it…

Of course this is not what I’ve been thinking about this week. I’ve been thinking about our dear Debbie Friedman z”l. Having known her for almost 40 years, I thought a lot about what it was like to be part of the “early Debbie” years, before all the records (and they were records), before Carnegie Hall, before the music was widely accepted. Back in the day when she couldn’t get into Hebrew Union College, let alone teach there.

She, too, changed, improved, invigorated and re-visioned. Synagogue music will never ever be the same.

Can we do for Jewish education what she and those who followed her did for Jewish music? Are there lessons we can learn from Debbie? I think so.

Here are a few I can come up with. Any more you can think of?

1. Make it relevant. Her music spoke to us because it sounded like what we were already listening to and loving. Is Jewish education relevant to our students? Does it speak their language? Use the tools they’re used to using? My synagogue bought a set of used Apple iBooks and I brought them out for my kids to use the other day. They beamed. These are old, old laptops, but the kids were as excited as if they were brand new. Is there anything I’m going to do with those laptops that I couldn’t do some other way? Maybe not, but it’s where the kids are NOW.

2. Make it engaging. We, of course, wanted to be there. The melodies were intoxicating. Debbie, undoubtedly, was intoxicating as well. She had a vibrant, exciting, huge personality. We joked about Debbie groupies. How engaging is Jewish education today? We can’t all be Debbie Friedmans, but are we attracting exciting, huge personalities and are we giving them the space to be who they are?

3. Take some risks. I remember vividly the day that our cantor stormed out of the sanctuary because he and Sing Unto God just weren’t going to get along. Who won? But it was a huge risk. Singing those melodies in the sanctuary – pushing the organ out of the way to make room for the drums – had to piss lots of people off. I’m sure the synagogue lost a donor or two in the process. But certainly it was a risk that paid off.

4. Involve the kids. In 1973, those of us in Debbie’s youth group felt like we were in the inner circle. We heard songs before they were songs. She played with melodies during our song sessions. I know people who still have the scribbled sheets of lyrics composed during late-night sessions at camp and on retreats. Some of those things never became famous and never made it onto albums. We didn’t care. Everything was special because we were part of it. Her song Laugh At All My Dreams was composed for my graduating class. To this day, I can’t hear it without remembering that incredible time that we spent together. Lesson learned: involve the kids from the beginning.

5. It’s okay to tear it all down. Today, it’s not at all unusual to hear a Debbie Friedman melody sung in the same service as older tunes. They live comfortably with one another and everyone is comfortable (well, maybe not everyone, but many). Back in the day, though, we were bold. We tore it all apart and started from scratch. I remember sitting in the youth lounge trying to figure out a new way to do a responsive reading, to reinterpret the Aleynu (only we called it the Adoration at the time. Let us adore (let us adore) the ever-living God (the ever-living God). You remember, right?). Debbie and her music encouraged us to rethink all of it. Nothing was, you should pardon the expression, sacred. Let’s do that with Jewish education. Declare nothing is sacred and go from there.

Comments? Please chime in

January 12, 2011 Posted by | Education | , | 4 Comments

We don’t need no stinkin’ schools

My friend Adrian Durlester has some very interesting ideas about supplemental schools and synagogues and why the two should be separate…read this

May 4, 2009 Posted by | Education | , , | Leave a comment

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